As anyone who knows my work knows by now, I am disenchanted with the leadership industry’s single-minded focus on single individuals.
Why? Because the results of this approach have been disappointing. We have not succeeded in developing leaders equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century.
Why? Because the problems of the 21st century are more complex than the education and training that we provide. In other words, a systemic approach to leadership development would be better, far better, than simply training our lens on select individuals.
Thinking about the world as a system comprised of different parts – rather than as a place in which only one part (the leader) pertains – is not new or original to me. What is different is the idea that this systemic approach should be embedded in, embraced by, the leadership industry.
The leadership system as I describe it is simple – it has only three parts. The leader. The followers – or the others to whom the leader in any way relates. And the context – or contexts (plural), within which both leaders and followers are located.
I do not argue that every systems approach should mimic mine. What I do argue for is a clearer understanding of the ways in which power is shared, and of the ways in which the system itself determines how.
To wit, this excerpt from a recent article by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, titled “The Milwaukee Experiment.”*
“One of the difficulties of criminal justice reform is that power is spread so diffusely though the system. ‘Criminal justice is a system, and no one person or group is in charge of it,’ Alfred Blumenstein, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, told me. ‘You have legislators who decide what’s a crime and establish the range of penalties. You have judges who impose the sentences. You have police who decide whom to arrest and you have prosecutors who have wide discretion in what cases to bring, what changes to call for, and what sentences to agree to in plea bargains.’ Each of those participants has contributed to the rise in incarceration.”
I rest my case. For now.