Ash Buchanan
Sep 6, 2017 · 3 min read

“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.” — Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

Earlier this year we wrote an article about how all of our hero leaders can go home.

It’s been one of our most read articles, sparking lively debate about the different roles leadership can play in our lives and our world.

Our intention in writing the article was to question some of the status quo myths about leadership. In particular, the limiting belief that leadership is something reserved for the chosen few. Someone who is charismatic, inspirational and in a position of authority. Instead, we suggested leadership is a verb and it’s something anyone can choose to do at any time. If we want to create a healthy and resilient future, what is needed now, in our climate of global crises, are cultures of learning and leadership.

In this article, we build on this idea and explore a vital role that makes cultures of learning and leadership possible. The role of systems leadership.

The rise of systems leadership

“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.” — Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

A systems leader is a person who creates the conditions for, and brings forth collective cultures of learning and leadership. They are catalysers of our collective wisdom, our collective creativity and our collective potential in service of our common challenges. Systems leaders invite whole cultures to widen their circle of compassion, find unity in their diversity and create synergistic networks of collaboration to meaningfully respond to their common challenges.

Peter, Hal & John suggest system leaders require 3 key qualities. This includes;

In their Stanford Social Innovation Review article, Peter, Hal and John provide a number of examples of systems leadership in action. This includes Nelson Mandela and his work in South Africa and Molly Baldwin, the CEO of Roca, a community youth development organisation located in Boston.

Cultivating systems leader qualities is usually the result of a long, disciplined developmental journey. It typically requires many years of reflective work before we possess sufficient inner perspective to facilitate these complex collaborative efforts.

Wellbeing as a learning and leadership challenge

At the Benefit Mindset project, we see a lot of synergies between the role of systems leadership and the role of practitioners working towards creating cultures of wellbeing. That’s because, wellbeing is both a learning and leadership challenge.

“If you want to change how a person thinks, give up. You cannot change how another thinks. Give them a tool the use of which will gradually cause them over time to think differently.” — Buckminster Fuller

Being a systems leader also resonates strongly with how we see our role at the Benefit Mindset project. We focus on how we can best support both systems leaders and change making communities with useful ideas, tools and frameworks for doing their important work.


If you’re interested in finding out more about systems leadership in a wellbeing context, check out our latest report Becoming Wellbeings.


Benefit Mindset

Creating cultures of everyday leadership

Ash Buchanan

Written by

Social Innovation | Benefit Mindset I Wellbeing Design I Regenerative Development

Benefit Mindset

Creating cultures of everyday leadership

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