Systems Leadership Research

The Staff College, formally known as the Virtual Staff College, commissioned The Colebrooke Centre in collaboration with the Cass Business School, to carry out the first major UK study of systems leadership for public services. Given the degree of volatility and uncertainty currently dominating decisions public service leaders are having to make, the research is intended to elucidate for leaders how a systems approach to leadership may help them navigate increasingly complex systems.

The output is a suite of papers from this research including a synthesis paper, a literature review, four international papers as well as a range of interviews and case studies with UK systems leaders.

At it’s heart, what emerged from this empirical study was the notion that at the core of systems leadership in practice are shared values and intentions to improve outcomes for service users. This core is surrounded by a complex of interrelated dimensions. Although they overlap, these dimensions can be categorised as:

  1. Personal core values (ways of feeling)
  2. Observations, ‘hearing’ and perceptions (ways of perceiving)
  3. Cognition, analysis, synthesis (ways of thinking)
  4. Participatory style (ways of relating)
  5. Behaviours and actions (ways of doing)
  6. Personal qualities (an overarching way of being that forms the essence of both professional and personal style and approach).

Above all, and despite systems leadership aptitudes being put into practice by means of professional styles and behaviours, systems leadership was described as a mind set, or a way of thinking about and approaching the leadership role, rather than a set of technical skills or competencies.

A synthesis paper that draws together all of the strands of the research as well as a shorter executive summary and other supporting materials are available to download below.




Source Paper 4a – Systems Leadership for Children’s Services in the USA (Melissa Van Dyke, National Implementation Network, University of North Carolina)

Source Paper 4b – Systems Leadership for Children’s Services in Canada (Brenda Moody, Aron Shlonsky, Deborah Goodman, Factor Inwentash School of Social Work, University of Toronto)

Source Paper 4c – Systems Leadership for Children’s Services in Denmark (Bianca Albers, Familie & Evidens Center, Copenhagen)

Source Paper 4d – Systems Leadership for Children’s Services in Australia (Ilan Katz, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales)

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