Managing Others Systemically

May 16, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

If you’re a leader, one of your goals is typically to maintain perspective. If you’re out of the loop, you don’t look credible. If you’re the last to hear the industry’s latest and greatest, you look uninformed. If you don’t understand the language, you’re bound to look behind. Now, there are various parts to a good perspective – but to summarize it, we know it should be BROAD. A good perspective, especially for a leader, is all-encompassing. It has breadth and depth – substance and span. A good leader doesn’t just go by what’s been done before, but instead encourages the unconventional, embraces ambiguity and enters unfamiliar territory without thinking twice.

Although there are various facets and factors that play into expanding our perspective, there is one simple way to make sure you do it soon: shift to a system-based perspective. What does this mean? A system is a set of anything that’s related. A system has boundaries, functions and interdependent elements. A system is connected. Connection is key.

If a leader recognizes that everything that comes into contact with his/her employees is part of maintaining good perspective, that leader will be less likely to miss the major (and the minor) details that really do matter. A good leader sees how the cause-and-effect relationship that happens between people, projects and priorities.

Peter Senge, in his brilliant book, The Fifth Discipline, puts it this way: “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing the ‘structures’ that underlie complex situations, and for discerning high from low leverage change. That is, by seeing wholes we learn how to foster health.” Think of it this way, a descent leader sees that x and y are happening and doesn’t know how or why they’re related. An extraordinary leader connects x and y by thinking circularly not linearly. A circle allows for all sorts of complexities, a linear approach loses the depth and dimensions that a circle naturally provides.

So, how do you go about building a system’s perspective? SHIFT.

S – See the system. In other words, determine what is in and what is out, so that you don’t include unnecessary pieces. A system has boundaries, and it’s critical you know what these are.

H – Hone in on what’s happening and determine why it’s happening. This helps you to recognize patterns and relationships, so that you aren’t thrown into a crisis when something unexpected happens.

I – Identify how what’s happening is related to the system as a whole. Knowing the connections will keep you from floundering when you’re reacting to a challenge or proactively trying to prevent a problem.

F – Figure out how minor tweaks or major transitions would affect the system. This takes creativity and practice, but will pay off in the long run because it will allow you to see how different shifts will impact your team’s success.

T – Test different ideas to get different results. This is a trial-and-error process. You can’t get it right on the first try, that’s why playing around with the different pieces is part of learning the game.

SHIFT your perspective to think of things systemically. It will not only benefit you, but your team will feel the ripple effect of your efforts. A system’s perspective is selfless because it doesn’t revolve around you. And lastly, it builds a leader’s emotional intelligence, empathy and awareness. All of which, inherently, make you a better leader.

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Rick Conlow is CEO with WCW Partners, a management consulting and training firm. Rick has helped organizations increase sales 218%, improve repeat and referral business by 20%, increase customer retention to 99%, reduce complaints by 60% and achieve 34 quality awards. You can reach Rick at: or 888-313-0514.

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