How to Develop Your Self-Leadership Skills for Systemic Change?

6 min read

We’re living in fast-changing times. In the light of today’s rapidly increasing ecological crises, social issues, economic tensions, and technological developments, there is an increasing pressure on human civilization to profoundly change its collective course.

Because these challenges are systemic, complex, widespread, and interconnected, we need people leading change everywhere on the globe, in any place within society, and in whatever layer of an organization.

“Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums” as Paul Hawken wrote in his inspiring commencement speech “You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring” (2009).

I feel he couldn’t be more right.
Having worked at the intersection of organizational change for sustainability, group dynamics and human development for close to 10 years, I’ve come to understand that in order to solve today’s complex problems, we need dramatically new ways of seeing, thinking, communicating, feeling, acting, ánd being. In response, there is a new kind of leadership emerging.

What Kind of New Leadership?

No matter whether we consider ourselves “just” a participant of the process, or “officially” responsible to ignite and guide change process with others, we are all a fundamental part of the whole. Either way, each one of us is co-responsible for the constant co-creation of reality. And each of us has the power to change the world, no matter how much. 

However, to change is never easy. The challenges of our times ask for a type of leadership that transcends beyond just knowledge, tools, and technical skills. Of course, these are important, but to catalyze sustainable change on a systemic level you also need the leadership skills that enable you to adapt to fast-changing circumstances, support healthy relationship, engage people in collaborative participation, handle emergence, and support complex decision-making.

More than ever before, leaders need to make it easy for others to trust in their own personal leadership capacities, unleash collective intelligence, spark innovation, and embrace continuous personal as well as organizational learning towards systemic sustainability and regeneration.

Of course, as a leader it might be true that your goal is to influence and change other people, the organization you work in, your family,  the community you live in, or even shift the whole of human society, but whatever way you look at it: every act of leadership starts with the self.

Why does Everything Start with Self-Leadership?

The leadership choice you have every day is “how” you contribute to the change that is continually unfolding around you, and inside of you. After all, your self is the only system that you can really directly influence.

In my experience, when working together with diverse others, and especially when relationships and group dynamics get intense and challenging, leadership is in the first place a movement that comes from the inside out.

It’s your own awareness and clear-headedness that determines how clearly you perceive reality and the opportunities that it offers. It’s your ability to authentically communicate and stay emphatic that helps you to connect with others, navigate conflict, and support healthy relationships. And it’s your own grounding and presence that allows you to stay balanced, confident, and ready to take action whatever the challenges you’re facing.

To make a systemic change in the world around you, you must learn to transform the worlds within yourself. And that’s what systemic self-leadership skills will help you do.

What is Systemic Self-Leadership?

For me, systemic self-leadership is about acknowledging that I change the world by being a part of it, not by standing outside the field and shouting from the sideline. It means seeing myself as an integral part of an interconnected network consisting of people as well everything else, feeling that life’s creative energies are flowing through me, and acting in alignment with a commitment to the larger whole.

"We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness."

— Thich Nhat Hanh

As such, I believe having an integral, holistic, and embodied approach to develop the authentic personal leadership capacities within oneself is the foundation for fostering strong relationships and leading transformative processes towards results that are not only sustainable on a personal level, but actually matter for the sustainability of the whole, including all its individual parts.

This way, every complex challenge you’re dealing with in relation to your self, other people and process dynamics becomes an opportunity to grow and develop your self-leadership skills from the inside out.

So, How can you Develop your Systemic Self-Leadership?

To successfully contribute to the change you envision on whatever level of whatever system you’re part of, means that you have to be willing and able to continuously adapt and transform your own individual ways of thinking (head), feeling (heart), and acting (hands) to be in alignment with your intention.


Everything starts with a powerful intention, and from there: energy flows where attention goes. It’s crucial to set a clear intention of what you want to achieve, primarily to make sure you can focus your attention on developing those self-leadership capacities that you need to tackle your current challenge.

Your intention resonates into all aspects of your life, personal, relational and professional. Ideally, your intention is connected to your unique sense of (higher) purpose, your passions, and aligned with how you think, feel, and act in your daily personal and professional life. However, many of us can be held back by old mental models, emotions, habits, and behaviors. And setting a clear intention is the first step in the process towards systemic self-leadership.


The complex problems that we’re facing today, cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them. As a leader, it essential to know yourself, to know your limits, your fears, and your hot buttons. Being able to reflect on yourself and how you relate to others and the whole, means you’ll be more able to see where, what, and why a change is necessary, and how you’ll be able to achieve it.

Transforming the energy in and around the area of your head, helps you be more mindful, aware, suspend judgment and assumptions, hold multiple truths and contradictory perspectives at the same time, and above all: listen more appreciatively and ask better questions.

The way you’re able to observe and shift your mindset, mental pictures, thought patterns, beliefs, ideas, and worldviews, makes all the difference in the way you show up in the world, communicate and express yourself, focus, keep an eye on the bigger picture and the long-term vision, and make intuitively wise decisions in complex situations.


Being able to redirect your attention from your head onto your heart, is especially crucial for leadership challenges dealing with people and process dynamics. Connecting more to your heart, helps you to tap into your inner powers and shift emotional barriers, inhibiting attitudes, and old feelings.

Staying connected to the core of your being inside your heart, in turn, helps to be able to be open-hearted, stay optimistic, and keep a sense of lightness to constructively work with tensions, conflict and other interpersonal issues that unavoidably arise as the consequence of people working together.

For me, systemic leadership is about entering into a new level of authenticity, honesty, and acceptance towards oneself, as well as towards others. Transforming the energy of your heart area helps you to build trustworthy connections, engage and empathize with people very different from you, and harness compassion, forgiveness, and sensitivity.


The third elemental layer for systemic leadership is about staying balanced, able and willing to act, and putting your leadership skills into practice to make sure that your efforts for inner change support tangible and concrete results in the way you lead in your personal and professional life.

Transforming the energy of unwanted behaviors, habits, and attitudes helps to get more in tune with the intelligence of your gut, let go of redundant fears and insecurities, and step up to emergent challenges with more stability and security.

The authentic self-confidence that emerges from connecting to your inner powers, allows you to stay grounded in your core, get comfortable in your natural leadership role, relate more easily with others, and intentionally direct the influence that you have in the systems you are part of.

You as a Leader, in Alignment with the World

Alignment is all about being able to consciously embody the kind of thinking, feeling, and acting into the world that actually helps you to navigate your challenges clearheaded, openhearted, and present in the moments that you need it the most.

In my experience, you yourself are the most powerful tool to facilitate systemic change.

The more you are able to enhance the flow of your own energy field and focus your attention on the dynamic equilibrium inside yourself, the more you are able to resonate this energy around you and bring flow into the relationships and processes you are responsible for.

To me, it has become increasingly clear that Gandhi’s words are as valid today as they were back then when he said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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Thank you!


Do you want to take the lead in your own life?

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I love to see people develop a stronger sense of who they are and what really matters to them from the inside out, and grow the self-leadership capacity to embody the kind of change that they’d desire in their lives.

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Thomas van der Molen

Systemic Self-Leadership Coach, Change Facilitator, Poet

In my experience, our ability to deal with complex challenges, create positive change in any area of life, and contribute to a sustainable impact in the world around us, requires an authentic kind of self-leadership that starts with getting clear where you’ve been, where you are now, what really matters to you, where you really want to go or get, and especially how you will be and grow as a person along the way.

  • Jant says:

    Goed bezig Thomas! Ik ga naar conscious leadership seminar in Oslo over twee weken. Wil je daarna wel eens skypen, want toen jullie bij ons waren kwam ik op veel ideeen waar ik toen nog geen ruimte voor voelde, maar nu ruimte voor wil maken! En brainstormen met jou en Elissa is leuk!
    Liefs Jant