The Challenge of Systems Leadership

The Challenge of Systems Leadership
At no time in history have we needed… system leaders more.”
— Peter Senge et al in their seminal 2015 SSIR article The Dawn of Systems Leadership

But, being a systems leader is hard work. It’s slow, painstaking, with many dead ends, limited fans and just when you think ‘why am I doing this again?’, a smattering of inspiring, life affirming moments that keep you committed to the cause.

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Interview: Systems change network builders

Interview: Systems change network builders

Some things I’ve learnt:

  • The people who live and breathe in the system are those who have to come up with the solutions to change it. Inputs from external experts are useful but they have to make sense to the people in the system.
  • The system, not the poor, must be the unit of intervention if we want sustainable impact at scale.
  • You have to listen to the system. Truly listen; without confirmation biases, without ego, without expectations, without intention, listen quietly and openly.
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Interview: Systems change network builders

Interview: Systems change network builders

Some things I’ve learnt:

  • The people who live and breathe in the system are those who have to come up with the solutions to change it. Inputs from external experts are useful but they have to make sense to the people in the system.
  • The system, not the poor, must be the unit of intervention if we want sustainable impact at scale.
  • You have to listen to the system. Truly listen; without confirmation biases, without ego, without expectations, without intention, listen quietly and openly.
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Common challenges in systems change

Common challenges in systems change

Power dynamics are always at play in systems change work. How do you build enough credibility to convene the best actors in a system? How do you get finance for your work when the people with the money often have a vested interest in things staying the same? How do you accept money from the power brokers of a system and keep questioning its foundations? If you are a funder, how do you get close enough to the actors in a system, to be able to make a fair assessment of the project? 

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Systems change: What makes it different from the rest of the buzz words? 

Systems change: What makes it different from the rest of the buzz words? 

Systems Change is about seeing a problem from multiple perspectives. Systems change initiatives typically work on many failures within the system at once. They are defined by their focus on the root cause of an issue, rather than solving the symptoms of a problem. They typically employ a combination of many interventions at once because one strategy will rarely solve a complex challenge. 

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