The system needs us to change (why I #NiagaraLSW)

It’s October 11th… Happy International Day of the Girl!
What an important cause for recognition and awareness indeed. We need societal, systemic change for the benefit of girls… And, ultimately, us all.

This is why I’m part of the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women (and many other systems-changing organizations).

I am mother to a bright and wonderful little girl.

I’m life partner to an inspiring man and ally to women and girls everywhere.

I’m an educator to many who are female and born outside of Canada, where access to formal education is not guaranteed.

Through my work as a volunteer and active community member, I meet so many people who feel apathetic, unimportant, discriminated against… people floating around like corks at sea… people just trying to stay above the fray.

Like you, I spend my days navigating through the complex systems I’m part of – families, workplaces (schools), and communities – and I see room for improvement.

When I reflect on my roles in the system, I start to unpack how I came to be where I am now. I attempt to understand my privilege, learnings and capacity to lead positive change… how far I’ve come and how far still to go. I am in control of how much I turn towards or turn away from myself and responsibilities. I have room for improvement.

I used to say “our system is broken” until I learned that, technically, it is not. From a Systems Thinking perspective, our system is doing exactly what we humans designed it to do. In general, it is egocentric, patriarchal, ethnocentric, heteronormative, capitalistic, and anti-environmental. Centuries of limited leadership decisions and beliefs have gone unquestioned. Trauma has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s up to us now to disrupt the cycle.

If we want change, we need to change the levers that control the system. That means changing mindsets of the people in power. Or, people currently in positions of power sharing the power with different people (ahem, women and girls). We change us.

Systems scientist, leadership guru and director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Peter Senge, says that Systems change requires “different people, from different points of view, who are seeing different parts of the system to come together and collectively start to see something that individually none of them see.”

We know how much work is involved to change a mind. It can take a lifetime of unlearning; a personal commitment to walk a very long and winding, uphill road. It’s very hard work. Shifting or sharing power also takes a massive amount of conscious effort.

And, it’s worth it. Maybe it’s the very journey we’re all meant to trudge on. Maybe it’s the reason why we’re here. In that case, doing the inner work for a better world is everything.

The Niagara Leadership Summit for Women is an annual event that has become part of my leadership practice. #NiagaraLSW is a statement I make to myself and the system that says: I not only say I want to do the work, I actually do it. I reserve that fourth Saturday in October for mind-opening learning opportunities and systems-changing conversations that:

  • Inspire with hope for another way, another system to co-create.
  • Spark real ideas by taking time for self-inquiry, meeting new people, and exploring new ways to apply our leadership.
  • Expose to different voices and perspectives that are not the dominant ones in society.
  • Connect us to a community of others who are doing the work too.

Together, we will transform our world – one family, classroom, and community at a time. It takes work… individual change… collective, forward motion… and it starts with just one day.

I’m a super fan of Peter Senge. His body of work, which equally promotes leading self, leading teams, and leading organizations, helps to understand our systems and place within them. If I was only offered to recommend one leadership text, it would be his book, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization”.

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