Systems leadership for effective services

This brief think piece summarises the key features of a model of leadership that is increasingly being accepted as the most appropriate way of describing what Directors of Children’s Services in England do when they are at their most effective. Termed ‘systems leadership’, it echoes the way in which school leadership is being reconstructed by thinkers such as David Hargreaves who writes about headteachers as ‘system leaders’, and it matches the increasing emphasis in the health service on ‘collaborative leadership’.

What all three have in common is that they replace the traditional notion of the leader as the sole source of power and authority, with a version of leadership which reflects the complexity of modern society and the decline of deference, a position argued strongly by Margaret Wheatley who suggests that ‘in these troubled, uncertain times, we don’t need more command and control, we need better means to engage everyone’s intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arise’. Systems leadership is a marker of the more general shift in modes of transmission from hierarchical to viral, and, in forms of social organisation, from analogue to digital. Arguably, it is the only kind of leadership likely to survive the advent of social media.