Catalyzing Action in Complex Systems

In today's interconnected world, organizations seldom act in isolation to achieve their goals and visions. Strong global, regional and local currents—such as development of new technologies, awareness of environmental problems, shifts in political regimes, and the rise and fall of competitors and allies—form the landscape in which organizations strive for success. In addition to being able to build and sustain teams and organizations, leaders need a way of understanding and intervening in the larger systems and currents that shape the landscape. At times you may find you can amplify the effectiveness of your organization by thinking of your work as part of a movement and forming alliances with others with similar goals. Other times you may need to actively respond to, negotiate with or resist the movements around you. Regardless, identifying and acting on leverage points within systems comprised of many actors and stakeholders is a key capacity for leaders seeking impact.

This course will introduce you to leadership through the lens of complex systems thinking as it applies to societal systems. You'll learn to frame and reframe the challenges you face and the strategic directions available to you. Through hands-on activities you'll develop a range of relevant skills—systems mapping, polarity analysis, large group convening and conflict engagement—and learn to apply them to your own professional context.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Sera Thompson $1655.00 11 Register
Online - Sera Thompson $1655.00 12 -

Schedule clarification: This course begins on the first date listed and ends six days after the last date listed. Between those times, you work at your own pace within the timelines set by the instructor.

What will I learn?

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Recognize the systemic context for leadership 
  • Describe the function and the developmental process for movements and explore appropriate strategies for engaging with movements
  • Break down the complexity of a system by seeing, mapping and tapping polarities in uncertain situations
  • Identify leverage points in a system and discuss the merit of various action strategies from a systemic perspective
  • Consider the range of stakeholders and parts of the system that need to be engaged in order to move effectively from a systemic perspective
  • Convene and facilitate productive conversations that bring out different points of view and benefit from the diversity of voices
  • Address or integrate the wisdom of dissent and engage conflict as it emerges in groups

How will I learn?

  • Advance readings
  • Individual and group exercises
  • Group discussion
  • Assignments

Who should take this course?

We've designed this course for professionals preparing for a senior leadership position or executive leaders who want to increase their effectiveness at work, advance their careers and strengthen their organizations. 

How will I be evaluated?

You will be evaluated based on your class participation and assignment work. 

Textbooks and learning materials

There are no required textbooks for this course. 

Technical information

In online offerings, you will access courses through Canvas, our online learning management system, which is available through the SFU website. 

You may log into Canvas beginning on the first day of the course. For a list of Canvas-supported operating systems and web browsers, visit our supported web browsers page.

To learn more about Canvas, visit the SFU Canvas Student Guide.

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