promo_03We are pleased to welcome Bob Anderson, Chairman of The Leadership Circle as our guest contributor for the Whole Leader blog this week. Bob’s body of work is the foundation of the all the transformational leader development work I offer to my clients. I personally believe Bob’s perspective on leader (and human) development is on the cutting edge of where we need to take the discussion of leadership development. Enjoy this excerpt from his new book written with Bill Adams, called Mastering Leadership.

We also invite you to join us on Friday, December 4 at 3:30pm PST to hear Bob and I discuss Mastering Leadership on The Whole Leader podcast.

Leadership Practice: Think Systematically

Culture eats strategy for lunch every day. Structural forces are more powerful than individual commitment. Only when leaders courageously meet the challenge of structural change head-on can they make their vision a reality. Systems have a powerful immune system that seeks homeostasis or equilibrium, and they push back hard when change is introduced. This tendency to resist change helps to ensure the survival of the system; it also makes systems difficult to change. As Warren Bennis writes: “The reason why so many experiments in change fail is that the leaders have failed to take into account the strong undertow of cultural (structural) forces. Leaders who fail to take their social architecture into account and yet try to change their organizations resemble nothing so much as Canute, the legendary Danish monarch who stood on the beach and commanded the waves to stand still as proof of his power” (Bennis, 2009).

Again, structure determines performance. Individually and organizationally, you are designed perfectly for the performance you are getting. Significant changes in individual and collective performance must first take place at the level of structural design. Since organizational and societal systems are created at the level of collective consciousness that created them, personal transformation in the level of Mind of individuals must precede transformation in organizational and societal structures. When organizational structures are designed at a higher order of complexity and performance than an individual’s consciousness, they encourage individual consciousness to develop to that same order of complexity. Thus systemic and personal transformations are interdependent.

In the Reactive Mind, we react to fix problems. This strategy is wholly inadequate for redesigning systems. Structures are not changed by attempting to “fix” the problems that are arising from inadequate design. To use another metaphor, the disease is not cured by attempting to resolve its symptoms. Only changes to underlying structure can, in the long run, lead to significantly different outcomes.

The ability to not react to problems and symptoms, hold creative tension over time, use intuition to find leverage in the midst of unfathomable complexity, and have the courage it takes to authentically advocate for fundamental change in structures is why Reactive Mind is incapable of Systemic Thinking and Design. Creative Mind is required. Integral Mind is preferred. Brian Hall suggests that the Visionary Strategic capability matures as Creative Mind evolves and opens into Systems Awareness (Hall, 2006). Systems Awareness, thinking, and design begin to emerge in the late Creative Stage of Development and reach maturity at the Integral Stage. Learning about and practicing Systems Thinking evolves Creative Mind into Integral Mind.

One of leadership’s primary roles in executing the vision is as an architect of structure. Architects do not do the construction; they guide the process. Senior leaders ensure that processes are in place so that the organization learns to think systemically and to redesign itself over time. It does not mean that senior leaders do the redesign and then require others to adapt to new roles and processes. The real challenge is to develop a change strategy that gets broad-based involvement in the ongoing renewal of the system. In addition, the deeper work of leadership development needs to go on side-by-side with system redesign. When the Leadership Development Agenda is integrated into a well-conceived strategy for redesigning whole systems, visions become reality. People grow and translate that growth directly into organizational improvement.

This systems architect role of leadership requires courage. People may ignore or disagree with your vision, but when you address the system, you must be prepared for conflict. The underpinning of any tangible structure is an invisible structure of thought, belief, philosophy, or theology. Tangible structures simply mirror the thinking, assumptions, and beliefs that gave birth to them. Changing tangible structures, therefore, almost always confronts the thought and identity structures to which people currently adhere. This is why structural change is often so tenaciously resisted. It upsets the apple cart.

Structure change is both conflictual and ambiguous. No one has answers because systems are so complex. Moving forward in ambiguity, while challenging the cherished thinking that built the old order creates conflict. Such conflict, compassionately engaged in, is a sign of life. It is the process by which visions get tested and improved (or changed) and through which the old structures evolve and become new. The leader is at the forefront of the controversy and must be willing to be a controversial figure.

Excerpted from Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams (Wiley, 2015)

Bob Anderson is Chairman and Chief Development Officer and Bill Adams is CEO of The Leadership Circle and the Full Circle Group. They are coauthors of Mastering Leadership (Wiley). Visit or