Systemic Leadership

Around the world, leaders under pressure have discovered methods and tools that have been designed and tested across industries in organizations from small NGOs to massive global corporations. Systemic leadership is pioneering water reform policy at the national level in Australia. The “impossible” has now become the “inevitable” as top staff and commissioners alike have moved beyond polarized ideologies and “stakes in the ground.” Review our testimonials.

How can we improve upon complex issues effectively and strategically?

The methods appear “messy” at first, as does any complex issue when we first explore it. Yet, quickly, the participants are able to self-organize and map out emergent new opportunities and discrete pathways forward. We call these systemic methods.

How do we know that our methods work to meet the needs of organizations and leaders?

Participants recognize true value within the first twenty minutes of their first workshop. They also realize that these methods can be transferred to other complex issues that are plaguing their organization, and they are eager to know more. The key is recognizing when an issue is complex.

How does recognizing complex issues support emerging or versatile leadership?

Systemic leadership is a process, not a content-specific approach. Similarly, critical thinking skills work regardless of what one is trying to figure out. Systemic Leadership avoids the need for high-priced consultants and empowers current staff and networks to apply their experience and knowledge to address the very issues that they encounter. This is the power of systemic leadership.

How can I learn more about this work and its presence in the world?

It is our experience that few people want to read all of the academic papers and background behind our work, however, if you are one of those people, we encourage you to begin by linking the “Resources” box to the right or visiting our sister network site for Systemic Pioneers.


Today’s leaders are under pressure. Although people care and are working hard, they are struggling to see effective ways forward in virtually every aspect of modern life.

What is exciting and hopeful is that new ways of thinking have emerged from global practitioners. These methods can be learned “experientially,” by practicing them while considering the complex issues before us. The new ways of thinking include the best of Applied Critical and Systemic Thinking.

Systemic approaches are innovative: they are not what we’ve been taught. They include Goethean observation (Steve Jobs’ way of observing), holistic thinking and the best of applied “soft” systems thinking, imagining, diversity, egalitarian engagement, and exploration with deep respect for other perspectives and values. Experiential learning is at the heart of this work: we learn best by doing.

Systemic approaches utilized at the Center have emerged and successfully been applied for two decades, and they incorporate tools to answer the question, “Is this idea a good idea?”

What is a Complex Issue?

Complex issues have distinct characteristics: there are many variables; the variables are constantly changing and the relationships among the variables are changing. We cannot know if A is causing B until after the fact. We are not in control of most of the key variables yet we have to make decisions. With the global economy, technology, and political and environmental uncertainties, leaders are facing more and more Complex Issues yet they lack the specific methods that predictably improve the organization’s position.

Complex Issues are here to stay. Yet, we won’t change our methods if we don’t change our thinking. The best of Systemic and Critical Thinking is now available to support managers and leaders who are ready to try new ways of addressing complex issues.

What does Effective Leadership entail?

Leaders are individuals or teams that take personal responsibility for improvement. Leadership is not a title but a function: in the best organizations, leaders exist throughout the levels and silos. Systemic methods release resources currently unavailable.

Effective Leadership of Complex Issues includes the elements of leadership focused on “What should we do” and “Why should we do it?” Diverse, egalitarian engagement provides the most resilient ideas that extend to crucial management/implementation issues, “How should we do it?” Sharing power and trusting the individuals in the group are both core gestures of effective leaders.

Systemic Leadership Overview

The video below demonstrates the value in developing effective systemic leadership.