Systems Thinking: Leadership & Change Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Leadership Type: Term Paper Paper: #70793151 Related Topics: Operating Systems, Operating System, Learning System, Feedback Loops
Excerpt from Term Paper :


II. Peter Senge - the Learning Organization

Peter Senge, who describes himself as the "idealistic pragmatist" states that learning organizations are: "...organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together." (1990: p.3) the learning organization in the view of Senge is an organization that has the capacity to adapt in an environment of rapid change and because of their flexibility will grow and excel. These types of organizations have learned how to connect to the commitment of the individuals in the organization and have the capacity to experience growth through learning at all levels. The learning organization is one that is perpetually and intentionally seeking to expand its creative capacity. According to Senge the organization must do more than merely survive and while survival type learning, which Senge terms 'adaptive-learning' is necessary and important it is not enough because the organization requires the additional dimension of "generative learning" or the type of learning that highlights the ability for creativity. (Senge, 1990; p.14)

III. Senge: Five Basic Disciplines

According to Senge, the organization must attain mastery in five basic disciplines, which include:

1) Systems thinking;

2) Personal mastery;

3) Mental models;

4) Building shared vision; and 5) Team learning. (Senge, 1990)

Personal mastery is related by Senge to be the discipline of "continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objective." (1990: p. 139) Personal mastery is more than skills and competence, although these are part of personal mastery however, personal mastery further involves growth of a spiritual nature and is a unique proficiency that is not a trait of domination but of having been 'called' toward a 'vision' which is goal-oriented and personally owned and not simply a good idea. Senge relates that those with a high level of personal mastery are continually in a mode of learning and seeking to know more. In other words "they never 'arrive'. (Senge, 1990; p. 142) Personal mastery is never complete and cannot be possessed "it is a process. It is a lifelong discipline. People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas. And they are deeply self-confident." (Senge, 1990; p. 142) Senge asks if this is "Paradoxical?" that the individual is aware of their shortcomings and simultaneously self-confident and states that it is a paradox but "only for those who do not see the 'journey is the reward." (Senge, 1990; p. 142) in the work of Senge 'mental models' are described as "deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action." (Senge, 1990; p. 8) Senge writes that the discipline of mental models begins with "turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. In also includes the ability to carry on 'learningful' conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others." (Senge, 1990: p.9) in order to build a shared vision Senge states that leadership capable of inspiring the organization can be described as:."..the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create." (1990; p.9) This type of vision is encouraging, uplifting and sparks innovation and creativity. The vision is communicated well and then reinforced through an increase in the vision's clarity which generates enthusiasm and ultimately commitment which becomes contagious to others in the organizations. Senge states that "As people talk [dialogue], the vision grows clearer. As it gets clearer, enthusiasm for its benefits grow." (Senge, 1990; p. 227) Team learning is described by Senge as "the process of aligning and developing the capacities of a team to create the results its members truly desire." (1990; p.236)

IV. Senge: Practices, Principles,...


373) Senge views people in the organization as agents who have the ability to act within the structures and systems to which they belong or act as a part of the whole within. In this view, each of the five disciplines are "concerned with a shift of mind from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future."(Senge, 1990: p. 69)

V. Senge: Three Conditions for Dialogue

Dialogue is an ancient form of communication held in reverence by many primitive societies according to Merrill (nd) in the work entitled: "Dialogue from Peter Senge's Perspective." Merrill additionally relates that Peter Senge, in the work entitled: "The Fifth Discipline, the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization" identifies three basic conditions that are required for dialogue:

1) All participants must 'suspend' their assumptions', literally to hold them 'as if suspended before us';

2) All participants must regard one another as colleagues; and 3) There must be a 'facilitator' who 'holds the context' of dialogue. (Senge, 1980; p. 243)

When individuals enter into dialogue on a regular basis trusty develops that then carries over into dialogue and resulting is a "richer understanding of the uniqueness of each person's point-of-view." (Merrill, nd) According to Senge: "...reflection and inquiry skills provide a foundation for dialogue" and furthermore "dialogue that is grounded in reflection and inquiry skills is likely to be more reliable and less dependent on particulars of circumstance, such as the chemistry among team members." (Senge, 1980; p. 249)

VI. Senge: Vision & Creative Tension

In the work of Peter Senge entitled: "The Leaders New Work" it is stated that: "Leadership in a learning organization starts with the principle of creative tensions. Creative tension comes from seeing clearly where we want to be, our 'vision', and telling the truth about where we are, our 'current reality'. The gap between the two generates a natural tension." (1996) Senge further states: "Creative tension can be resolved in two ways: by raising current reality toward the vision, or by lowering the vision toward current reality. Individuals, groups, and organizations who learn how to work with creative tension learn how to use its energy to move reality more reliably toward their visions." (1996) in the case where no vision exists, Senge holds that neither does creative tension exist. Senge states: "Creative tension can't be generated from current reality alone. All the analysis in the world will never generate a vision." (1996) Vision void of understanding the present reality will result in cynicism and according to Senge "the principle of creative tension teaches than an accurate picture of current reality is just as important as compelling a picture of a desired future." (1996) Senge relates that "leading through creative tension" is not the same as problem-solving because problem-solving depends on energy derived from moving away from present reality however the energy derived from creative tension arises from the vision and from that which "we want to create, juxtaposed with current reality." (Senge, 1996) (the Leader's New Work)

VII. Senge: Laws of System Thinking

The work of William G. O'Callaghan, Jr. entitled: "Think Like Peter Senge: Applying His Laws of Systems Thinking to Identity Patterns that Shape Behavior" published in the School Administrator Journal (2004) relates that Peter Senge identified specific patterns that reoccur which he has termed the laws of system thinking. Some of these laws are those as follows:

Today's problems come from yesterday's solutions: Senge holds that while we may be puzzled by the causes of problems in the present that recalling the solutions used to problems in the past offers great insight. (Callaghan, 2004; paraphrased; p.1)

The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back: Each individual has experienced this phenomenon in that the harder one attempts to make improvements the more effort is required to realize that improvement because of the resistance of others in making the necessary changes to bring about the improvement desired. (Callaghan, 2004; paraphrased; p.1)

Behavior grows better before it grows worse: When one makes an intervention for improvement success is experience however only briefly and then results in a gradual decline over the long-term. (Callaghan, 2004; paraphrased; p.1)

The easy way out usually leads back in: Familiar solutions bring comfort however, are an indication of nonsystemic thinking. (Callaghan, 2004; paraphrased; p.2)

The cure can be worse than the disease: Familiar solutions are often not only ineffective but dangerous as well. (Callaghan,…

Sources Used in Documents:


Merrill, Martha (nd) Dialogue from Peter Senge's Perspective. Dialogue Digest. Online available at

O'Callaghan, William G. Jr. (2004) Think Like Peter Senge: Applying His Laws of Systems Thinking to Identify Patterns that Shape Behavior. School Administrator Journal. November 2004. Online available at

Peter M. Senge (1990) the Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Currency Doubleday, 1990), 371

Peter Senge Interview on Organizational Learning. Economic Development Leader - Creating the Leading Edge in Economic Development. 1 Apr 2007. Online available at
Reed, George E. (2006) Leadership and Systems Thinking. Defense at&L May-June 2006. Online available at
Resources on Peter Senge Learning Organizations. Online available at
Senge, Peter (1996) Leading Learning Organizations - Society for Organizational Learning. Online available at
Smith, Mark (2001) Peter Senge and the Learning Organization INFED. Online available at

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