Systems Thinking and Leadership and Change Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3249 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Leadership

Systems Thinking: Leadership & Change

Systems thinking may be differentiated from traditional analysis of the organization in that analysis concentrates upon the whole instead of analysis of the parts of the system. The work of Peter Senge is reviewed in this work in relation to systems thinking, leadership change, and leadership in the learning organization. Dialogue is stressed in the work of Senge to be a critical component of effective leadership. Also reviewed are others works related to systems thinking and the basic principles behind this type of system analysis. Regardless of the authors in the area of systems thinking, the work of Peter Senge serves as a guide as his work is referenced throughout other works on systems thinking. Peter Senge views leadership as going beyond the mere physical and inspirational in that it must take on a spiritual aspect in order to communicate a vision with clarity and to incite enthusiasm and commitment within the organization. Senge states that the learning organization is one that is perpetually changing and growing and states that personal mastery means knowing that one has never 'arrived' at the destination and further that personal mastery is a paradox of knowing ones' shortcomings while at the same time being characterized by a deep levels of self-confidence but that this paradox only exists for those who fail to understand that it is the journey that is important as the goal is never actually reached due to striving for continual improvement.


Literature Review


I. Reed (2006) - Understanding Systems (Parts & Whole) 4Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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II. Peter Senge - the Learning Organization 8

III. Senge: Five Basic Disciplines 8

IV. Senge: Practices, Principles, and Essences 10

V. Senge: Three Conditions for Dialogue 10

VI. Senge: Vision & Creative Tension 11

VII. Senge: Laws of System Thinking 12

Summary of Literature Reviewed 13





TOPIC: Term Paper on Systems Thinking and Leadership and Change Assignment

Systems thinking was introduced by MIT professor Jay Forrester in 1956 and explained that systems thinking enables people to gain an understanding of social systems and how to improve them similar to the method used within principles of engineering, which is different from the traditional form of analysis. Traditional analysis has as its focus the separation of the individual pieces while systems thinking focuses instead, upon the system in its entirety and how each of the system parts interact with one another and within the system.

I. Reed (2006) - Understanding Systems (Parts & Whole)

The work of Reed (2006) states that leaders in today's organizations: "...operate in the realm of bewildering uncertainty and staggering complexity. Today's problems are rarely simple and clear-cut. If they were, they would likely already have been solved by someone else. If not well considered - and sometimes even when they are - today's solutions become tomorrow's problems." (2006) if one is to realize success in today's operating environment one must come to the realization that "...different ways of thinking about problems and organizations" will be required. (Reed, 2006; p. 1) Reed points out that while "times and circumstances may change, systems tend to endure." (2006) Human beings, according to Reed are much better at "creating new systems than changing or eliminating existing ones." (2006) Reed relates that when bureaucratic processes "become the objective rather than focusing on organizational goals and values..." (2006; p.1) this is what Robert K. Merton "coined the term 'goal displacement'." (2006; p.1) When this does happen it is as though the system takes on a life of its own and becomes "immune to common sense." (Reed, 2006; p. 2) Innovation is stifled, adaptive ness, hampered, and creativity dashed in this type of environment that operates with "...thoughtless application of rules and procedures..." (Reed, 2006; p.2) Constant struggle against the 'system' may result in getting around rules and procedures and ultimately resulting is a cynical or "poor ethical climate." (Reed, 2006; p.2) Leaders are viewed as having the experience and authority to "intervene and correct or abandon malfunctioning systems" and Reed additionally states: "At the very least, they can advocate for change in a way that those with less positional authority cannot." (2006; p. 2) it is critically necessary that leaders at all levels within the organization be aware of systems "that drive human behavior inimical to organizational effectiveness." (Reed, 2006; p.2) Leaders need to be able to see both the pieces and the whole simultaneously and Reed states: " this end some of the concepts of systems thinking are useful." (Reed, 2006; p.2) Reed relates that systems, much like the body of the human being is composed of parts and that the parts "affect the performance of the whole." (Reed, 2006; p.2) in order to understand the system a synthesis is required as follows:

1) "Identify the system: some systems are simple, others predictable while others are complex and dynamic;

2) Explain the behavior or properties of the whole system: The focus on the whole is the process of synthesis. Ackoff says that analysis looks into things while synthesis looks out of things; and (3) Explain the behavior of properties: of the thing to be explained in term of the role(s) or function(s) of the whole." (Reed, 2006; paraphrased; p.3)

Reed states: "...the thinker retains focus on the system as a whole, and the analysis in step three is always in terms of the overall purpose of the system." (Reed; 2006; p. 3) Reed offers as an example the Institute for Defense Analyses report "Transforming DoD Management: The Systems Approach" and states that this study proposes "an alternative approach to service-based readiness reporting, one that considered the entire defense transportation system." (Reed, 2006; p. 3) This report concludes that while knowing the status of separate units of the system is useful, this is insufficient to determine system readiness and that it "only makes sense, therefore, to assess readiness of these elements as a part of a larger system that has an identifiable purpose - to move personnel and material to the right place at the right time." (Reed, 2006; p. 3) Steven Robbins writes: "Most people expect learning to just happen without their taking the time for thought and reflection, which true learning requires. In the past with slower communication systems, we often had a few weeks to ponder and rethink a decision Today we're accustomed to e-mails, faxes, overnight letters and cell phones, and have come to believe that an immediate response is more important than a thoughtful one." (2003; as cited in Reed, 2006; p.3)

Reed refers to the work of Peter Senge entitled: "The Fifth Discipline" relates that "systems thinking provides just the type of discipline and toolset needed to encourage seeing of 'interrelationships' rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static 'snapshots'." (Reed, 2006; p. 3) the argument of Senge is that "this shift of mind is necessary to deal with the complexities of dynamic social systems." (Reed, 2006; p.3) Most systems of human beings are dynamic systems according to Reed and it is related by Reed that Senge has made the suggestion that "we think in terms of feedback loops as a substitute for simple cause and effect relationships." (2006; p.3) Assessment must be continuous is the theme of the work of Sydney Finkelstein entitled: "Why Smart Executives Fail." Finkelstein made an examination of more than 50 of the "world's most notorious business failures. His analysis indicated that in almost every case the failures were not attributable to stupidity or lack of attention. To the contrary, the leaders of well-known corporations such as Samsung Motors, WorldCom, and Enron were exceptionally bright, energetic, and deeply involved in the operation of their businesses. Up to the point of massive corporate failure, they were all extremely successful, and in almost every case, there were some in the organization who vainly raised objections to the course that eventually proved disastrous." (Reed, 2006 p.5) the problem as noted by Finkelstein is that these individuals somehow "failed to see or accept what was actually happening. In some cases, they were blinded by their own prior successes; in other cases they inexplicably held tenaciously to a vision, despite plenty of evidence that the chosen strategic direction was ill-advised." (Reed; 2006; p.4) This result may be seen in executive decisions in all sectors of organizations including governmental organizations. Reed states that "The systems thinker's pragmatic focus on determining what is actually happening serves as a preventative to self-delusional wishful thinking." (2006; p.4) Reed concludes with the following points:

1) Focus on the purpose for which the system was created;

2) Cause-and-effect relationships are insufficient in explaining a complex and dynamic system, instead should be noting of patterns and feedback loop usage;

3) Think in terms of synthesis over analysis or the whole over parts;

4) Leaders must see what is really happening over what they want to see happen; and 5) Thinking about systems and their dynamics suggests alternative approaches and attunes leaders to important aspects of organizational behavior." (Reed, 2006;… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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