By Mark Hannum
This is the second in a series of posts on Systems Thinking by Linkage Principal Consultant Mark Hannum. He admits that the series will probably reveal too much about who he is, and why he does what he does. However, his insights on systems thinking have been gleaned from decades of research and real-world experience…and you might just find his thoughts useful in ways you wouldn’t expect. Click here to start reading at the beginning.—Ed.
One of the great lessons that comes from being a part of a start-up is that you get to see yourself as not having boundaries. There is no job. Everyone does everything. In a large, established organization however, you have a job. You have boundaries. You become loyal to that job and restricted by those boundaries. You become focused on your position and the result you are responsible for. When things go south, everyone assumes that someone else created the problem. This is a highly dysfunctional way of being in an organization. But life is very different in an organization filled with systems thinkers.
Systems thinkers look for purpose, they look for the feedback, they look for how things change over time, and they see the underlying drivers behind events. They compile this information into tools and lessons. In a systems thinking organization, you’ll get coached: “Don’t be the best manager in the company”—because you’ll never get there and even if you do, it will be meaningless.
“Be the best person you can be instead. You’ll have a longer, richer career and you won’t ride the organizational roller coaster like others.”
In other words, you’re not only a “manager” or a “leader” or a “consultant” or a “facilitator” or a “coach”. You’re a person. Systems thinking taught me that being the best person I can be requires having my own personal goals. I need to be clear about what I want. I need to be realistic about what I want, and I need to be open to all the possibilities of achieving my personhood. And I need to be differentiated from my much more experienced peers who have been exposed to systems thinking for much longer than I have.
Differentiated, HMMM…As my systems thinking-based managers, and leaders, and friends coached and mentored me, they talked about the importance of forming healthy emotional connections and being appropriately able to have a confidential and intimate conversations with others. They coached me to be calm, non-anxious, and emotionally relaxed. So, I thought that differentiated meant being calm, cool, and collected. I learned that it did mean that, and much, much more.
Early in my career, I attended a course at MIT entitled “Leadership and Mastery” and my brain hasn’t been the same since. The session pushed me past a systems thinking tipping point and showed me how I could be a lever for change. I also learned how I can deceive myself, be the reason why my team is blocked, and also be the reason why things don’t work in my relationships. I can be my own worst enemy! It was an accountability transformation and it showed how becoming differentiated can get me past these problems. I soon learned to be able to come to emotionally charged conversations and be able to participate and engage. I relaxed and didn’t tense up. I was able to maintain objectivity and see my own actions and responsibilities with more clarity.
Just as importantly, I became less in need of being the center of attention. I enjoyed working and engaging and not being the center of attention. What became fun was my capacity to separate my emotions from my intellect. I became less controlled by my emotions. I started to understand where I stood on issues. Just as importantly, I understood better where others stood on the same issues. I could live with their understanding. I did not need to convert everyone to my way of thinking. Praise and criticism became less controlling. It became easier to live my life based on what I thought were my values, principles, and goals.
Then…I met John Beckett—professor at the University of New Hampshire and former head of the Office of Management and Budgets for President Dwight D. Eisenhower—who helped me see that I didn’t understand my own values, or principles, or goals at all! In a two day workshop on culture, he systematically destroyed everything I thought I knew and inspired me to search for my “place”.
Check back next week for the next post in this series–where Mark will share the impact of systems thinking, John Beckett, and his search for his own “place”.
The most important question in your professional life may just be: What are your values, principles, and goals? So let’s hear it. what are they?
More about Mark
Mark Hannum is a Principal Consultant at Linkage. He has over twenty years of experience in organizational and leadership development, systems thinking, coaching, competency modeling, and executive team building and alignment. Mark’s skilled leadership and innovation has resulted in the successful implementation of many organizational design projects with client mergers and acquisitions. He is also a frequent featured speaker at many training and education events.