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Leadership in Times of Transformational Change

While my reading list continues to outgrow my ability to get them all read, I continue to find myself drawn back to Russell Ackoff. Yes, I know - I'm a social systems junkie. However, we are working on and in social systems and so I return to social systems design to better understand how to lead and influence the education system - my area of passion.

I think a lot about leadership and what it means in an age of transformation -when it is no longer about reforming or improving our systems but changing their very essence. Perhaps it was this bias in my thinking that caused one of Ackoff's quotes to jump off the page: "Inspiration without implementation is provocation, not leadership. Implementation without inspiration is management or administration, not leadership. Therefore, leaders must be both creative, in order to inspire, and courageous, in order to induce implementation." (A Systemic View of Transformational Leadership).

Inspiration: rather than persuade, demand, or get "buy-in" (tools of mechanistic and biological system paradigms), transformational leaders must inspire - move people to make sacrifices in pursuit of a preferred future. Here is why it is critical that new leaders understand the theory and methodology of social systems - Inspiring visions are creative acts of design and to be a designer of a social system one must understand its principles and dimensions as well as the principles and dimensions of the systems we have inherited.

Implementation: If you can inspire people to move towards a preferred future but can't or won't aggressively take action, then you simply create more cynics (passionate people who don't want to be disappointed again). Ackoff uses the word "courageous" - I like this word and think it means - be bold, take well-thought out risks, push people out of their comfort zones, be willing to stand with them as they take bold and audacious actions, and allow them to make mistakes for it is the only way we learn.

So - you want to be a leader in an Age of Transformation? Ackoff asks two important questions:  1. If you do not know what you would do if you could do whatever you wanted, without constraint, how can you possibly know what to do when there are?  2. If you do not know what you want right now how can you possibly know what you will want in the future?

Do you have an idealized design - a future you would have today if you could? Is it based upon the principles and dimensions of a social system?

As Ackoff says, "Transformational leaders are driven by ideas, not by the expectations of others." Education cannot afford any other type of leadership today.

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