Systems Leadership: Creating Positive Organisations, 2nd Edition (Paperback) book cover

Systems Leadership

Creating Positive Organisations, 2nd Edition

By Ian Macdonald, Catherine Burke, Karl Stewart

© 2018 – Routledge

350 pages

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Paperback: 9781138036574
pub: 2018-05-16
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Hardback: 9781138036543
pub: 2018-05-16
Available for pre-order

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The new edition of this influential and bestselling book is concerned with how people come together to achieve a productive purpose. Survival and success in business and social terms has always depended upon our ability to form and sustain social organisations. People have a deep need to be creative and to belong. By creating positive organisations we can fulfil these needs and build a worthwhile society.

Such organisations do not occur by chance; a positive organisation is created by the hard work of leaders and members and influenced by the way the organisation is designed, especially its systems. All this needs to be based on an understanding of sound, general principles of behaviour. This book offers a comprehensive account of this theory, called Systems Leadership Theory; how to build a positive organisation in terms of general principles and practical examples.

Understanding and applying this work requires discipline (not dogma) and creativity. The authors show the significant positive results that can be achieved and detail a range of case studies. Unlike some books which are based on goals, objectives or visions this book concentrates on how this can be achieved. The authors observed and engaged with what good leaders and members actually do and have endeavoured to distil the essence of productive relationships based on core, human values.

This work has been applied in businesses, social service agencies, hospitals, city governments, national governments, armies, churches, public utilities, indigenous communities, schools and other unique organisations. It is intended to help leaders create more humane and productive organisations that can both meet their objectives and improve the human condition. It does so by presenting a coherent theory exemplified by numerous cases and practical experience. As more than one leader has commented, 'this stuff actually works'.

The new edition has been substantially reviewed and updated and includes new material on topics such as structure, safety and levels of work, new complementary theories around networks, holocracy and disruptive organizations as well as a new chapter on the social, technical and commercial aspects of the theory.

The companion website includes a wide range of case studies that explore how the ideas of systems leadership have been applied in a whole range of organizations, across different industries and sectors, right around the world.

Table of Contents

Preface to 2nd Edition



Part 1: Systems Leadership: Why the Title?

Introduction to Part 1

Chapter 1 What Use is Theory?

Chapter 2: What is Work?

Chapter 3: Social, Technical, Commercial Domains of Work

Chapter 4: Social Process and Authority

Chapter 5: Types of Social Organisation


Introduction to Part 2

Chapter 6: The Six Principles of Behaviour


Introduction to Part 3

Chapter 7: Meritocracy

Chapter 8: Human Capability

Chapter 9: Levels of Work Complexity

Chapter 10 Organisational Structure and Authority

Chapter 11 Associations, Boards and Employment Hierarchies

Part 4 The Work of Leadership

Introduction to Part 4

Chapter 12 The Work of Leadership: Creating a Culture

Chapter 13 Leadership, Policy and Systems

Chapter 14 Task Formulation and Assignment

Chapter 15 Teams and Teamwork


Introduction to Part 5

Chapter 16 The Process of Successful Change: How is it Achieved?

Chapter 17 How to Design Systems

Chapter 18 Systems and Symbols Audit – Organisational Health Check

Chapter 19 Creating High Performance Teams

Chapter 20 So What? What difference has this Made?

County Court of Victoria

Torex Gold


Mental Health

Leadership in Combat

Chapter 21: Discipline or Dogma

Chapter 22 Who is There to Guard the Guards? Essentials of a Positive Organisation

Chapter 23 SLT and Other Approaches





About the Authors

Dr Ian Macdonald is founder and director of Macdonald Associates, an international organisational consultancy. He is a director of BIOSS International Ltd. He is also an honorary fellow at Brunel University, teaches at Surrey University Business School and works with NHS Wales and Welsh government.

Dr Catherine Burke is Associate Professor of Public Administration, University of Southern California. Research focus organisation and systems design, management theory and leadership. Consultant to Southern California Edison, Cities of Los Angeles and Pasadena, Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Publications, Innovation and Public Policy, book; articles in various academic journals; Director, Commonwealth Aluminum.

Karl Stewart is a mining engineer spending most of his working life in leadership positions. He spent four years as an internal managerial consultant developing a thorough understanding of the theory underpinning the leadership of people in organisations and the systems that facilitate that activity.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Organizational Development