Discovering Leadership Culture in System Analyses

Teaching is often a way of learning, especially when the "students" are quick to experiment.

Every two years I lead a planning course for NACUFS, modeled on Russell Ackoff's process of Idealized Design. We work with a fictional campus and its setting, beginning with a systems analysis based on Peter Checkland's CATWOE.

In our most recent outing we asked the class to also take a look at the leadership culture in place on the campus. Our plan was to then do it a second time after their planning was complete, asking the question "What leadership culture will bring these visions into reality?"The before and after assessments could then be compared to see if there were a shift.

To reveal the leadership culture we used Leadership Metaphor Explorer, a dialogic tool produced by the Center for Creative Leadership and for which I provided the illustrations. The card deck was designed around CCL's framework of three levels of leadership culture: dependent, independent and interdependent. They were designed as a conversation tool and not necessarily for diagnostics, but it's still fascinating to see what messages might be inferred from their use. 

I had conceived this look leadership culture as an add-on to the systems analysis, but as is often the case with NACUFS members they were smarter than I was: they incorporated their leadership metaphors into their systems analyses, producing an especially "rich picture" of what was going on on this campus and how it all tied together.

From an assessment standpoint, the existing system reflected a dependent/independent leadership culture. The shift in culture that would be needed to realize their plans would be a decided shift to the interdependent. It was a thrill to see a group of food service managers -- so often charged with exerting control  -- make the leap to a new way of thinking about leadership.