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Stanford Social Innovation Review | Winter 2015

Complex social problems require a unique type of leader: the system leader, individuals who catalyze collective leadership. Co-authored by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania, this article illustrates the core capabilities required for system leadership through the stories of successful practitioners.

Top Takeaways

  1. System leaders are not singular heroic figures but those who facilitate the conditions within which others can make progress toward social change.
  2. Any individual in any organization, across sectors and formal levels of authority, can be a system leader.
  3. The core capabilities necessary for system leadership are the ability to see the larger system, fostering reflection and more generative conversations, and shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.
As these system leaders emerge, situations previously suffering from polarization and inertia become more open, and what were previously seen as intractable problems become perceived as opportunities for innovation.