Leadership for our Times – The Leadership System Model

David Kantor, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2007 by Monitor Kantor Enterprises .

or the “savior. Goleman. Ph. the white knight approach is the prevailing panacea.Leadership for our Times – The Leadership System Model David Kantor.D. Yet as experience has demonstrated time and again.” Even as the demands and complexities of leadership have widened. requiring both . Perhaps it is the hangover of those compelling childhood fairytales that we so stubbornly cling to the myth of the hero who charges in to save the day. Gardner. a particular kind of leader continues to dominate the attention of corporate boards and the American press—the “charismatic” leader. In the face of a performance crisis. savior CEOs rarely live up to expectations. As the rash of CEO turnovers in the last five years powerfully demonstrates. and Heifetz. organizations meet with an essential decision: delve deep into their own workings to uncover the complex web of forces driving their decline or place their hopes and fears in the hands of a heroic savior. What if the problem isn’t the person? What if it’s the model? What if no single individual can master the complexity and challenge of organizations in modern times? A New Model of Leadership Many advances have been made in recent years toward a more inclusive understanding of what constitutes “leadership”. Despite much publicity and widespread propagation of the insights developed by theorists such as Collins.

suddenly rendering yesterday’s perfect leader obsolete. time-consuming. In its pure form it would have at least five leaders who represent unique forms of leadership. and sacrifices wisdom for momentary “fit”. Neither is truly a good option. this one element has remained constant: the centrality of a heroic individual. We call this new model of leadership a Leadership System. The former choice places a tremendous burden on the leader to “step up” and meet the new challenges however equipped his leadership is to handle them. 2 Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model . 2) “Cast out the old and bring in the new”. The new model changes the focus from a powerful individual. The latter choice. It is therefore to an organization’s advantage to nurture a range of leadership and to structure authority in a way that encourages the right kind of leaders to step forward just as they are needed and to cede their power just as fluidly when the moment has passed. to a team of leaders who constitute a leadership system. A Leadership System is an alternative or adjunct to lines of authority and responsibility based in hierarchy. usually placed on an unrealistic pedestal. or. we believe that effective leadership for our time is a collective phenomenon rather than an individual one. Under the current model. organizations in this situation are faced with two options: 1) Work through the crisis with the current leader. although the outcomes may be less than optimal. is costly. plunging both the leader and his organization into despair.the analytic and the intuitive. We argue that only a system can have the acute sensitivity necessary to anticipate those dreaded external forces and internal realities that. this is often a recipe for disaster. As we have seen. the scientific and the spiritual. a path more often taken. in the old model. continually catch organizations and their leaders off guard. In contrast to this traditional approach. What this model cannot satisfactorily address is how rapidly and dramatically situations can change.

emotional. moral. They exhibit a range of intelligences—rational.CAPABILITIES OF A LEADERSHIP SYSTEM • Enlists a broader range of leadership styles and abilities in the service of the organization • Organization becomes more robust and adaptive against inevitable ‘shocks and discontinuities’ • Members of the system act more authentically and effectively • Burden of organizational leadership is distributed among a set of closely connected individuals Heroic Leadership Leadership System • The leaders provide moral checks and balances on one another The Leadership System While the Leadership System. Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model 3 . They have been trained to keep conversations 1 Monitor-Kantor Enterprises has developed an approach to building the individual capabilities necessary for a well-functioning Leadership System within an organization. possesses capabilities needed for almost every conceivable organizational eventuality. Indeed. anticipate and manage organizational crises. social. and structural. and bring their individual and collective strengths to bear upon organizational issues. The program is known as Leadership Model Building. which. It is a team of leaders who collectively take responsibility for the whole organization. every one of the leaders in the system is periodically expected to step forward as principal leader when circumstances require. Members of the Leadership System work collaboratively. it does not ignore the need for hierarchy. A Leadership System is very different from the heroic model of leadership in at least four powerful respects: 1) How members see themselves and their roles: A Leadership System is not a leadership team. by training1 and design. 2) Its range of capabilities: The Leadership System is a team of leaders. For more information contact Monitor-Kantor Enterprises at 617-252-2048. values laterality and collective authority. Team members are committed to this concept and see themselves playing this systemic leadership role. as we envision it. each member of which takes responsibility for managing a portion of the organization. share power.

Leadership System members must have a very broad and deep repertoire of actions. a broader range of capabilities. They develop a collective intelligence—a state in which the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. the Leadership System is designated to collectively and systemically lead the organization. In short. uses of language. a Leadership System is something quite different. a Leadership System will be much more effective. 4 Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model . Leadership System team members know how all the major parts—processes. And. we call these the Five Leadership Pathways. pliable. As their organizations evolve. While a traditional leadership team reports to the CEO. and graceful in dealing with the myriad of complexities presented by the current and future organizational environment. a new architectural designation—coupled with intensive training in how to work effectively in a Leadership System—the team develops an amalgam that enables them to function at much higher level. and design corrective interventions. there are five leader types which constitute the most whole and effective system. and the rank and file—are functioning within the system to both good and ill effects. Each of the pathways makes important contributions to organizational health and success. various divisions. the Leadership System occupies a very different place in the organization’s architecture. They have learned to think systemically and become masters of systemic awareness of their company. and ways of being with their colleagues . Each of the five leader types capitalizes on a leader’s natural propensities and orientations. in our model. in order for there to be a well functioning leadership system all leadership types are required. key teams. Clearly. 3) Its place in the organizational design: In its purest form. see how it is working/not working. a traditional Executive Team is one thing. They can focus on the whole system. approaches to problems. Five Unique Leadership Pathways In our vision of a Leadership System. 4) Its collective intelligence: Through all of the above—a different identity. affective. operating styles.on difficult issues productive and on course.

Because they deliver extraordinary performance in their chosen arenas. is highly accountable • Is willing to take risks and to stand behind difficult decisions and take full responsibility for their consequences • Welcomes having to make tough decisions and does so with ruthless honesty Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model 5 . even under pressure • Does what he says he will do. but because of superior results in the pursuit of competitive success. Performance Leaders (Jack Welch of GE is an outstanding contemporary example) often command a passionate following.The Performance Leader This leader is the guardian of the company’s profit statements. He leads the struggle to sustain the organization’s economic viability. yet values the creative tension between shortand long-term thinking and acting. the short-term. Performance leaders succeed not only because of charisma and drive. ASSETS • Carries the company with his high energy • Demonstrates comfort in power realms and high stakes situations • Can act decisively. They are seen as cultural heroes who have earned the rights of followership. He is ever mindful of. but not obsessed with.

this leader invites contributions from all quarters. This is the road I say / believe we must take. With this “double vision”. it is in effect.” This leader. however. has the guts to go with his conviction. organizational—that few others could imagine. He has the ability to think about thinking and has a hunger for ideas. 6 Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model . industrial. “I see very clearly what direction we have to go in. from within and from outside the organization. will choose. to ultimately pursue one of the other four paths for their leadership identities. because of their natural inclinations. • In forming and reforming his vision of what the organization can become. envisioning directions for change—economic. and is careful to make access to himself easy. his own and the organization’s. then. a rite of passage in the leadership arena. • In a strong and clear voice. by perceiving that what ‘is’ could be different. financial. • Of all leaders. the Vision Leader is the one most capable of shifting paradigms. particularly when it comes to resource allocation • Can become centered on greed and personal gain • May develop a ‘crisis’ mentality—getting hooked on going from crisis to crisis—some of which he creates so he can fix them • Runs a high risk of burnout • Tendency to rely on symptomatic or quick fix solutions rather than intervening in the larger system • Can become authoritarian when he doesn’t mean to be (“Just get it done!”) or lack compassion (“Don’t be a baby”) when there’s critical work to be done Almost all leaders begin their careers as Performance Leaders. he is able to challenge his own and his organization’s basic premises. The Vision Leader The Vision Leader is the organization’s ‘futurist. Some leaders. this leader says.’ The Vision Leader couples his deep faith in reason with as deep a faith in intuition.LIABILITIES • Highly competitive.

Both stances depend on his comfort with and acceptance of paradox. On the passive side. subjective experience and values of analytic scientism without compromising the contributions of either approach. and resources. The Vision Leader. he is able to tease out the ‘exceptional abilities’ that often reside unnoticed in most individuals. authority. he can sometimes neglect inconvenient realities. he invites questions like: What is work about? Has life any meaning? Do we really add value or is this merely a charade? • The Wisdom Leader has a passive and an active side. therefore. its reason for being. he courageously holds his ground when faced with cynicism about the ‘soft issues’ in personal and institutional life. He believes that each perspective is anchored in inner wisdom. In focusing eyesforward. THE WISDOM LEADER HAS A ‘BOTH/AND’ PERSPECTIVE Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model 7 . • Affirming the benign beauty and power of human intention. The Achilles heel of this Leader is his attraction to the future. and can balance both stances. relies heavily on other leaders. On the active side.• This leader sees possibilities for the future that others do not see. He can hold the values of inner. Far from shying away. • The Wisdom Leader has a ‘both/and’ perspective. to build and sustain an organization capable of achieving the future he so clearly sees. he can withhold taking action when others act on reflex. The Wisdom Leader The Wisdom Leader is the guardian of the organization’s spiritual essence. aided by his ability to move back and forth between past and present as a means for guiding his intuitions about the future. he can lead others through a wilderness of ambiguity and uncertainty. He can articulate “What is this place all about” and inspires others with his commitment and values. • As the leadership resource most committed to spirit-led and values-driven sensibilities.

and seeks to maintain. to remain ever open to what it cannot THE EXIT LEADER IS THE ORGANIZATION’S ‘SANCTIONED ICONOCLAST’ 8 Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model . the Citizen Leader tries to help each employee belong to the whole community. Focusing on structures that do and do not work. he can foster productive communication and collaborative inquiry between managers and employees. • The Citizen Leader is a designer of structures. he dedicates himself to developing the organization and its culture. to strive for balance in its logic. He encourages the articulation of personal choice among all employees in order to assure genuine commitment to organizational purpose. the company itself is a product. • Knowing the meaning of the organization's purpose in the world. This leader’s unique contribution rests in his ability to recognize and call out aspects of the organization and its performance which others lack the courage to challenge. to forsake arrogance. and to look passionately at his or her life in the company. procedures. shape and reform the organization such that the creative energies of all employees are fully utilized. Being "in touch" with them. and actions. • This leader feels it is his duty to cultivate and maintain the esprit de corps of the employees. not to any segregated part. he is sensitive to the trials of those who feel vulnerable in organizational life. Through perfecting the practice of positive opposition this leader asks the organization to look at itself. to keep its boundaries fluid. he takes it upon himself to alert the leadership team to his observations and to design appropriate structural corrections. The Exit Leader The Exit Leader is the organization’s ‘sanctioned iconoclast’. His focus is not to critique but to improve by constantly seeking higher and higher levels of performance and by candid self and organizational reflection. • Through his strong relational skills. to recognize the undersides of its best mental models. In his leadership role. but avoids being co-opted into conspiracies of victimhood.The Citizen Leader For the Citizen Leader. He views the organization’s profit goals and people goals as inextricably linked. to relax its mental grip on truth. to recognize the tyranny of success. the Citizen Leader sees that as many people as possible tangibly experience that purpose.

harness. Steps Toward the Future No matter how attractive a Leadership System may appear on paper. The scope of these requirements adds up to no less than a total reframe of how most organizations think about leadership. the way forward seems evident. power. In contrast. ♦ Leadership for Our Times—The Leadership System Model 9 . however. Deliberately the Exit Leader remains at the periphery. Organizations have the opportunity to take the reins of their future rather than reacting to market performance and replacing their leaders in times of trouble. cultivate and protect constructively iconoclastic individuals can reach heights of performance unattainable to those without this key leadership role. The Exit Leader is a critical. to a lateral rather than a hierarchical leadership structure. Given the resounding failure of current leadership models. for to be drawn too closely into the organization is to forfeit the objectivity that sets him apart from other leaders. to honest and frank dialogue about individual leaders’ real strengths and weaknesses.possibly know on its own. but too often absent role in a well-functioning leadership system. to encourage the free expression of unpopular sides of every issue. then. All models need to be examined in order to develop. it is of no value if organizations and the leaders within them cannot actualize this vision. an organization that is of a mind to attract. It requires an incredible commitment: a commitment to the long-term development of leaders from within. and performance. History has proven that those CEO saviors are a beautiful myth that too often proves to be just that—a fiction rather than a reality. masking their true talents. to cultivate a Leadership System and put it into action? Building a system of interconnected leaders with equivalent but widely varying sets of capabilities is no small feat. What does it take. The Exit Leader is given permission and encouraged to provide this assessment. to the essential value of the differences between individuals. Too often organizations expel these leaders or force them to go underground.

a division of Monitor Company Group. Kantor has developed influential models for training professional practitioners in a systems approach to change and for developing leaders and leadership systems. co-authored with William Lehr). he has made a significant contribution to the fields of family systems and organizational consultation theory and practice. Ph. Kantor himself. and research enterprises. as well as innumerable practitioners trained by him. is a systems psychologist. has used his theoretical models in consulting with businesses. e: david_kantor@monitor. He is the founder of Monitor-Kantor Enterprises. organizational consultant and clinical researcher. particularly Inside The Family (Jossey Bass.About the Author DAVID KANTOR. human service organizations.com t: 1 617 252 2048 . and to university-based groups such as MIT’s Dialogue Project. Through his teaching and the publication of dozens of articles and five books. consulting firms.D. Dr. to industry. law firms. In this capacity and as a consultant to other clinical facilities. LLC. David Kantor.

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