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JLBC: Leadership

JLBC: Leadership

A systemic approach to failure is more likely to result in effective long-term solutions. Imagine for a moment if the incidents of abuse at Abu Ghraib have been chalked up merely to ineffective leadership or miscreant behavior by some thugs on the night shift. Suppose other factors contributed to the problem after relieving the chain of command for cause and prosecuting the abusers. In that case, the replacement chain of command members might have found themselves in an equally untenable situation. While inspired leadership can make a difference under the worst conditions, we might ask just how heroic we expect our leaders to be regularly. When a system is stacked against our leaders, there is a moral imperative to change the system.

Systems thinking is no panacea. There is no checklist to work through that will guarantee someone is thinking in a way that will capture the big picture or identify the root causes of complex problems. There are some concepts and approaches embedded in the systems thinking literature. However, that can be very helpful when considering why a situation seems immune to intervention or why a problem thought to be solved returned with a vengeance. Here are some of the concepts:

• Focus on the purpose for which a system was created over the processes and procedures.

• Simple cause-and-effect relationships are insufficient to understand or explain a complex social system. Patterns over time and feedback loops are a better way to think about the dynamics of complex systems.

• Think about synthesis over-analysis, the whole over the parts.

• Business and excessive focus on short-term gains inter- feres with our ability to use a systems approach.

• Leaders must see what is happening over what they want to see happen.

• Thinking about systems and their dynamics suggests alternative approaches and attunes leaders to important aspects of organizational behavior, especially in military organizations that value tradition and standardization.

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