The Definition of a leadership System

The definition of a leadership system: How the key organizational resources of people, money, and specialized knowledge, intentionally interact to produce a desired outcome. This definition builds on the classic definition of a system developed by Donella Meadows in her classic, Thinking in Systems, a premier.

Defining Components of a Leadership System the definition of a leadership system, you will notice that there are three parts to a system of leadership:

  1. A desired outcome or purpose, which always includes the experience of the workforce.
  2. Key resources of people, money, and specialized knowledge. These are the resources every organizations has at their disposal.
  3. Intentional interactions that are designed to produce the outcome or purpose. These interactions include rules, routines, and behaviors

System Output or Purpose

Every system has an outcome or purpose. In my research of high performing organizations I found intentional outcomes of:

  • Respect
  • Relationship
  • Employee safety
  • Engagement
  • Servant leadership
  • Love and grace

Not too, that in each of the above, there is always a strong relationship to the employee experience.

Key Organizational Resources

Every organization has the same resources that turn raw materials into marketable products and services. These resources include people, money, (in the broadest sense), and specialized knowledge. The biggest difference I found between elite organizations and average organizations is this: elite organizations see these resources as opportunities for development to create ever increasing value. Average organizations see these resources as assets that need to be managed, which is a nice way of saying controlled.

Designed Interactions

All systems have key resources or elements that interact in prescribed ways. Our DNA has two key elements, sugar and phosphate. These elements interact through a set of rules and routines to produce specific behaviors. These interactions are precise. Every time a DNA molecule splits and replicates in our human bodies, 3 Billion digits of code are replicated. This process of replication happens 2 trillion times a day. If these interactions were not precise, human life would not be possible.

In a similar way, organizational resources interact through rules, routines and behaviors.

  • Rules. Every organization has them. The question is are they designed.
  • Routines. Even organizations are creatures of routines. They are institutional muscle memory or what Charles Duhigg calls “keystone habits.
  • Behaviors. One of the big “ah ha” moment in the research was just how much emphasis high performing organizations put on the personal behaviors of their leaders.


My research included the U.S. Military, multiple high performing healthcare organizations, manufacturing, education, and groups as diverse at the New York Mafia, and the Salvation Army. In each case, I found the same basic structure.

  2 comments for “The Definition of a leadership System

  1. December 16, 2019 at 10:30 am

    So true. Much grist for the mill in this post. Thanks Dan.

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