Systemic Leadership, Anyone?

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For some time now, I’ve been on a diet. Not a food diet, a news diet.

I’ve made a conscious decision to purposely stay away from all the CNNs, CBSs, ABCs, NBCs, FOXs, and any other local stations or cable networks peddling news on the small screen as much as possible. As a former print journalist and recovering news junkie, abstaining from the cycle that once sustained my paycheck’s tough and unavoidable at times, but it’s absolutely refreshing when I manage to do so successfully for days and weeks at a time.

So, nowadays, it takes a lot for me to tune in and watch the news, like, oh, I don’t know, a presidential debate, maybe?

All right, I won’t beat around the bush anymore. I temporarily broke my vow of news celibacy to follow the 2012 presidential debates and will be tuning in again tonight when the final one takes place in Boca Raton, Florida, about an hour north of me here in Miami.

Following any political campaign or debate often leads one down the dark rabbit hole of political punditry, where you kind of hope the play-by-play opining will shine a definitive light on the outcome of the race in a 5-second sound bite. That never really happens, but you just can’t turn away secretly hoping it will. It’s a disturbing trap to fall into, hence, my TV news aversion.

This time around, in the never-ending spiral of TV chatter and online writing and straight-out opining concerning debate performance and the pundit prophecies of America’s political future, I’ve noticed a general consensus: there’s something lackluster in each candidate and his running mate this political season. Some blame style points and preparedness; others blame the evasiveness that’s typical of any politician. To me, it boils down to leadership—systemic leadership, to be exact. Neither candidate seems to have that sparkling quality to a convincing degree—at least not enough to sway a large number of undecided voters in their direction.

If we view the U.S. as an organizational system that consists of different moving parts—the departments and agencies at home and abroad that keep America running—a presidential candidate should project the qualities of, what Annabel Beerel called, a systemic leader. The systemic leader, Beerel wrote in her 2009 book Leadership and Change Management, focuses “on keeping the organization fine-tuned to new realities.” Those “new realities,” Beerel explained, are the “forces that herald change.”

Systemic leaders, according to Beerel, “understand the impact of new realities and change, and help (members of) the organization to work with the value tensions presented, adapt, learn and develop their adaptive capacities. Systemic leaders are transformational leaders, concerned with strengthening the organization’s capacity for learning,” particularly in the face of change.

It’s interesting how that word—change—has barely surfaced during this election cycle, at least not to the exhausting extent of the 2008 campaign. Back then, the word change was used so much, it became cliché. Now, in 2012, it seems the word’s lost all originality and impact. Is the current sentiment among voters—the indecision to choose one candidate over the other—a direct result of that overuse? Have we become so desensitized to use of the word change that it’s easy for a candidate to sidestep any need to explain what they will change (if anything) in full detail?

In 2008, change was a movement that inspired the masses. In 2012, the word doesn’t seem to make a dent in public opinion.

In a recent Saturday Night Live skit, Jay Pharoah portraying Barack Obama said, “There’s your choice, America: Stick with what’s been barely working, or take your chances” with Mitt Romney. That line, I think, captures the essence of the overall sentiment driving indecision among voters—we stick with what is and deal with change as it happens or we risk something different that will change what exists with no promise or assurance of success.

Call me crazy, but that rationale kind of quells any desire to embrace new realities. And that’s not a good thing.

Leaders “don’t make plans, they don’t solve problems, they don’t even organize people,” John P. Kotter wrote in his 1999 book John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do. “What leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it. How does one set the direction for change? Not by organizing people but aligning them.”

Given recent poll numbers showing the presidential race in a dead heat, that’s not entirely happening on either side.

Which reminds me, I need to remember to shut the TV off as soon as the debate wraps tonight. I don’t want to travel down the dark rabbit hole of political punditry again.

Read other posts by Aimee C. Juarez

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