The Systemic Leader

American football game between the Tennessee Titans (in navy blue) and the Houston Texans (in white). Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
American football game between the Tennessee Titans (in navy blue) and the Houston Texans (in white). Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Management has been traditionally related to leadership, although it can be different tasks. An example can be the American Football. In that sport there is clear difference between the manager or coach and the team leader that would be the quarterback. Following this model, a leader would not be someone that makes plans. It would be someone that analyzes the environment in a competition and provides instructions to make that the team acts jointly in order to accomplish a desired task from those ones selected by the managing staff. Management is a matter of providing reasoned solutions; however, leadership is a matter of joining the team to accomplish a predefined task.

The aim of management is the effectiveness and the efficiency, the aim of the leadership is the coordination of the group, and this can be got better on the field. Both activities are highly linked, and in many other situations, it is not so easy to make a distinction of roles. For instance, the European football, or soccer for the American, there is not a player similar to the quarterback because the game is not as strategy dependent as the American football and instructions and harangues are provided by the manager from a side of the field, however, leaders arise among the team players when the circumstances require someone that puts the team to work together and increases the morale.

In my country, the football manager never is named in this way. The press uses commonly the name “technician” to make a reference to the managing role. This is showing how management is more related to technique or reasoning than to leadership too.

In businesses and other organizations, there is a similar distinction between this kind of management and leadership. High level decisions are a responsibility of the board of management and leadership usually is a task of the directorate that makes the decisions to fit the environment on the field.

Going back to the important matter, the role of the leader is to provide cohesion to the group to get the results fixed by management taking the environment and competition into account. The role of the leader is not making a plan. It is only to select the proper task to win the short term play, and to assure that people will follow his instructions correctly.

In other words, if the role of the leader is cohesion, he is providing a single and common thinking for the group in order that it can accomplish a task. From this concept the two classical visions of leadership arise. The first one is similar to the American football: the leader is the single thinker with the role of making his thinking common. The second one is the opposite: the leader is a data gatherer that search for a common thinking and he makes it the only thinking of the group to accomplish that task. Both visions can drive to different competences for the leader. The former leader must have the ability to convince people, the latter leader must have the ability to understand people and integrate knowledge.

With the growth of the size of the organizations, both visions of leadership are falling far from reality. Large organizations cannot be driven only through people, and nowadays organizations are driven through different information channels. For instance, quality and IT systems are taking a large importance in the modern organizations as a way of providing cohesion for the workers’ tasks. In these organizations it is not so easy to create a single and common thinking that motivates people to act jointly; however, it is possible to make the organization to work.

Large organizations must be understood as a complex system, where there is not a single vision about how the organization must act. In large organizations we can find divergent positions to accomplish many tasks. The role of the leader is neither to convince someone that does not want to be convinced nor to extract a minimum common agreement in order to define how the task must be accomplished. Large organizations demand a different kind of leadership that understands internal conflicts, and how to act in order to reach the aims in spite of the internal conflicts.

Human resources managers usually prefer the experience of people that know how work is done in large organizations instead of novel people to leading positions due to this fact. Theory can be very far from practice.

I am going to define the new kind of leadership for the next years as systemic leadership. Modern leaders in large organizations can neither motivate all staff with a harangue nor be empathic with all people to drive the organization. Organization is built every day more in a systemic way integrating people with working procedures and IT systems. The role of the new leader is to make the integration of technology and people easy for the people and build a system that works properly. The new leadership is less American (in the football sense) and more European. The systemic leader must be aside giving instructions assuming managing and technician roles and let that traditional leaders arise where and when it is necessary across the organization to accomplish certain difficult tasks.


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