as we know it?

The end of leadership

The end of leadership as we know it?

Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit dramatic but I just wanted to open up some thinking space 😉

In classical thinking about leadership, the leader who decides what must be done, it is the one who determines what the limits are and when something is right or wrong. Leadership is about something within the system but external to the person of the leader. You could call it ‘system leadership‘: the leader and the system being led are not the same. The leader experiences his/her environment as a context with many uncertainties and tries to manage those as well as possible, in relation to each other and the goal. This type of leadership has developed tremendously since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

When you look systemically at this kind of leadership, you notice that’ s often about whether the leader really takes the 1st position. It’s about whether the leader has connected well with the origin and emerging future of the organization. It’s about what the leader includes into the organization, and what he/she may unintentionally excludes. And it’sabout how the leader has organized a dynamic exchange with the environment.

There’s something interesting about this kind of leadership when you look at the person. It has a great attractiveness. Leaders are often looked up upon. Leaders can display behavior that others cannot (unless things really get out of hand, then some sort of corrective mechanism kicks in). Leaders can take more from systems: they get paid more, are better cared for and treated better than others.

Perhaps the end of this kind of leadership has also been reached, just as many other concepts and truths seem to be reaching their end. More than ever before we notice how an individual does not actually exist. Systemic working has indicated language and form here. Anyone who has ever stood in a constellation has felt how connections with others are necessary to gain access to one’s own life energy.

If you don’t focus on the person and position of the leader (individual) but on the system itself, a completely different narrative emerges. You could call this a ‘system manifestation‘. It’s actually not even leadership anymore, for the sake of convenience I’ll keep calling it that.

The leader here is the person who is available at that time to hold something on behalf of the system. To make decisions on behalf of the system. The leader manifests, as it were, what is already present in the system. It is not someone who sets the standards or boundaries but someone who organizes a context in which everything that is available can flow freely. Ideas can come from all actors, resistance is regarded as information, and the pace is a consequence, not an end in itself.

These leaders don’t experience have to deal with insecurities because they are fed by very different information. Their individual contribution is the ability to build a bridge between what they sense is true and relevant and where other people are. They make themselves available to this system but are not dependent on it. Because their availability could just as well apply to another system. Their individual self-image is not dependent on the success of the system. They don’t need or want to take the 1st position per se, they regard is as a consequence as well.  

There are many examples of system leadership. Start with all the names that come to mind when it comes to dealing with corona.

Of system manifestation, by its very nature, however, it is much more difficult to mention names or examples. Knowing whether something is true is about a completely different axis here.

Some questions to help you get started
• What’s right? What do you recognize from your own life? And above all: what not?
• When were you a system leader yourself?
• When did you experience system manifestation?
• And what do you want more of?

siets bakker

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