Practical Tools for Exploring System Leadership Behaviours

The shift towards a system wide approach to address population health requires leaders to work in a different way. A significant system wide piece of research was undertaken and tested with a wide range of cross sector colleagues resulting in a deeper understanding of the kinds of behaviours needed to enable effective system leadership across the public sector.

The approach enabled the exploration of what this different kind of leadership might look like, acknowledging the scale, diversity and complexity of the system and the importance of collaboration and co-creation. The research identified four overarching themes, each underpinned by a series of supporting behaviours, which are in turn brought to life by a set of indicators demonstrating the kinds of behaviours that enable, and obstruct, effective system leadership.



The System Leadership Behaviour Cards have been designed as a practical development tool. The set of 13 double sided cards are colour coded by theme; each card describes one of the behaviours and includes three question prompts on the reverse.

The aim is to consider from an individual, organisational and system perspective, how the key themes and behaviours ‘play-out’. The questions support conversation and prompt self-reflection in the context of system-level working.

Example of cards

The cards can be used in a variety of ways including:

  • self-reflection and assessment
  • as part of development conversations
  • in coaching and mentoring conversations
  • as part of Leadership development activity
  • to inform programme design and more
  • board and governing body development
  • meetings/network events when exploring system working and system thinking

System colleagues have been finding innovative ways to utilise the cards in their teams and sharing their feedback.

“These have been a great practical tool to help my thinking around what system leadership means for me, and to me. Whilst there are 13 common behaviours, the prompts on the cards have helped me to acknowledge there is no one way to be a system leader and there are different ways I can demonstrate these behaviours through my own unique (and still developing!) leadership style.”

Melissa Surgey, Managing Consultant, NHS Transformation Unit


The cards are available to order via email – please contact with your request.

You can also access a PDF version of the cards via the resources section on this page.

Tell us how you are using the cards and connect with us on social media #systemleadershipcards


How are you using the cards? Complete this survey and share how you are using the cards to support colleagues across the system.


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