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12月份對話訊息: 系統領導的破曉之時 / December Dialogue Newsletter: The Dawn of System Leadership

系統領導的破曉之時

面臨社會上極為棘手的問題,如果要加速進步的腳步,需要促成深度的變化。此時需要一種獨特的領導風格 – 系統性領導者,一位可以催化集體領導的領袖。

史丹佛社會創新評論:為促成社會變革的領導者提供的訊息與啟發

作者:彼得‧聖吉、哈爾‧漢默頓、約翰、肯尼亞

歷史上,從來沒有像現在那麼迫切需要領導者的時刻。我們面臨的系統性的挑戰,是超過當下機構與階級式權力結構的能力範圍所及。氣候的變化、生態系統的毀滅、水資源的匱乏、年輕世代失業、深入的貧困與貧富懸殊,都需要許多跨越組織、產業、甚至跨國的合作。因為感受到這樣的需求,在過去十多年來,無論是當地、區域性或全球性的層面,都發起了無數的倡議,希望促成更多合作性的計畫。但是有許多的構思都是因為在這些組織中無法營造出集體的領導,因此往往就此失敗。

這篇文章的目的,就是希望釐清大家對於系統性領導者的理解,並消彌大眾對英雄式個人領袖的迷思。

系統性領導者的核心能力

系統性領導者對於系統整體健全運作的堅持,將會培育出其他人投入的意願。他們具備特殊的能力,可以透過與他們有不同特質的人的角度來檢視真實現狀,同時也鼓勵其他人保持開放的態度。他們透過深度聆聽與互信的網絡和合作,建立人與人的關係。以下就是系統性領導者如果要營造集體領導力時,必須發展出的核心能力:

  1. 具備可以看見整體狀態的能力。
    在任何複雜的體制中,人們通常會聚焦於自己所見的事物,而非整體的現狀,因此彼此總是在誰對誰錯方面出現爭議。幫助大家從更寬廣的系統來思考,才能在複雜的問題上彼此理解。有了這樣的理解,才能讓合作的組織共同找出各自看不出來的解決方案,並以整個系統的健全來共同努力,而不侷限於解決個別問題的治標做法。
  2. 鼓勵反思,促成更多有創造性的對話。
    反思就是對自己的想法有所反省,像看鏡子一樣,審視我們平常在對話時視為理所當然的既定立場,因此更能體會我們心智上的思維是如何限制我們的觀點。彼此分享深層的省思,一個很關鍵的步驟,可以讓組織與個人的團體真正「聽見」和自己不同的看法,並從情緒和認知的層面上真正體諒彼此心目中的「真相」。這是一道很重要的門檻,透過這扇門,可以用互信取代過去的不信任,激發出集體的創意。
  3. 將集體的焦點從被動的解決問題模式轉化為共同創造未來的模式。
    改變往往是從令人不喜愛的情況開始,因為有技巧的領導者可以帶領大家離開回應問題的思維,轉向建立正向的願景,邁向未來。通常要促成這樣的情況,需要領導者幫助人們形容出自己深層的理想,然後透過大家努力達成一些可行的目標,從這裡建立信心。這樣的轉變並不能只靠建立有理想性的願景,而往往必須面對目前令人難以接受的真實狀況,學習如何運用願景與現狀之間的差距,啟發大家想出新的做法。

成為系統性領導者的通道

  • 導正注意力:知道「外面」的問題其實也在「裡面」,並理解兩者之間是有關連性的持續沿用現在的做法,但是更努力、用更有智慧的做法繼續,其實並不會帶來不一樣的成果。真正的改變來自於注意到我們就是我們想要改變的大環境的一個環節。我們希望導正的畏懼和不信任感,其實也存在於我們的內在,還有憤怒、悲傷、疑慮、挫折感也是一樣。
  • 重新調整策略:開創可以改變的空間,讓集體智慧浮現沒有成效的領導者試圖讓改變發生。系統性的領導者則是著重於營造出可以滋生改變的環境,讓改變可以持續。在複雜的合作方案中,當我們持續鋪陳能夠促成成功的要素時,就能感受到策略焦點逐漸的改變,也感受到那些能夠創造出促成改變的環境的人,是多麼有爆發力的領導者。

系統性的領導者,深知集體的智慧是無法用製造出來,也不能事先透過計畫來建立的。而且,光是靠那些本來就有預定計畫,希望能夠「驅動」改變,促成照預定計畫出現的改變的領導者,是不太可能的。其實系統性的領導者營造出一個空間,讓身處問題的人們可以說出真相,更深度思考真正的狀況,探索超脫大眾思維的方案,透過持續的行動與反思的循環,以及長時間的學習,尋找出更高的制高點,促成改變。

向前邁進的指南

就如所有困難的挑戰,如果有一些簡單的規則可循,就可以有很大的幫助。

  • 在工作中學習: 系統性領導者的培養是一個不會停止的過程,如果要成功,就必須與工作本質有所串連。雖然培訓和其他介入性的做法會有幫助,如果能融入於一個鼓勵持續反思與合作的環境,效果會更好。
  • 平衡主張與探詢: 所有的改變都需要熱烈的倡議者,但是倡議者往往被自己的觀點卡住,無法與意見不同的人有所交流。所以系統性的領導者必須持續培養聆聽、探索不同想法的能力。透過真誠的探究來領導,或許說起來很容易,但是對於熱烈的倡議者來說,卻是一個很深層的學習之旅。
  • 讓跨界人士互動參與: 光是在我們的舒適圈裡運作,是不可能讓真正促成改變的各領域的人有所交流的。Winslow就表示:「通常用不同的觀點思考一個系統,才能激發出創新。」
  • 放下: 系統性的領導者需要有策略,但是最有成效的領導者應該學習如何「跟著能量走」,如果面臨意想不到的路徑,機會在此浮現時,要將這策略暫時放下。
  • 創造自己的工具組: 創造自己的工具組並不是單純將弓箭準備好,而是透過有紀律的練習,學習成為好的弓箭手。
  • 與其他系統性的領導者搓切學習: 培養自己成為一個更有成效的系統性領導者,是困難的,因為需要在困難的條件下,在強大的壓力下展現有形的成效。即使是經驗豐富的系統性領導者,如果覺得自己一個人就可以做到,就有點太過天真。
    • 你需要可以分享你的啟發與挑戰的夥伴,可以在你本身聚焦於學習時,幫助你面對困難的改變,並找到可以反省、付諸行動、或保持安靜的時間。
    • 你需要與目前成長的進度不一樣的同仁進行互動。
    • 在極為急迫、有時間的壓力時,你需要協助,幫助你讓意想不到的狀況浮現出來。
    • 與其他走在同樣路途的人們有所連結,會讓你的壓力降低,幫助你培養出需要的耐心,特別是如果組織或系統改變的速度,比你本身改變的速度還要慢時,更需要這樣的連結。

破曉時分

我們認為在現在這個時代中,系統性的領導是非常關鍵的,但是這想法背後的理論其實很老舊。大約2500年前,老子的論述就已經提到催生集體領導的人這樣的想法:

缺乏道德的領導者為人們所鄙視。
好的領導者為人們所尊重。
偉大的領導者則讓人們說「我們自己辦到了」。

而今,真正的問題其實在於,我們真的可以期待,足夠有技巧的系統性領導者適時出現,可以幫助我們面對系統中棘手的挑戰嗎?我們認為的確有值得樂觀的依據。當社會中許多核心挑戰,其中連結許多不同層面的狀態,已經越來越清楚的同時,許多人開始採用系統性的思考。本文中所提及的組織與倡議,也因為越來越多人注意到內在與外在的改變其實是有關聯性的,才能展現成效。

The Dawn of System Leadership

The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society's most intractable problems require a unique type of leader—the system leader, a person who catalyses collective leadership.

By Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania, Stanford Social Inn...


At no time in history have we needed 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 organisations, sectors, and even countries. Sensing this need, countless collaborative initiatives have arisen in the past decade—locally, regionally, and even globally. Yet many have also floundered in part because they failed to foster collective leadership within and across the collaborating organizations.

The purpose of this article is to demystify system leaders and the myth of the heroic individual leader.

Core Capabilities of System Leaders

System leaders’ commitment to the health of the whole nurtures similar commitment in others. Their ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves encourages others to be more open as well. They build relationships based on deep listening; and networks of trust and collaboration start to flourish. There are three core capabilities that system leaders develop in order to foster collective leadership:

  1. The ability to see the larger system. In any complex setting, people typically focus their attention on the parts of the system most visible from their own vantage point, resulting in arguments about who has the right perspective. Helping people see the larger system is essential to building a shared understanding of complex problems. This understanding enables collaborating organisations to jointly develop solutions not evident to any of them individually and to work together for the health of the whole system rather than just pursue symptomatic fixes to individual pieces.
  2. Fostering reflection and more generative conversations. Reflection means thinking about our thinking, holding up the mirror to see the taken-for-granted assumptions we carry into any conversation and appreciating how our mental models may limit us. Deep, shared reflection is a critical step in enabling groups of organizations and individuals to actually “hear” a point of view different from their own, and to appreciate emotionally as well as cognitively each other’s reality. This is an essential doorway for building trust where distrust had prevailed and for fostering collective creativity.
  3. Shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future. Change often starts with conditions that are undesirable, but artful system leaders help people move beyond just reacting to these problems to building positive visions for the future. This typically happens gradually as leaders help people articulate their deeper aspirations and build confidence based on tangible accomplishments achieved together. This shift involves not just building inspiring visions but facing difficult truths about the present reality and learning how to use the tension between vision and reality to inspire truly new approaches.

Gateways to Becoming a System Leader

Re-directing attention: seeing that problems “out there” are “in here” also—and how the two are connected | Continuing to do what we are currently doing but doing it harder or smarter is not likely to produce very different outcomes. Real change starts with recognising that we are part of the systems we seek to change. The fear and distrust we seek to remedy also exist within us—as do the anger, sorrow, doubt, and frustration.

  • Case Study:
    Roca, Inc., is a community youth development organisation founded in the Boston area in 1988. Roca works with youths whom, by and large, no one else will work with. Many of the organisation’s staff are former gang members who now work on the streets to help current gang members redirect their lives.4 In 2013, 89 percent of the high-risk youth in Roca’s program for parolees and ex-convicts had no new arrests, 95 percent had no new technical violations, and 69 percent remained employed. On the strength of these outcomes, in 2013 Massachusetts entered into a $27 million social impact bond with Roca, whereby Roca will be paid to keep at-risk youth out of prison, receiving remuneration directly in proportion to the positive outcomes they achieve.

    Roca uses processes like “peacekeeping circles,” a Native American practice that Roca has adapted and applied in diverse settings, from street conflicts to sentencing and parole circles. The practice begins by getting all the critical players in any situation into a circle and opening with each person saying a few words about his deepest intentions. The central idea behind the circle is that what affects the individual affects the community, and that both need to be healed together.6 “We learn to listen to each other in a deep way in circles,” says Roca youth worker Omar Ortez. “You see that a problem is not just one person’s problem, it is all our problem.”

    Developing peacekeeping circles has not been easy, including for Baldwin herself. At Roca’s first circle training 15 years ago, “Forty people came—young people, police and probation officers, community members, and friends,” recalls Baldwin. “Halfway through the opening session, everything blew up. People were screaming, the kids were swearing, everyone was saying, ‘See! This is never going to work!’ Watching the session break down was wrenching, but eventually I understood how committed I was to divisiveness and not unity, how far I was from being a peacemaker. I understood on a visceral level the problems with ‘us and them’ thinking, and how I perpetuated that, personally and for the organization. Continuing to insist, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong! The issue is you, not us, because we hold the moral high ground!’ was a big source of what was limiting our ability to truly help people and situations.”

    In their book Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer describe three “openings” needed to transform systems:
    1. opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions),
    2. opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another), and
    3. opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible).

    These three openings match the blind spots of most change efforts, which are often based on rigid assumptions and agendas and fail to see that transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems.

Re-orienting strategy: creating the space for change and enabling collective intelligence and wisdom to emerge | Ineffective leaders try to make change happen. System leaders focus on creating the conditions that can produce change that can cause change to be self-sustaining. As we continue to unpack the prerequisites to success in complex collaborative efforts, we appreciate more and more this subtle shift in strategic focus and the distinctive powers of those who learn how to create the space for change.

  • Case Study:
    Darcy Winslow was responsible for Nike’s advanced research department. When “our VP of product looked at the known toxins embedded in our products and processes and the many chemicals that posed uncertain risks, he surprised us by asking what we thought he should do. We figured he was the head of this part of the business and would know. But after some time, we understood. The real question became, ‘Who could—and should—lead in tackling this truly complex problem?’”

    With the report in hand, Winslow showed the results to designers and asked what they thought. “You could tell within two minutes if the person was stirred up to do anything,” says Winslow. “If they weren’t, I moved on. If they were, I asked for a second meeting.”

    Soon Winslow was bringing together groups of engaged designers and others in related product creation functions, and a new network started to emerge. Within two years, about 400 designers and product managers convened for a two-day summit where leading sustainability experts and senior management explored together the concept of design for sustainability. A movement was born within Nike.

    Today, Nike’s efforts have spurred collective leadership throughout the sports apparel industry on waste, toxicity, water, and energy. For example, the Joint Roadmap Towards Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals, a joint initiative of Greenpeace, Nike, Puma, Adidas, New Balance, and others, aims to systematically identify major toxins and achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in the entirety of the sport apparel manufacturing industry worldwide, starting in China.

System leaders like Baldwin and Winslow understand that collective wisdom cannot be manufactured or built into a plan created in advance. And it is not likely to come from leaders who seek to “drive” their predetermined change agenda. Instead, system leaders work to create the space where people living with the problem can come together to tell the truth, think more deeply about what is really happening, explore options beyond popular thinking, and search for higher leverage changes through progressive cycles of action and reflection and learning over time.

Guides for Moving Along the Path

As in any daunting undertaking, it is useful to have a few simple guides to keep in mind.

  • Learning on the job: Growing as a system leader is a process that never ends, and to be successful it must be woven into the work itself. Although training and other episodic interventions can help, they are most useful when embedded in a work culture that fosters ongoing reflection and collaboration.
  • Balancing advocacy and inquiry: All change requires passionate advocates. But advocates often become stuck in their own views and become ineffective in engaging others with different views. This is why effective system leaders continually cultivate their ability to listen and their willingness to inquire into views with which they do not agree. Leading with real inquiry is easy to say, but it constitutes a profound developmental journey for passionate advocates.
  • Engaging people across boundaries: operating within our comfort zones will never lead to engaging the range of actors needed for systemic change - “Innovation often only comes from seeing a system from different points of view,” says Winslow.
  • Letting go: System leaders need to have a strategy, but the ones who are most effective learn to “follow the energy” and set aside their strategy when unexpected paths and opportunities emerge.
  • Building one’s own toolkit: Building a tool kit is more than just putting arrows in your quiver. It is about learning, over time, through disciplined practice, how to become an archer.
  • Working with other system leaders: Growing the capabilities to become a more effective system leader is hard work. It needs to happen in difficult settings and under pressure to deliver tangible results. It is naïve, even for the most accomplished system leader, to think that she can do it alone.
    • You need partners who share your aspirations and challenges and who help you face difficult changes while you also attend to your own ongoing personal development—balancing task time with time for reflection, action, and silence.
    • You need to engage with colleagues who are at different stages in their own developmental journeys.
    • And you need help letting the unexpected emerge amid urgency and time pressure.
    • Connecting with others who are also engaged in this journey can help lighten the load and foster the patience needed when organisations or systems seem to be changing at a slower rate than you yourself are changing.

Dawn Awakening

We believe system leadership is critical for the times in which we now live, but the ideas behind it are actually quite old. About 2,500 years ago Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu eloquently expressed the idea of individuals who catalyse collective leadership:
The wicked leader is he whom the people despise;
The good leader is he whom the people revere;
The great leader is he of whom the people say,
“We did it ourselves.”

The real question today is, Is there any realistic hope that a sufficient number of skilled system leaders will emerge in time to help us face our daunting systemic challenges? We believe there are reasons for optimism. As the interconnected nature of core societal challenges becomes more evident, a growing number of people are trying to adopt a systemic orientation. Organisations and initiatives like those described in this article have succeeded because of a growing awareness that the inner and outer dimensions of change are connected.

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