All of us are familiar with making reactive decisions, and our day is often filled with reactionary decisions that help us survive but ultimately get us no closer to our desired purposes than before the decision was made. Leaders do not have the luxury to be reactionary, despite there are so many reactionary leaders in charge of people’s lives and well-being.
Systems thinking provides leaders with the ability to see beyond the decision to be made and consider the impact the ripple effects will make within their organization and beyond (Kauffman, 1980). This is where the long view approach to decision making comes in (Schwartz, 1996). Leaders have the well-being of their employees, customers, and community in their hands and there is no room for reactionary decision making to be the norm. Taking the long view is looking down the road and understanding how decisions today will impact life in the weeks, months, and even years to come. A decision is not isolated within itself, and it is the job of leaders to be disciplined enough to apply systems thinking to decision-making. What this will allow, among other things, is the ability to find quicker, long-term solutions that truly fix problems without perpetuating them unknowingly (Strot, 2013). When decisions are made at the event level, leaders lower themselves to being organizational firefighters rather than organizational leaders. They must drill down to systems design level to fully understand how to make the best decisions (Strot, 2013). For leaders who really aspire to be great, they go even deeper past mental models and transcend paradigms to be a pure objective decision-maker (Meadows, 1999).
Kauffman, D. L. (1980). Systems one: an introduction to systems thinking. Minneapolis, Minn: Future Systems.
Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage Points: Places to Intervene Within a System. Sustainability Institute.
Schwartz, P. (1996). The art of the long view: paths to strategic insight for yourself and your company. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub. Group.
Strot, D. (2013, March). Systems Thinking: Help Your Giving Create Greater Change. Workshop, Council on Foundations.