Leadership in Complex Systems
Submitted by: The Global Knowledge Initiative’s Sara Farley, Renee Vuillaume, & Chase Keenan, as a deliverable for USAID

Kathryn Bowman, Systems Program Lead (GKI):   kathryn@gkinitiative.org
Renee Vuillaume, Senior Researcher (GKI):  renee@gkinitiative.org

Designed as a knowledge product to share with USAID’s 20,000 staff at various Missions and Bureaus globally who work in the international development arena, the overview connects the type of system in which a person operates to the kinds of unique barriers to effectiveness they confront.  With respect to complex systems–those that are particularly likely when dealing with entrenched, wicked challenges in health, agriculture, education, energy, security, etc. in low resource contexts–a unique set of skills and attitudes are required if systems are to change sufficiently to address challenges.

The Global Knowledge Initiative’s (GKI’s) “Systems Skill Builder” was constructed as a function of exploration and research across 12 distinct disciplines, inclusive of 25 interviews with global thought leaders.  The Skill Builder zeros in on 9 essential skills that map to the three core elements of a system, namely: actors, linkages, and the enabling environment. For each of these elements of a system, leaders are challenged to wield particular skills necessary to influence change and trigger shifts in the system.

Transformational systems change, that which Systems Leaders aspire to, is best supported by mixing and matching these 9 skills, thereby activating multiple levers within a system simultaneously.