Leaders' Edge Advisor

Leadership and the Role of Values in System Change

By Gary De Carolis, President, Center for Community Leadership

“Tackling tough problems - problems that often require an evolution of values - is the end of leadership; getting that work done is its essence.”
- Ronald Heifetz, MD, Leadership Without Easy Answers

Organizational development that produces lasting change requires tremendous transformation of the systems and people involved. Long held values must be examined to determine their continued relevance to prospective changes that challenge the status quo. Your role as a leader within systems change efforts is to help your organization or community tackle the identified value conflicts while honoring the loss that people and entire groups might be feeling as a result of the emerging changes.

Planning and implementing system change is tough work! It would be so much easier to just say “let's just hire a few more social workers, or managers, or teachers (depending on what kind of organization you are in) and call it a day.” But in a few years, people would be complaining again that the system is not working.

Moving toward system change is not a solo journey. Everyone involved in your organization or community has the potential to be a leader in some aspect of the work and thus contribute to the major system change effort. It's up to you to help provide them with the tools, the confidence, and the opportunities to make a contribution.

You should anticipate that making more than incremental adjustments will create discomfort and a certain level of stress among those accustomed to “the usual way that things work around here.” Fortunately, you have access today to wonderful information resources, available at your fingertips on the Internet. You can draw from these to identify new approaches to address the tough challenges inherent in bringing about meaningful system change. In doing so, you must give people time to digest the new information and provide opportunities for them to ask questions and express their concerns. Your role as a leader is to involve them in strategizing how best to incorporate new perspectives into accomplishing the organization's purpose, goals, related objectives.

In his book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Dr. Ronald Heifetz recommends creating a “Holding Environment.” This is a safe place where people can share their fears, worries, hopes, and dreams. By allowing such safe dialogue, you also afford people the opportunity to explore those feelings, while beginning to open up to new information that may help them move along the path of the new change, as they let go of the past.

Questions to Ponder
  • How have you dealt with the issue of loss as your system moves forward?
  • How have you mobilized your stakeholder groups in sharing the leadership of your effort?
  • Are you aware of the values that most clearly need to change if your organizational or community change effort is to be realized?
  • What are you doing to help people move through the transformation of their currently held values?
  • How are you doing with pacing the work of system change?

Please share your thoughts with Gary De Carolis, President, Center for Community Leadership at: gary@centerforcommunityleadership.com

The Leaders' Edge Advisor is an occasional publication for leaders striving to make a difference in their organizations and communities.

The Center for Community Leadership provides personalized, dynamic leadership training. Our diverse faculty, all with years of hands-on experience leading system change, facilitates three-day Community Leadership Institutes across the country. Participants learn current leadership theory and practices, gain new perspectives on their leadership styles and strengths, and identify and work on their own leadership challenge.

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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