I have to make another confession. I've recently connected with Kathy and she's become a mentor and friend to me as I am exploring working within living systems and within the realms of organizational development and leadership. I'm grateful to have found such an inspirational guide at this point in my career.
Ok, but there is much more to love about this book other than the fact I'm a fan girl of the author. Leading from the Roots offers us a different way to lead people and organizations. The industrialized way in which we work in Western society, especially in organizations in which we are trying to work on complex social problems, is doing much more harm than good, both inside and outside our organizations. We've come to view the world in a hierarchical, mechanistic way where parts (people) can be replaced and problems are solved with logic, force, and coercion, coupled with punitive policies and procedures that strip the humanity from those with whom we work with and for.
There is no better example of this than in our education system. As Sir Ken Robinson describes in this animated TED Talk, our public education system was built in a time when certain things were valued over other things, such as rote memorization over creative or divergent thinking. And the system that was created to reward certain behaviors and abilities no longer serves the students or the needs of our communities (if it ever really did). We treat students like robots who will go out in the world to perform jobs. And we rate their ability to be successful in a capitalist society through standardized testing, which acts as the dashboard through which we start to measure their productivity and potential contributions.
This isn't just a problem in education. Name a complex social problem and you can see the ways we have created machines of systems around them. And all of this leads to worse outcomes for our communities, increased disparities and inequities across the board in all categories, and exhausted, burned out people who are treated like replaceable cogs in the machine rather human beings.
Leading from the Roots says we don't have to view the world this way anymore. If we use nature as a metaphor and lead with a living systems mindset, we start to see the innate connectivity, interdependency, and reciprocity between people, organizations, and communities, and what it takes for all of them to thrive. Kathy talks about how organizations can evolve their consumptive practices into generous organizations that are multi-dimensional, diverse, and complex. She talks about the seven dynamics of living systems that we can draw on to shift our mindset:
The rest of her book describes the eight design principles nature has already shown us that can create more sustainable organizations. She wraps up the book by talking about what it means to lead from a living systems mindset and how we can create more generous organizations. Each chapter is packed with questions to consider for practitioners who want to lead organizations in a new way.
I'm intentionally not saying more about the contents of this book because I sincerely believe that you should buy it and read it for yourself. It will completely change the way you see the world, your organization, and your leadership. If you want a glimpse into what the book is like, check out Kathy's blog and peruse the amazing number of resources she has posted on her website. She embodies the notion of generosity. You can also sign up for her newsletter to have her wisdom delivered directly into your inbox each week. Kathy is committed to starting a living systems movement that can radically shift the way we lead organizations today. Join her.