The key systemic leadership questions

Systemic diagnosis

  • How does leadership need to apply itself to the organisation, and how does the organisation need to apply itself to leadership?
  • How can the organisation, working as a system, enable appropriate leadership to flourish?
  • Where in the organisation is leadership deficient?
  • How does that deficit show?
  • How well are leaders combining their efforts?
  • How does individual leadership effort contribute to the organisation being better led?
  • What and where are the gaps and what is falling down them?
  • What does this organisation need more of and less of at this time?

The thinking challenge

  • What does leadership mean to the organisation? (How different would it be if it was better led?)
  • What does leadership mean for the organisation? (What would leadership be doing?)
  • What does the organisation think it wants leadership for?
  • What can leadership (when managers lead) achieve for the organisation that management (when managers manage) can’t?
  • What does leadership need to change?
  • How does leadership itself need to change?
  • If not by leadership development, how else might the organisation improve its leadership?
  • What has to be happening in the organisation that has a positive bearing on the application of leadership, and what is being done about it?
  • What is the organisation’s leadership strategy and agenda?
  • When the organisation sponsors a major leadership development programme, what does it really want, and what does it really need, at what levels? Does it come with strings attached?

The observational challenge

  • What is happening outside the organisation that has a bearing on the application of leadership?
  • What is happening inside the organisation that has a bearing on the application of leadership?
  • What are the internal dynamics of this organisation that are helping or hindering the conduct of successful leadership, and what is getting in the way of improvement.

For individual leaders to ask themselves

When taking up their job, most managers who see themselves as having a clear leadership role gradually lose sight of their high hopes and aspirations for change and improvement. They fall victim to the pressures that come upon them. They find themselves reacting to demands, requests and circumstances. The managers become bureaucratised; their jobs are eroded by entropy. They forget why they were put there.

The challenge to overcome this trap is mental. All managers should produce and then keep alive in their mind a plan for how to structure, prioritise and use time and resources for that part of the job that concerns their leadership role. They need to write answers to these questions on a piece of paper, keep it to hand, remind themselves, and reflect frequently on them:

  • What am I trying to do with my leadership?
  • What do I need to improve and change around here?
  • Who are my customers and what leadership do they need from me?
  • What are my leadership priorities?
  • How will I manage the time I need to allocate to my leadership role?
  • How will I enable others to use their leadership?
  • What is the system doing to me and what am I doing to the system?
  • How will I successfully account for my leadership?
  • What do I want to do with the power to change things that this job gives me?
  • Why am I continuing to do what I am continuing to do the way I am continuing to do it?

Assumptions and expectations about leadership practice in organisations

  • When should managers manage and when should they lead?
  • When should managers let others lead?
  • In what circumstances would managers be permitted to lead?
  • Is power distributed in a way that gives managers real power to lead?
  • Does the organisation remove obstacles to managers taking a lead?
  • What are the risks to a manager’s career when they try to lead?
  • What are managers focusing their attention on when they lead?

What organisations need to know about their managers’ leadership

  • What will managers do with their leadership?
  • What are they doing with it?
  • What are they not doing with it?
  • What does the organisation need them to do with it?
  • What will stop them?
  • What will start them?