How to use systems leadership to upgrade you team

Systems leadership was made famous by MacDonald, Burke, and Stewart, in the book of the same name. That book unpacked the key elements of systems leadership and described the elements of human decision-making.  

Human decision-making is about being charismatic, technical, and academic. Part of that decision-making relates to culture and beliefs, hypotheses, and action testing.  

Ultimately, it is how leaders facilitate these, and the other components of dealing with the humans in their teams, at the same time increasing productivity and output that, is the focus of systems leadership. 

As a side note, the book references the work of Elliot Jacques, who authored The Requisite Organisation, which looks at layers and levels of organisations. Jacques was a psychoanalyst, who focused on organisation hierarchy and organisational structures.  

Which are important elements of systems leadership of course, but systems leadership is more about (to me) making the job of leading a more systematised process.  

And that is the reason I was compelled to write this blog post. Too many leaders that I speak to, and coach, struggle with time, business, and pressure. They miss the 1:1 meetings they should be attending, they don’t have the ability or the time to prioritise people. Systems leadership takes care of that. In short, it takes the people part of leadership, and turns it into a system that can be scheduled, planned, and prioritised. 

So, how do you do systems leadership, from the perspective of this leadership coach? 

1. Know that leading and managing are both important 

This is the key premise of systems leadership. And mind you, the topic of many blog posts, and possibly books. For some reason, people are fascinated by the dichotomy between managing and leading. 

Without really understanding that a great leader needs to be a great manager. And vice versa. It does frustrate me (just a little) to read post after post about leaders and managers, from people who just don’t get how the two come together. 

They come together in systems leadership. 

In essence, people are the most important thing in a leader’s life.  But the challenge is that a leader’s time is not their own, and they are pulled from pillar to post. They are busy humans, and they need to go to endless meetings, just to keep up with what is happening in their organisation. 

So, how do they make people their priority? Simple. Diarise it. If it is important enough to attend all the other meetings in the business, it must be important enough to attend meeting with team members, right. 

Here is systems leadership 101 (and don’t thank me now). 1. Work out what meetings (or time) you need to dedicate to your team. Or your team members individually. 2. Put these in your calendar. 3. Commit to them, and never miss one or reschedule.  

Voila, you have applied systems thinking to your leadership. Done. Systematise the people work that you need to do.  

2. Measure your outputs and relationships 

Our business has a process for determining whether or not a team is high performing or not. And it is simply this.  

Have I mentioned that I (we at TGG) are very simple humans, and actually, we are the masters of simplification. So, if you look at a team, and what is required for it to just function, not be high performing… there are two elements. Outputs – what the team does, and relationships – how the team does it. 

In our experience, working with over 150 businesses over 18 years, what we know is that most teams will say that they are good at getting their outputs delivered, but they aren’t great at getting their interpersonal stuff, like connection and communication. 

From a systems leadership perspective, systematise how you measure and mange this aspect of your team performance. Use KPI’s to measure team performance, and use a morale meter, or similar, to measure (with a system) the relationships in your team.  

And come up with a minimum level or performance, say 70% for each, as an example. And aim for 70% in each area, outputs and relationships. Create a system for understanding how your team is performing together, not just what they are achieving. Yes, a novel concept for some, but try it and watch the magic happen. 

FYI, the relationship piece is way more important than the outputs piece. It is hard to have a high performing team if they are at each other’s throats constantly. Regardless of whether the KPIs get hit.  

3. Make it visual 

And how will the team know how they are progressing, from an output or a relationship perspective, if it is not visual. How will they even know what is important to you as their leader if it is not visual.  

As a leader, here is a key mantra of mine – if you team can’t see it, you can’t have it. It really is that simple. 

If your team need to guess what you are measuring, or how you are measuring it, forget it. They will never buy in, and they will never care about that metric. Period.  

So, how much to you make visual. Enough is the answer. Enough to ensure that key metrices, both outputs and relationships, are visible to all team members. And it is updated regularly.  

Please don’t put something on a wall somewhere and never go back to it. Put it up, and have stand up meetings around it, to reinforce how important the metrics and the measures are to you, and why they should be important to your team. 

Have somewhere between three and seven metrics (why this number – because the human frontal lobes, and their working memory, and can only store three plus or minus two units of information at any one time). Three to seven is the magic number of anything. Whatever you do, make it visual. Even in the bad weeks or months! 

In summary, systems leadership is not new. It is based on the premise that humans make decisions and leaders facilitate those decisions. For me, this takes putting the people stuff into a system and calendar entries. Then, measure the outputs and the relationships in your team, and make the results visual.  

And could you please do me a favour, and share this with leaders everywhere? This is an important topic for leaders. 

And of course, please click the image below if you’d like to chat about what leadership means to you.

If you would like to learn more about Anton or The Guinea Group, please click hereto book into Anton’s calendar, to:

UPGRADE your Mindset
UPSKILL your Leadership
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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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