As the world’s best leaders develop strategies and business models to ensure growth in the volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, leadership itself is evolving. Leaders are designing organizations strategically to create autopoietic systems (auto-poy-etic systems: life-sustaining systems that reproduce and perpetuate themselves automatically). When designed well, they cut waste and weed out unhealthy processes. Creating and maintaining autopoietic systems keeps organizations vital, full of life, and promotes growth and the revitalization of stalled initiatives.
The Five Pillars of Organization Leadership for Growth:
Challenging the status quo with positive innovation.
Inspiring a vision and set of goals that result in mutual commitment from all employees.
Building teams that are empowered and are interdependent upon one other to succeed.
Modeling the behaviors you espouse to others.
Encouraging the hearts of employees so that they work through difficult times, striving to achieve the mutual vision and goals set before them.
Four strategic growth tools:
Positive People Management
Creative Problem Solving
Continuous Process Improvement
When leading a department, division, or organization, it is indispensable to tie the four tools together with a strategic focus on leadership agreement, interdependency, interactive and lateral communications, collaboration, and cooperation. In doing so, leaders can structure functional and people systems to automatically encourage behaviors that drive their desired business outcomes. Once the systems are running, less time and effort is needed to manage repeatable tasks, allowing more time to explore fresh, innovative ways to grow.
Innovative leaders use autopoietic systems to automate people and functional activities. Building a reward system that includes interdependent goals, by design, permeates the organization’s culture with agreement and cooperation. The interdependent goals tie people and business outcomes from multiple systems together. By design, teaming and agreement with corporate directives are built into the system structures. Everyone benefit’s when all people and systems are pulling in the same direction. It is the fulfillment of the old saying, “one for all and all for one.”
System thinking is a way of looking at how an organization or any complex entity works. For instance, your body consists of many syst
ems, such as pulmonary, nervous, digestive, and others. If we listen to our doctors and fitness coaches’ advice, we will exercise our minds and bodies, eat healthily, and be mentally alert. Our biological and mental systems work together to keep us running efficiently and effectively. Another way to help understand systems thinking might be to go to YouTube and search for “3D Movie – How a car engine works.” Did you watch the short video or one you like? An engine has many parts; each part has a role; when all the pieces are performing their tasks, they form a functioning system that transforms energy into power.
System thinking looks at the whole system, its parts, transforming functions, and outcomes,
i.e., holistically. The system is the sum of its interconnected parts. If the systems’ components are not maintained and updated, they become outdated, worn, and eventually irrelevant as technologies advance. System thinking is the foundation for understanding how to create business value. As a people leader, it is your role to understand the system and how those you lead fit into it and interact with each other. System thinking empowers leaders to see the whole picture and make better decisions.
There are two major types of organizational system thinking; open and closed. Open-system thinkers are aware of what’s happening around them. Their eyes are wide open to
the changes that take place in the surrounding business environment and react to changes. Closed-system thinkers are the opposite. They function in bubbles, closed off from outside considerations and influences, and therefore see no need to change.
In his classic management book, “Images of Organizations,” Gareth Morgan, describes types of organizations through metaphors. Several of the metaphors he uses include “corporate blindness, organizational psychic prisons, and instruments of domination.” (Morgan, 2006). Corporate blindness and psychic (mental) prisons result when a company thinks of itself as a closed system.
Closed systems do not consider changes in the business environment around them. We can see this effect in the manufacturing industry in America. While other nations adopted TQM, Six Sigma, and customer-centric, continuous-improvement methodologies, many industries ignored the threat of global competition. Closed systems do not welcome input from outside resources.
Many closed-system thinkers develop a “we know it all” attitude, and therefore do not consult those who are “lower in the ranks” or external expert resources. Closed systems produce a corporate culture and way of thinking that does not embrace the freedom of thought or novel ideas. Phrases such as “we’ve always done it this way” and “don’t rock the boat” are typical of companies that have created psychic prisons. Mental prisons result when leaders discourage employees from being creative and looking outside the status quo for ideas. Workers and mid-level leaders become afraid to offer their opinions. Management views creativity and new ideas as a challenge to their authority, resulting in employees feeling at risk when sharing suggestions for change. When this happens, corporations and leaders can become as Morgan calls them “instruments of domination.” (Morgan, 2006). Open system thinking can help prevent corporate blindness, psychic prisons, and from becoming instruments of domination.
Although I would like nothing more than to dive further into system thinking and automated growth, it encompasses a deep understanding of meta-systems and complex adaptive systems that stretch far beyond the bounds of reading a blog or gathering information from a website. However, I hope to have the opportunity to discuss how to create autopoietic systems that perpetuate vitality and organizational growth with you in person. I look forward to meeting you, whether on a leadership webinar, as a member in my private mentorship group, or at a sponsored leadership event by your organization.
Thanks for your desire to be the best leader you can be. I’m sure your future will be bright as you develop and mature as a leader. As you choose to lead, don’t go at it alone, reach out for assistance. All great leaders have a mentor or coach; I do too.
References: (Omnicom Group, 2019), (FourSight, 2018)(Lucidchart, 2017),(Plenert, 2012),(Johnson & Johnson, 2013),(Seidi, 2004),(Morgan, 2006),(Livingston, 2014), (Buschman, 2020).