"...the bad leader is he who the people despise; the good leader is he who the people praise; the great leader is he who the people say, "We did it ourselves!"" - Peter Senge
We continue our journey through SEVEN PILLARS of SERVANT LEADERSHIP. This week we discuss the sixth pillar - defined by Robert Greenleaf - SYSTEMS THINKING - and covered in detail by Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving - by James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick. As with the last blog topic - Foresight - Systems Thinking was referred by Greenleaf as "Conceptualization" and reviewed in Conceptualization...ON Purpose!
The highlights from that blog that lend itself to this blog:
- Conceptualization - "Servant leaders seek to conceptualize challenges, thinking from a holistic and broad perspective. They dream big and use systemic thinking to approach day-to-day operations. Servant-Leaders are forward thinkers, seeking balance in the dream and daily life."
- Conceptualization does not occur in a vacuum. Servant leaders invite ownership FROM THE GROUP to help shape vision.
- Conceptualizing servant leaders have a constant eye on the horizon and the "future-state".
- Conceptualizing servant leaders nurture conceptualization IN self and others.
- Conceptualizers remain calm, even in crisis.
- Conceptualizers also need to "Testing the Team's Dream(s)..."
For more, SEE: Conceptualization...ON Purpose!
Which brings us to this blog - Systems Thinking...ON Purpose!
Greenleaf said "When you look at anything or consider anything, look at it as “a whole” as much as you can before you swing on it."
Sipe and Frick identified 3 Core Competencies to effectively practice systems thinking: 1. Comfortable with Complexity; 2. Demonstrates Adaptability; and 3. Considers the “Greater Good”.
1. Comfortable with Complexity
When a problem arises in an organization, the natural tendency is to zoom in to analyze and fix. When an event occurs that poses a challenge / opportunity, all the analytical resources of an organization swoop in to fix things. However, if there is no systemic thinking going on, the fix could make things worse.
In your experience consider a scenario when this occurred - some entity / some group / someone "swooped in". What should the company do? Create new strategies that directly address the event? Warn, or remove the barrier to success, or, take any number of other actions.
Although this can be a useful strategy followed by management and scientific processes, systems thinkers in the servant leadership context take the next step - they zoom out in order to see the challenge / opportunity in the context of underlying patterns and structures of the whole, and the whole’s relationship to its community, environment, and city, state, region, country and world.
Systems thinking appreciates the relationships between people, nature, and spirituality.
A deeper “strategy” response would be to take a deep breath and try to understand trends over time that have either not been measured or have been ignored.
Peter Senge - the author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization - offers “Laws of Systems Thinking”.
• Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions.”
• The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.
• Behavior grows better before it grows worse.
• The easy way out usually leads back in.
• The cure can be worse than the disease.
• Faster is slower.
• Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.
• Small changes can produce big results, but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.
Can you think of examples where these laws played out?
According to Greenleaf in his essay "My Debt to E. B. White", "Servant leaders use insights from systems disciplines in their quest to build healthier, wiser, freer, and more effective organizations." He was influenced toward seeing things whole by studying the writings of E. B. White. and, as a result, he listed four requirements for servant leaders to think with a "systems" filter.
1. Moving in the right direction - “One often does not know the precise goal,” wrote Greenleaf, “but one must always be certain of one’s direction. The goal will reveal itself in due course.”
2. OK with the "mess" - The servant leader is determined to see life in all its glorious messiness without all the loose ends tied up in neat, simplistic bows. “As one attains maturity,” wrote Greenleaf, “one learns to live peacefully and sleep well with a submerged awareness of constant danger.”
3. Seeing the "whole" - By seeing things whole, a servant leader loves the sheer beauty of this world and nurtures heightened awareness, appreciation to see connections between history, people, events, possibilities, and deep intuition. The “big picture” is grand and beautiful, even in its complexity.
4. Ethical conduct is central to seeing things whole - A servant leader who “zooms out” to clearly understand causes and effects, profound relationships, and outcomes of actions does not say, “It’s not my fault,” or “Let someone else fix it.” A servant leader takes personal responsibility and acts ethically.
Systems thinking is more about appreciating / understanding relationships between belief systems, people, processes, structures, and other factors that might influence someone's perceptions (e.g. behavior, media, social media etc.)
A servant leader is not comfortable with complexity because she / he have figured out all the answers, but because she / he can live with the remaining questions and trusts that it is possible to lean into new answers as long as she / he is following the right direction.
- How comfortable are you with complexity?
- What challenge can you "zoom out" from?
- Have you reacted with "zoomed in" or "zoomed out" perspective?
- WHERE can I apply Greenleaf's systems thinking framework?
2. Demonstrates Adaptability
This is why communicating a shared vision is so important. People will accept a lot of mid-course corrections if they understand that each correction contributes to movement in the right direction, toward the destination (i.e. vision) on the horizon.
Being adaptable may be as simple as using the "gifts" / talents / strengths YOU possess and directing them toward adaptability. Think of them as "clubs in the bag" - golf analogy - you "pick a club" based on where the "ball has landed". If you recall, some of the servant leader clubs:
Being A Person of Character
Commitment to the Growth of the People
Leading with Moral Authority
Putting People First
As we have noted, what makes human interaction, leadership, and servant leadership so intriguing is NO two humans are exactly alike! Even identical twins are different! Understanding what's natural to you - your "super power" - as well as your "kryptonite" - i.e. your Achilles heel...your weakness - is important. This self-awareness allows to "lean in" and accept help for the other powers not in your wheelhouse!
- Which "gifts" / talents / strengths - can help me with systems thinking?
- Which "gifts" / talents / strengths - are NOT?
- Is there a super-combination of "gifts" / talents / strengths I can lean in on?
- Who can we "lean in" on to achieve the objective(s)?
3. Considers the “Greater Good”
In the age of self-interest...
We see oh too many examples of decisions, leadership, and even well-intended behaviors driven by self-interest…the servant leader does not have self-interest in mind as she/he approaches a complex situation…their true intention is focused on the "greater good"...
I think back to a time when I was making my own career transition and landed on what I’m doing now…meeting people where they are and helping them to further refine or define how they too could transition, or, as I like to say "evolve". So, after I achieved my own clarity I reached out to like-minded groups supporting those in need.
I was struck by the reactions...generally, there were two: 1. Open / welcoming – although cautious until they got to know me and then completely trusting as time went on since they confirmed my only interest was in being a resource...2. Closed / not welcoming - the other group was usually embedded with folks who had self-interest embedded in their efforts…I was viewed not as a resource but as a competitor.
During one occasion I was directed to someone who facilitated a topic that regularly occurred at this group's and meetings. I sat through the session and had suggestions as to how the session could be enhanced in a way to “meet people where they are…“ Although the director of volunteers was open to my suggestions he asked me to reach out directly to the individual who ran that session… I reached out to the volunteer to offer my services and was told point-blank “these are my leads“ needless to say…I never got involved nor provided support to that group…
It's About Trust...
I’m sure all of us have examples where decisions / directives / leadership were being driven by self-interest…not a good thing…and it won't be until self-interest is "checked at the door" and having others TRUST your self-interest is NOT the motive, can progress can be made.
Cases in point...if we look at the groups / institutions with the lowest trust levels - banks, elected officials, governments, political parties or religions to name several - you may notice they also appear to LACK a "systems thinking" approach. After all, its LESS what one person or one group thinks!!!!! Systems thinkers look outside of themselves and their own self-interest(s).
- What is best for my company and the community and the environment?
- How are my actions / behaviors supporting the "greater good"?
- What is my self-interest?
- How is my self-interest being served?
I believe each of us is a gift. I create trusted relationships where individuals, teams and leaders NAME, CLAIM and AIM their gifts to achieve optimum performance.
Interested to Learn About Yourself or Your Team? Mark is a Certified CliftonStrengths Coach, Facet5 and TotalSDI Facilitator and happy to discuss your situation.
SEE Summary List of Other Blogs!
About Mark Myette
I believe each of us is a gift. I create trusted
Based out Roam - Buckhead - 3365 Piedmont Rd NE, Suite 1400 (2nd Floor), Atlanta, GA 30305
Can meet at other Roam locations if appropriate: Alpharetta; Dunwoody; or Galleria