CXO

Leadership and Systems Thinking

You probably can describe and quite finitely diagram the technical aspects of your work systems. What about the human dimensions?

One of the interesting things about the way we commonly think about systems is that by definition, we are to emphasize actions as components of the overall system and are not supposed to identify individuals as responsible for those behaviors within the system. This is to put the emphasis on what is happening in the system, not who is doing it.

If you are responsible for the system, you’d better overtly discern your affect on the system.Thus, most systems analyses and Causal Loop Diagrams specifically and quite intentionally omit identifying individuals — so as to remove the temptation to blame or inaccurately attribute personal accountability rather than systemic dynamics.

Here’s an unconventional and very important exception to this. Always put yourself into the systems diagram!

Do this by representing your system at two levels. Think of your system as composed of Outer Orbit and Inner Orbit systems loops.

The Outer Orbit captures the visible systems effects that you’d normally chronicle: the elements contributing to the increases or decreases in cycle time, through-put, deviations from plan, staff turnover, budget variance, absenteeism, even office tension, or whatever.

The Inner Orbit is the novel but oh so important part of the equation. It’s the loop that represents your interior response to the external system events. These are your thoughts, emotions, desires, ambitions, fears, hopes, beliefs. They are all powerful forces that exert considerable leverage on the system(s) of which you are a part.The inner workings of a leader’s mind manifests itself in the leader’s organization.

You are always in the system. And if you are responsible for the system, you’d better overtly discern your affect on the system.

Here’s the catch: How you overtly affect the system is often invisible to even you until you attempt to make it visible. That’s when you realize that your dislike for Anil’s arrogance may have a bearing on his missing more and more deadlines. Or your secret attraction to Kaitlin and her recent friction with coworkers may not be some strange coincidence.

Or that recent string of “bad luck” you’ve had — the strife with your teenage son at home, your star employee leaving, and that car accident last week — may not be the random indignities of a cruel universe toying with you. Likewise, when you’re rested, eating well, and getting some exercise, everyone else seems to be more productive, creative, and agreeable as well. Such strange serendipity.

The very rich, very potent (and sometimes quite invisible and unaccessed) inner workings of a leader’s mind manifests itself in the leader’s organization. Your mind — its goals and tensions — affects your organization. What is churning and burning inside you ripples out to the organization.

To understand why things work the way they work, you need to understand the systemic relationships driving outcomes. So you must uncover | admit | chart your own motive forces. Only then can you understand the real forces driving the system — the powerful human ones.

— Don Blohowiak
Leadership Coach

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