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The Dawn of System Leadership

Recommended reading for Leopold Leadership Fellows (2015 cohort)

Excerpt from the article: The Dawn of System Leadership. Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, John Kania

At no time in history have we needed such system leaders more. We face a host of systemic challenges beyond the reach of existing institutions and their hierarchical authority structures. Problems like climate change, destruction of ecosystems, growing scarcity of water, youth unemployment, and embedded poverty and inequity require unprecedented collaboration among different organizations, sectors, and even countries. Sensing this need, countless collaborative initiatives have arisen in the past decade—locally, regionally, and even globally. Yet more often than not they have floundered—in part because they failed to foster collective leadership within and across the collaborating organizations.

The purpose of this article is to share what we are learning about the system leaders needed to foster collective leadership. We hope to demystify what it means to be a system leader and to continue to grow as one. It is easy when we talk about exemplars like Mandela to reinforce a belief that these are special people, somehow walking on a higher plane than the rest of us. But we have had the honor to work with many “Mandelas,” and this experience has convinced us that they share core capabilities and that these can be developed. Although formal position and authority matter, we have watched people contribute as system leaders from many positions.