LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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LILA Theme for 2020-2021: System Leadership – Navigating Complexity at Scale

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Each year, LILA focuses collective discussion and exploration around a contemporary theme that optimally encompasses members’ practical interests and illuminates challenges in the larger field of human learning and innovation. A fruitful theme is typically identified by criteria such as its resonance with members’ concerns, its readiness to be explored through multiple, interdisciplinary lenses, and its ability to frame and advance the experimental practices of LILA members. Based on member interviews, the discussions during past gatherings, availability of academic research on the topic, and the current social context, the theme for 2020-2021 is System Leadership – Navigating Complexity at Scale.
Systems Leadership creates the container that allows solutions to emerge over time. In that way, the process becomes the solution.
– JOHN KANIA, Managing Director at FSG
Organizations are complex systems, and they are facing challenges that cannot be solved easily, but rather require a whole-system approach. Though classic theories of leadership have focused on the power of the person at the top of the hierarchy to effect change, we recognize that today, more than ever, we need to understand whole systems in all their complexity – and how leaders can take the helm in spite of the challenges posed by such complexity.
To understand complex systems, we must engage new mental models that lead to a more dynamic and longer-term view of organizations. We must shift from focusing on the system’s parts toward practices that make it visible as a whole. To transform complex systems, we must update our leadership practices and learn how to engage in system-wide change. System leadership practices are ones that engage diverse individuals to work in collaborative, networked, problem-solving ways that also yield a new understanding of the system itself.
So, what does system leadership look like? How can we equip leaders in our organizations with the skills and tools to understand and transform the system at scale? Moreover, in our increasingly global and diverse organizations, how can we transform aspects of systems that perpetuate inequality and injustice? How can we create systems that leverage all voices and foster collaboration and trust?
This year, LILA will explore this theme through three different topics, each addressing a different element of system leadership. We will first focus on understanding system complexity and how groups within complex systems can become aligned to move together collaboratively; then we will identify and explore the core capabilities of system leadership; and finally, we will explore how to make progress on the complex challenges faced within organizations.

Harvard Graduate School of Education