Leadership and Systems Change

Understanding how change occurs in natural systems can inform efforts to change schools, districts, and other social systems.

Studying the dynamics of systems change suggests practices that can make leaders more effective.

In his essay "Life and Leadership" Fritjof Capra explains that natural and social systems, including organizations, usually remain in a stable state. That's one reason that changing schools and other systems can be so challenging.  

Every now and then, some event or new information affects a system so strongly that it must change some of its structures, practices, or beliefs. This process, sometimes called "emergence," creates opportunities for communities and organizations to exercise their collective creativity.

Facilitating community creativity in the face of changing conditions requires a new type of leader. The traditional idea of a leader is that of a person who is able to hold a vision, to articulate it clearly, and to communicate it with passion and charisma. The new type of leader 

  • establishes conditions rather than giving directions
  • uses authority to empower others
  • promotes networks of communications
  • creates a climate of trust and mutual support
  • encourages questions and rewards innovation
  • loosens control and shares responsibility more widely, for instance by supporting creation of an eco-council or green team and appointing members of the administration to serve on it
  • works to make change a part of the organization's culture
  • anticipates surprises, because emergent change has its own dynamics, and cannot be completely managed.


Jeannette Armstrong - Let Us Begin with Courage
Jeannette Armstrong

In the Okanagan understanding, total community must be engaged to attain

Fritjof Capra - Life and Leadership
Fritjof Capra

The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community.

Carolie Sly - Who will lead schools toward sustainability?
Carolie Sly

Twenty-eight educators are morphing into leaders of sustainability education and, along the way, they are reflecting on attributes of admirable and effective leadership.

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