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Leading Beyond Our Organisational Boundaries

Kate Simpson
Kate Simpson

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Responsible leadership requires meaningful engagement with system level change

By Kate Simpson, Wasafiri & Mark Larmour, Forward Institute

When Fellows from the Forward Institute met recently in York, they came together to explore how best to understand and experiment with systemic change in complex organisations.

The Forward Institute teamed up with Wasafiri, and their Systemcraft model, to help their Fellows work out ‘so, what do I do next?’.

Leading change in complex organisations to create responsible, sustainable, or even regenerative outcomes requires leaders who are willing and skilled up to take a systems-based approach to making change happen. And here is why.

Responsible and sustainable leadership in any organisation demands that we consider the impact our organisations have on people, communities, society and the environment. All the impacts. All the people. Not just the impact that we might desire. And not just the people – employees, shareholders, customers – that we set out to serve. It requires us to consider all the impacts and all the people.

Often, this requires responsible and sustainable organisations to absorb the additional burden of the impacts that lie well beyond their perceived organisational boundary. This, for instance, might mean taking responsibility for the impact on the environment through the waste produced, transportation used, or the natural resources required in their processes.

It could mean taking responsibility for the (sometimes hidden) impact on the communities that they serve or are located within. It should also include taking responsibility for the impact of what the organisation does, and how it does it, on the well-being and health of its people.

Taking responsibility as leaders for these wider impacts, across the complex systems in which we operate, requires more than just good intentions.

Often our business models work more efficiently, and more profitably, by externalising certain environmental or social costs.

Sustainable, responsible shifts within organisations are not about doing current things better, but about doing current things differently. And that ‘different’ is systemic change.

This is not a shallow, woolly or abstract call for things to just ‘be different’. It requires specific attention to the incentives that drive current choices within our organisation.

It is the need for better collaboration between organisations, across all sectors, and with wider society – we can only make a responsible and sustainable change when we work collectively.

While there often aren’t quick fixes or easy wins, there are still many things that we can change for the better, and for the long term.

The Forward Institute is focused on encouraging organisations to consider the wider impacts that they are having on society, and encouraging senior leaders to think for the long term. Wasafiri has created the Systemcraft model through reverse engineering their extensive experience of working with organisations and communities on leading complex, systemic change.

Working together as thought partners, we are collectively committed to helping senior leaders and their organisations to make good change happen.

It is only when we look outside our organisational boundaries that we are able to identify the opportunities to make positive change in the complex systems in which we operate which can benefit everyone.