To tackle systemic problems like persistent poverty, systemic racism, inequality, and housing insecurity, we need to let go of preconceptions.
The photograph above was taken by NASA from the International Space Station in 2019. It may look unfamiliar at first. That's because it's oriented 90 degrees clockwise, so that north is to the right, south is to the left, west is up, and east is down. Once you reorient yourself, you can see southeast Michigan, southern Ontario, and northwest Ohio. Just by changing our perspective and setting aside our preconceptions, the region looks quite different, doesn't it?
Solving Detroit's most pressing challenges will likewise require a fresh perspective and a setting aside of preconceptions.
Solutions to many of the deeply-rooted problems facing the people of Detroit have proven intractable to government, religious and community institutions, and even philanthropy. Many community and philanthropic organizations are doing great work to address issues such as housing affordability, food insecurity, the digital divide, and others. However, the root causes of these issues are difficult to address without collective action. Persistent poverty, inequality, housing insecurity, and other issues are systemic problems requiring system change through collective action. To spearhead this, we need system leaders skilled at building relationships and marshaling resources from across the social, government, and business communities to bring about systemic change.
A system leader works with diverse constituencies to think in terms of building a future based on "what could be" rather than trying to fix "what is."
A system leader is reflective and open to the lived experiences of others, even when that means challenging preconceptions. Writing on system leadership, Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania described three attributes of a system leader: an open mind to challenge assumptions, an open heart to be vulnerable and willing to hear diverse points of view, and an open will to adopt innovative approaches to philanthropy.
All levels of government, as well as nonprofits and businesses across the nation, need system leaders with these attributes to bring about the kind of change that is needed to build a better world for future generations. And it is critically important for our educational institutions to foster these attributes in tomorrow's future leaders.