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Systems Leadership Guided by Systems Thinking

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September 6, 2022

Systems leadership is defined as bringing together a network of organizations that collaborate to address complex issues and achieve systemic transformations, such as delivering a service, influencing a policy outcome or developing a product that couldn’t be accomplished by a single organization working alone. Systems thinking, focusing on the way a system’s parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems, informs the practice of systems leadership. It helps leaders review opportunities for change by encouraging them to question the existing system, its boundaries, interrelationships, and how its parts fit together in the system. It allows leaders to generate deeper insights, guard against unintended consequences and coordinate action more effectively.

There are a number of systems thinking approaches grounded in questioning assumptions, exploring wider contexts, and engaging other viewpoints that can help guide the processes of deliberation. These approaches can support the systems leadership practices of the future to be more exploratory, design-led, participative, facilitative and adaptive. They can help leaders to better tackle the single-organization or single-department silo mentality that often threatens to undermine systems leadership and address complex, multi-faceted ecological, social, cultural, economic, and personal priorities through collaboration.

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