Living Systems Leadership

Living systems are complex adaptive systems (CAS). All people (and all human organizations) are, by definition, CAS. To find and unfold your τέλος (or to lead your organization well), a firm grounding in complexity theory is an invaluable asset.

My work with living systems leadership has six parts. These are best explored (and utilized) as a whole package, but I will tailor my work with you (or your organization) according to your needs and preferences.

Part I: Seeing Systems: Knowing complex systems as a basis for systems change.

We will explore the following facets of complex systems:

  • Self-organizing, dynamic, unpredictable, resilient, emergent
  • Part and wholes
  • Stasis, dynamic equilibrium, and chaos
  • Negative and positive feedback
  • Membranes, inputs, and outputs
  • Communication, information, and learning
  • Adaptation and evolution: Systems as historical; complex adaptive systems (CAS)
Part II: Self-Transformation: Knowing oneself as a basis for systems change.

We will explore various ways to become more aware, present, and accepting of oneself as a whole, seeking optimal alignment and integration.

  • Mindfulness, or simply being present.
  • Meditation, or simply being who you are.
  • Body, mind . . . and spirit? Alignment and integration, or simply being whole.
Part III: Engaging with Others: Constructive conflict and collective intelligence as bases for systems change.

We will explore practices such as deep listening and a form of Bohmian dialogue, which make all group-work much more rewarding, productive, and enjoyable. These tools also enable us to use conflict constructively (by seeing it as an indication of the need to more deeply examine seemingly antithetical perspectives). Usually antipathy is not so much inherent in the varying perspectives as in the underlying emotions—often fears and frustrations—of the clashing adherents. As groups become better acquainted and forge deeper relationships, practice of the above skills results in periods of genuine collective intelligence, where surprising insights and agreements emerge, which are greater than the sum of all members’ individual understandings.

Part IV: Open-Ended Leadership: Balancing unpredictability and probability in facilitating systems change.

We will explore what it means for complex systems to be causal but non-deterministic. They follow “laws” (or “strange attractors”), but never repeat themselves exactly (sort of like π, or any non-linear process). Usually, negative feedback keeps systems within a zone of equilibrium, so future behaviors can be fairly reliably estimated (at least in the short term). But sometimes (as in the case of the “butterfly effect”), positive feedback can throw the whole system into a radically different arrangement (or into the orbit of a new strange attractor). Complex systems encounter “bifurcation points” that launch them on new trajectories. The manner in which we influence systems change should be informed by all of these surprising aspects of complexity, so unlike the behaviors of mechanical systems.

Part V: Ethical Leadership: Weighing the consequences of systems change on multiple levels and on various constituencies.

In the ideal case, system dynamics benefit all members—as when wolves actually strengthen the health of a caribou herd by taking the weakest, sickest individuals. However, when you’re being eaten by a wolf, it’s hard to see things that way! Even when an ecosystem retains stability in the face of significant environmental change, some organisms will go extinct. In an organization, you may not be able to prevent job losses as you re-tool. There’s no magic formula for facing such ethical dilemmas—each case is individual. But we can become more sensitive to the implications of change on various members, which will always lead us to better decisions and outcomes.

Part VI: Contextual Leadership: Facilitating continual change in adaptive and evolving systems.

Change happens. An unchanging system is a dead system. So leaders MUST facilitate change. In biological evolution, most scientists don’t believe that nature acts purposefully in “designing” new adaptations. However, as human beings we have the ability to purposefully adapt and evolve—we can consciously design. Nature uses types of “intelligence” (such as “jumping genes” and immune systems) that respond to stress or invasion by throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. We can try that too. However, we can usually rule out many options that are highly unlikely to stick (and save ourselves a lot of time and effort). Even so, it can be prohibitively time-consuming to try the remaining options one at a time (controlling one variable). Instead, in a systems approach, we experiment with mixes of inputs that have a hig probability of success and adjust the mix frequently, as we watch how the system responds. In so doing, we also adjust our τέλος as appropriate.

To SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULTATION, at which we will discuss how I might best serve your needs, go to Contact and call and/or email.

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