At our recent annual conference, I talked about the importance of systems leadership and Clare’s blog summarises how this works in practice for the PPPN and that the PPN wouldn’t work without it.
Leadership within the public sector and NHS has been characterised by the charismatic leader who sets the pace and is the figurehead for success (or failure). However, collective or distributed leadership has been recognised as being more effective particularly at team level. It has been described as leadership where what is being undertaken and who directs it is dependent on the person with the expertise at that moment. Formal hierarchies may exist but within the collective leadership there is space for a more distributed approach that recognises individual expertise and enables it contribution.
Systems thinking has been described as a key component of this and systems leaders are those who can understand and work with organisations as networks of inter-relationships. For psychological professionals, this has similarities with the concept of formulation as we apply it to understanding the issues of those who come to see us on a professional basis. Other aspects of collective leadership include personal mastery and team learning which also overlap with our professional knowledge and ways of working. What does it take to do this effectively?
Three core capabilities are required to be a systems leader. The first is to be able to see the larger system and not the view only from one’s own viewpoint. Sometimes, we can observe that people find it difficult to see past their own particular viewpoint. If we help people see the larger system then we can build on a shared understanding to develop improvements and solve problems. A second core capability of systems leadership is to foster reflection and generative conversations. Generative conversations have been described as sharing ‘perspectives, questions and ideas to produce a common understanding and shared sense of direction’. The third capability focuses on collectively co-creating the future rather than problem-solving on a reactive basis. We are often prompted to change because of our own dissatisfaction with our current conditions and organisationally this is true also although the drivers may be others’ dissatisfaction (targets, commissioners, regulators). In co-creating the future, it isn’t enough just to inspire with a vision of the future but it is important to recognise what is difficult about the present and enabling the bridge-building to move to that desired future.
I think our work as psychological professionals epitomises this journey for the people we seek to help and also ourselves as we seek to become more effective. This is also the way of the PPN in putting forward psychological thinking and approaches on a larger scale for the wider benefit of not only our members but to the wider world also. Wherever any of us have promoted psychological thinking is a form of systems leadership and this approach has enabled the PPN to grow so quickly over the past 12 months. This successful growth is dependent on you – PPN’s members – so thank you and please do help the network keep on developing.
The agenda and the network will be there alongside you all working to make the rhetoric a reality.