Systems leadership

About systems leadership

Systems leadership is about how you lead across boundaries – departmental, organisational or across sectors. It describes the way people need to behave when they face large, complex, and seemingly intractable problems. The kind of problems where no one person or organisation can organise the solution on their own; where everyone is grappling with how to make resources meet demand, and where the way forward therefore lies in involving many people’s energies, ideas, and expertise.

Systems leadership aims to transcend individual organisational interests to work together towards better outcomes. It’s a practical, grounded approach to integrated working and long-term culture change.

The Staff College carried out the UK's first study of systems leadership for public services, and concluded that:

At it’s heart, what emerged from this empirical study was the notion that at the core of systems leadership in practice are shared values and intentions to improve outcomes for service users... Above all, and despite systems leadership aptitudes being put into practice by means of professional styles and behaviours, systems leadership was described as a mind set, or a way of thinking about and approaching the leadership role, rather than a set of technical skills or competencies.

Systems leadership resources

We worked with Debbie Sorkin, National Director of Systems Leadership at the Leadership Centre, to run Systems Leadership Masterclasses in London and Manchester. Her blog for Wellbeing Our Way - Systems Leadership for Beginners - outlines the 'what', 'how' and 'why' of systems leadership for people working in health and social care. The presentation slides from Debbie's masterclasses go into more detail about how systems leadership can be used to shape change, specifically focusing on working with public services.

The Revolution will be Improvised is a great introduction to systems leadership, and is based on the real world experiences of 25 places using this approach across England, from Hackney to Cornwall. Other helpful publications can be found on the Leadership Centre's website, including The Revolution will be Improvised Part II and The Art of Change Making.