Developing Systems Thinking Competencies

Summary: Here, we develop competencies for effective systems thinking. Let’s explore these competencies using stories that illustrate their significance.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

Is there a specific order for learning about Systems Thinking and Pattern Aware Leadership (PAL) methods?

I am a senior VP at a well-known cosmetics company.

Sales are saggy, like an older woman’s jowls and neck.

Therefore, we are in a bit of a panic to ensure fourth-quarter sales come in better than expected.

I know business cycles are ongoing and change with the wind.

However, we should be prepared for what is next without so much fear.

For example, how do I keep my staff feeling they can meet all challenges and not spend so much time looking at worst-case scenarios?

Can we learn to turn down the temperature of fear, or do we have to live with the anxiety when change is in the air?

Any help is appreciated.


Better Than FML

Dear Better Than…FML,

There are several interpretations of “FML,” and I wonder which you are addressing.

One is “Female Magnetic Leaders,” part of my GUTSY WOMEN LEADERS BOOK and PROGRAM.

The other, used by many these days, is “Fu#K My Life.”

I will offer another idea: the FML stands for “Free Meaningful Learning.”

Thus, you don’t have to return to school or pay for a course. You can get what you need to learn new ways of solving problems right here.

Therefore, let’s start with what will be effective for everyone at work. Some of the underpinnings of SYSTEMS THINKING that have helped many leaders overcome their intense relationship with fear.

You can look at fear from many angles.

Fear: Forget Everything And Run


Fear: Face Everything And Rise

For example, you may want to run and hide when a bear or coyote appears at your backdoor. That is an intelligent decision.

However, if it is a market downturn, it would be better to look at all parts of the system and make some new moves to make sure you stay in what I call the safe stress zone.

That means no panic.

NO shouting out or shutting down. It means to stay centered.

Please consider doing a self-assessment about the most effective routes to success at work.

Here is the best starting place.

Self-awareness and Mindset Shift are vital for successful leaders.

Curious entrepreneurs must first see themselves in a clear mirror.

For example, meet Alex, a young entrepreneur with a tech startup. In the early days of his venture, he was laser-focused on his product and its features. However, as challenges emerged and the business grew, Alex realized he needed a new perspective.

He hired an executive coach (me!) and began by complaining that his staff was either “lazy” or “ineffective.” Then he stopped, looked at me with his charismatic smile, and said, “Maybe it’s lazy and ineffective.”

Therefore, I suggested it was time for him to search inside himself and see why he was so judgmental about his whole team.

When they know their triggers, leaders can stop the JUBLA (judgment, blame attack).

He embarked on a journey of self-awareness and discovered the power of a systems-thinking mindset.

The Transformation: Through introspection and reading about systems thinking, Alex recognized that his linear thinking was limiting his ability to see the bigger picture. He started questioning his assumptions, embracing ambiguity, and seeking feedback from his team.

This shift in mindset transformed Alex into a more effective and adaptive leader.

Key Takeaway: Self-awareness and a willingness to shift one’s mindset are essential competencies for systems thinking. They enable leaders to recognize when their traditional thinking patterns might hinder their ability to address complex challenges.

Building Systems Intelligence is best when done as a team.

Insightful Managers know they cannot solve key issues alone.

Diane, a mid-level manager in a manufacturing company, faced a recurring problem: production delays that disrupted the entire supply chain. Frustrated with firefighting and quick fixes, she developed her systems intelligence.

She finally realized that systems thinking means you include others in growth and development. She realized that guiding her team was more like finding the right puzzle pieces and getting help putting them in the exact place.

Delegation is critical to systems thinking, and this understanding moves leaders from frustrated to fulfilled.

Once Diane got the message that we were here to support each other and the “rugged individual” was more a myth than a reality, glimmers of help and hope happened.

The Transformation: Diane started to study the production process, mapping each step and identifying interdependencies. She engaged her team in discussions about potential bottlenecks and explored the impact of changes in one area on the entire process.

Armed with this systems intelligence, she developed a comprehensive strategy to optimize production, reducing delays and improving efficiency.

Key Takeaway: Building systems intelligence involves dissecting complex systems, recognizing patterns, and understanding cause-and-effect relationships. This competency empowers leaders to make informed decisions that consider the broader system.

Cultivate a Learning Organization for long-term success.

This Adaptive Nonprofit has never grown old and stays relevant for present times.

At a nonprofit organization focused on education, Emily, the executive director, noticed a decline in donor support and student engagement.

Rather than resorting to quick fixes, she decided to nurture a learning organization.

In the past, the organization had specific heart-wrenching stories to get many donors to pledge large sums of money. However, with a significant economic turn, she knew they had to adapt to leaner times.

Thus, she set up an off-site for her team to discuss and develop a better tale that aligns more with the daily challenges of the technical, internet, and social media world.

The Transformation: Emily encouraged her team to view the organization as a dynamic system that needed constant adaptation. They implemented regular feedback mechanisms, conducted retrospectives, and embraced a culture of experimentation.

Over time, the organization became more agile and responsive to the changing needs of its stakeholders, leading to increased support and engagement.

Key Takeaway: Cultivating a learning organization means fostering a culture of continuous improvement, where feedback is valued, learning from failures is encouraged, and adaptation is the norm. This competency enables leaders to navigate uncertainty and complexity effectively.

Encourage Systems Thinking in Teams with the mantra “Everything is connected, and no one wins unless we all do.”

The Empowered CEO wants everyone to grow fully.

As the CEO of a large corporation, Mark understood that systems thinking was not just an individual competency but a team effort. He wanted his entire leadership team to embrace systems thinking.

The Transformation: Mark initiated training sessions and workshops on systems thinking for his leadership team. He encouraged them to apply systems thinking principles in their decision-making processes and problem-solving efforts.

As a result, the leadership team became more collaborative, adaptable, and adept at addressing complex challenges collectively.

Key Takeaway: Encouraging systems thinking in teams involves individual development and fostering a collaborative environment where team members can collectively analyze and address complex issues.

Self-awareness, a mindset shift, building systems intelligence, and cultivating a learning organization are vital competencies for effective systems thinking.

These stories show how these competencies can transform leaders and organizations, enabling them to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

In other words, as you continue on your journey to mastering systems thinking, remember that these competencies are like tools in your leadership toolbox. Developing and honing them will empower you to approach challenges holistically and strategically, leading to more innovative solutions and tremendous productivity.

To your success,

Sylvia Lafair

PS. Need some experts to help you design a program for your team? Please get in touch with us. We are here to help.

Posted in
Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options