Systemic Leadership

The traditional view of leadership is that it is a feature of individuals who lead. Leaders are portrayed as firm, heroic characters, displaying personal leadership qualities to get things done. This individual as leader perspective neglects whether and how leadership is applied and the constraints within organisations that inhibit or discourage leadership. It seeks to apply some leadership model or framework, with the view that by training enough managers to be ‘leaders’, somehow the organisation’s leadership needs will emerge.

Far better would be to ask what does the organisation need to be led well?

Managers don’t apply unlimited leadership energy to leverage improvements for the organisation. The reality of organisations is that leadership activity is not pursued by individual managers acting alone, trained in skills defined by an outside training supplier, trusted, and free of restraint or political interference. Leadership is foremost a social activity conducted through relationships, and conducted at all levels within the organisation.

The skills of the individual leader are important– to the extent that they contribute to the whole. However the effectiveness of individual leaders is curtailed by the nature of the system in which they operate. This includes the momentum and inertia of processes, traditions, plus existing assets, networks, knowledge and their capabilities, and the influence of the informal or shadow system (e.g. office politics, rivalries, jealousies, communication breakdowns, silos, etc.).

Systems Approach

A wider systems perspective of the organisation requires that the organisation clarifies what it means by leadership, what it needs leadership for, where it needs leadership applied, and who, across the whole organisation, is best positioned and suited to apply leadership.

Such a broadening presents a challenge to organisations used to isolating individuals from the management ranks as its leaders. However an individual-based focus makes little sense since it is impossible to isolate the parts from the whole system.

To improve leadership, the organisation must learn to see the management and leadership processes from a systemic perspective. It will require a range of academic and management theories, disciplines and tools that will help it to better understand, develop and manage leadership as a property of the organisation and not just of the individual. The system’s influence means that leadership cannot meaningfully be defined, analysed, specified and codified, nor can it be examined, appraised and assessed, independently of what is happening around and between managers and others in the organisational context.

ICM's Approach

Our approach is that we begin with diagnosis, understand what the organisation’s needs and current situation are, and then work with the organisation to define the action path that will provide maximum benefit to the organisation. ICM has a unique range of tools and methodologies that allow rapid and insightful achievement of these outcomes.

Typically we find leadership skills are required. We work with the management team to define what those skills are, where they are needed, how they are to be applied, and what improvement process would best deliver on those needs. ICM has available methodologies and programs to tailor and support the improvement of those skills.

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