Liberating leadership

of the organisation • by the organisation • for the organisation

Curious? Why a fishtank?

Why we need a different approach to leadership

Are the public, customers, employees and everyone else with a stake in the health, competence, efficiency, care, and success of organisations generally content with the way many of them are being led?

Are you? Or does there seem to be scope for improvement? Big improvement. And do leadership development programmes transform organisations? Not much, if we’re honest. Expensive programmes don’t seem to have much impact beyond individual managers. Even that quickly seeps away. The glue’s about as sticky as a Post-it note. A trick is being missed. People are looking in the wrong place for the leadership their organisations need.

They tend to separate leadership from the organisation’s reality and concentrate on individuals’ qualities, behaviour, skills and competence. When things go badly wrong, the public and especially politicians blame managers for the corporate failings and want them trained to be better leaders. But this doesn’t achieve the desired ends: the context and the system they work in is mostly left untouched – unconsidered, unexamined and unreformed. Who actually takes an active responsibility for looking after the system’s competence as a whole – the bits, the connections, the gaps?

Using the fishtank as a metaphor for the organisation, people see the fish. They want the fish to shine and perform. What they don’t see, and are inclined to neglect, is the quality of what surrounds the fish – hierarchy, rules, incentives, and so on. If managers are taken out for training, they are then plopped back in the same dirty environment and we are surprised when they revert to old habits. As fast as leadership talent (new and retrained) is poured in, it leaks away. Waste is the winner. Leadership doesn’t stand a chance. Nor does the organisation.

This Institute is different in several ways. Here are two:

  •  It has a different vision: one that can see, understand and act on the fishes’ context. It is concerned with the system and how well it uses leadership.
  •  Its aim is that organisations should become better led as a whole and not simply have good individual leaders. That’s just for starters. To read about the fishtank metaphor, read here.

Dr. William Tate


Dr. William Tate at the Leadership Awards 2016

2017 Systemic Leadership Summit

Parliamentary Evidence

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