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Systems Leadership: A Mindset for Tackling Complex Problems with Lisa Dreier

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During the October 2020 gathering, Lisa Dreier (Harvard) shared her work leading systemic change and the models that emerged from her work.

What is Systems Leadership?
Systems Leadership is both a mindset and skillset for tackling complex challenges—capacities that any individual or organization can use to catalyze, enable, and support the process of systems-level change. Unlike traditional top-down approaches to problem solving, systems leadership is a set of tactics that can be applied in multiple contexts. They can be initiated by anyone at any level in an organization, and applied to any issue on any scale.

Why Should We Utilize Systems Leadership?
Traditional approaches to mobilizing have been top down, rigid, and structured, which works perfectly well when trying to solve a problem within the domain of control of one organization (for example, a company changing their supply chain). These methods don’t work for tackling large-scale, complex, dynamic problems, so Systems Leadership is utilized to mobilize change around a shared agenda beyond structures of formal authority and hierarchy. This shared agenda is generated through the collaboration of many diverse stakeholders, built upon trust, as they work towards creating change and making progress on an issue that affects them all.

Key Elements of Systems Leadership

There are three key elements of Systems Leadership: Individuals, Community, and the System. Individuals in the organization are collaborative leaders who enable learning and trust-building between stakeholders. These stakeholders who come together around a common goal make up the Community that seeks to mobilize action. Finally, the System that shapes the challenge being addressed must be understood and synthesized in order to propagate change.

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