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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Value People, Value Learning, and Think Systemically

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #135

The three core principles of successful leadership are to value people, value learning, and think systemically. After years of studying and contemplating principles of leadership, I've come full circle back to three core principles of leadership originally introduced to me in 2006 by my friend and colleague, Dr. Christina Dixon. Like myself, Christina is also a student of leadership. I met Christina in 2006 while I was serving as the Superintendent of the Bedford Area School District. Dr. Dixon spearheaded a partnership between the Bedford Area School District, the Grable Foundation, and Duquesne University, using the Toyota Production System to redesign Bedford's education delivery and support systems to meet students' needs better.

The ability to lead effectively depends upon principles guiding leaders when making decisions or acting. This issue of Leadership Thoughts looks at three key leadership traits: recognizing the importance of people, the value of learning, and being able to think systematically. These principles are essential for leaders who strive to create positive and enduring outcomes in their organizations and communities.

Value People

The most fundamental rule of leadership is to value people, respect every individual, and believe that everyone's contribution matters. Effective leaders grasp that the organization's accomplishments are linked to the people's well-being, progress, and enthusiasm. Valuing people includes many vital components:

  • Empathy: A successful leader must be able to listen actively, communicate openly, and convey genuine care for people's well-being. This involves comprehending and sharing each member's perspective and feelings.

  • Inclusivity: Leaders acknowledge people's various backgrounds and talents, cultivating a culture of acceptance and fairness where each person's contribution is appreciated. They embrace diversity and foster an atmosphere of respect and unity.

  • Development: Investing in the well-being of people is essential. Leaders can cultivate personal and professional growth by providing education, mentorship, and chances for progression.

  • Recognition: Successful leaders celebrate and recognize the contributions of the people in the organization. Authentic feedback and encouragement inspire and invigorate.

Leaders who create an open and supportive atmosphere by appreciating the people's contributions develop a culture of trust and loyalty. This leads to enhanced performance, creativity, and eventual organizational success.

Value Learning

The second essential leadership principle is embracing continuous learning. Those who recognize the importance of learning acknowledge that information is ever-evolving, and staying informed and adapting is necessary. When people value learning, they create a learning organization that embraces continuous improvement. Valuing learning involves:

  • Curiosity: Good leaders are curious and willing to learn. They ask thought-provoking questions, investigate fresh ideas, and take a stand for what they believe in. They stay open-minded and consider various viewpoints.

  • Adaptability: In a constantly shifting world, leaders must be able to adjust their plans and strategies based on new information or changing conditions.

  • Mentorship: Leaders should serve as mentors, guiding and supporting people's development and helping them acquire new skills and knowledge.

Self-Improvement: Outstanding leaders demonstrate their commitment to learning through continuous professional and self-development. They serve as an example for others with their commitment to becoming more knowledgeable and self-aware.

When leaders prioritize learning, they make informed decisions and anticipate future obstacles. Self-improvement and creating a culture of organizational learning is essential for ongoing success. Valuing learning instills a culture of continuous improvement, which is vital for long-term success.

Think Systemically

The third principle of leadership is the ability to think systemically. This means understanding that organizations are intricate webs of relationships and that any decision or action taken in one area can have a ripple effect far beyond its original scope. To truly think systemically, one must consider:

  • Holistic Perspective: Leaders examine the organization with a comprehensive perspective, recognizing the connections between separate areas and the impact of decisions on the entire system.

  • Long-Term Vision: Effective leaders think beyond short-term gains and consider the long-term sustainability and health of the organization. This often involves balancing immediate needs with strategic goals.

  • Environmental Awareness: Leaders think about the external world, including the elements of society, economy, and environment, and how these aspects influence the organization and its stakeholders.

  • Collaboration: Thinking systemically encourages collaboration and open communication within and outside the organization. Leaders build partnerships and seek input from diverse sources.

Leaders who are able to take a systematic approach can make decisions that will benefit not only their organization but also the society and environment. This will enable them to manage complex challenges and ensure sustainability for the long term.

To be effective, a leader should prioritize three key concepts: appreciating their people, cultivating learning, and considering the big picture. This mindset helps to create an inclusive atmosphere where growth is possible and decisions are made with an awareness of the broader implications. Leaders who take these principles to heart will be better suited to lead with understanding, flexibility, and vision—ultimately enabling their organizations and communities to thrive.


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