Systems Thinking is not about systems or even about technology, although its origins started in that domain. Systems Thinking is about seeing the world from a 30,000 foot view.
The idea behind this concept started in information management, where technologists needed to understand the full big picture in order to design individual parts of a system, hence the term. In today’s world, it’s impossible to build a system without seeing it as part of something bigger first. The same concept applies to leadership.
As a leader, oftentimes we face decisions which are difficult to place in any specific context. Dilemmas, such as which vendor to partner with or how to evaluate someone’s performance are very common examples. This is where Systems Thinking comes in handy. Trying to understand how each alternative decision would fit into the larger picture can help to make that decision much easier. The larger the picture, the better. To use the above examples, we can ask questions such as does this vendor have a long-term reputable history, or what would happen to the rest of the team if someone’s performance is below expectations and you would have to take action? Being able to see the larger context and view it from a few different perspectives is what Systems Thinking is all about.
There are actually a few flavors or techniques for this skill. Interconnectedness allows us to assess how individual action can relate to other things, helping identify cause and effect relationships. Synthesis means combining other ideas to form a new concept which could make it easier to understand the full picture. A feedback loop is a technique where you can make a hypothetical decision and then gather a response from others in order to better understand the implications. Finally, systems mapping is a more hands-on approach that involves whiteboarding or brainstorming an idea in order to understand how it fits into a larger picture. Don’t be afraid of mapping things out or using such tools as mind maps, visualizing things, can help significantly in understanding them.
This short post is part of a series about leadership and managerial skills. In the future, I will be posting about various management techniques and their applications in real life. I believe leaders are not born but made and anyone can become a great leader with a little bit of effort.