Servant Leadership: Practices
“Context: Study Abstracts
on Systems Leadership” (SL#66)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
1:3 - Charting Your Course
Study Abstracts: This
article strikes out on a different leg of the journey toward servant leadership.
It attempts to understand and simply report major concepts of others; it also
calls for you to grapple with these insights in the practice of congregational
leadership. It really is a serious effort to provide resources that move us
together toward enlightened leadership.
Peter Senge focuses on systems thinking within learning
organizations of any kind.
Ronald Richardson's family systems is adapted to life and
leadership within a congregation.
Peter R. Scholtes gives practical attention to the nature
and leadership of systems.
Study Abstract: Systems Thinking
as the Fifth Discipline
from The Fifth Discipline: “The Art and Practice of The Learning
by Peter M. Senge. (Currency Doubleday, New York, 1994)
Abstract prepared by Lloyd Elder
Abstracted from Senge’s book, the following selected concepts
present the role of “systems thinking” in living, learning, growing
organizations. Applications to servant leaders within a congregation may be
drawn by each of us, and they are profound and numerous.
Learning Organizations: People continually
expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire; new patterns
of thinking are nurtured, aspirations set free, and people are learning
how to learn together (p. 3). Organizations excel that tap their people’s
commitment and capacity to learn (p. 4).
Disciplines of the Learning Organization: Five
disciplines in behavior of learning organizations form a body of theory
and technique that are mastered and put into practice (p. 10).
Systems thinking is a conceptual framework,
a body of knowledge and tools to see the organization as a whole, not
just its parts and to help change them effectively (pp. 6-7).
Personal mastery is a special level
of proficiency; an ability to consistently realize the results that
matter most deeply to them: a commitment to lifelong learning. As a
discipline, personal mastery is the learning organization’s spiritual
foundation (p. 7).
Mental models are deeply ingrained
assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence
how we understand the world and how we take action. It starts with turning
the mirror inward unearthing our internal pictures of the world (p.
Building shared vision is the capacity
to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create; with a genuine
vision expressed in goals, values, and missions; people excel and learn
because they want to (p. 9).
Team learning is truly learning, not
only producing extraordinary results but individual team members growing
more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise (pp. 9-10).
- Systems thinking is the fifth discipline because it integrates
the five disciplines into an ensemble, fusing them into a coherent body of
theory and practice. The organization as a whole can exceed the sum of its
parts, but systems thinking also needs the other four disciplines (p. 12).
Concept by concept consider how servant leadership, individuals, and teams
could apply systems thinking to your congregation.
Study Abstract - Family Systems Approach
from Ronald W. Richardson’s, Creating a Healthier Church: Family
Leadership, and Congregational Life, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1996)
Abstract prepared by Lloyd Elder
Studies in the last quarter century have
set forth the reality of a congregation in terms of “family systems.”
Murray Bowen first published in this area in 1978, and Edwin Friedman continued
its application in 1985. Since then numerous scholars have expanded the
understanding, including Richardson’s 1996 book applying this to the
role of leadership. This is becoming a basic element in the leader/follower
situation of any Christian minister.
- The congregation, as an emotional system, networks with
a variety of other systems and subsystems, such as: structural, communication,
decision-making, economic, and cultural (p. 8). The systems model recognizes
that members can only be understood fully within the context of their relationships.
No one lives or acts in isolation; we are all affected by each other’s
behavior: “we are all in this together” (p. 25).
Anxiety, as the threat of abandonment
or engulfment, is a powerful force in the balance of the congregation’s
emotional systems (pp. 41, 49). Within a congregation there is a sense of
community that members consider as “comfort zones,” or “right
and proper” levels of emotional closeness and distance. There are
also zones of abandonment and engulfment (pp. 66-67); but, wise leaders
know when to invite connection, when to listen rather than speak, and when
to be comfortable with distance (pp. 77-78).
Congregational life has four functional styles
as it expresses the two powerful forces of emotional relationships:
togetherness (closeness) and individuality (distance) (pp. 101-112).
- Enmeshed: extreme fusion resulting in loss of self,
of individuality; the individual experiences engulfment which causes a
level of discomfort.
- Isolated: no fusion, establishing extreme distance
from others, from togetherness; one experiences abandonment, of not belonging.
- Connected: a healthy differentiation of allowing a
sense of togetherness without loss of self; a healthy sense of belonging.
- Alone: connects with others but maintains the ability
to stand alone; a healthy sense of identity.
Glossary--differentiation: Richardson says: “It
is equivalent to the biblical concept of wisdom; it has to do with people’s
ability to effectively use what they know” (p. 85). [Others define:
perceiving a difference, marking a distinction, marking the boundaries.]
Reflection/Application: Reconsider your congregation
as “family systems.”
Study Abstract: Leadership Application
of Systems Thinking
from The Leader's Handbook: A Guide to Inspiring Your People
and Managing the Daily Workflow, by Peter R. Scholtes
(McGraw-Hill, New York, 1998)
Abstract prepared by Lloyd Elder
In this abstract I have selected to report only four sections
from this 400-page handbook--and those are on aspects of systems thinking
“What is a system?” (see pp.
- A system is a whole composed of many parts, such as an auto.
- With a purpose--to provide transportation.
- Each part of the system contributes to the whole.
- Each part has its own purpose, interdependent with other parts (e.g. engine
with transmission, with steering wheel, etc.).
- We can understand a part by seeing how it fits into the system, but not
the system by its parts.
- To understand a system we must understand its purpose, its interactions,
and its interdependencies.
- When we look at an organization, we are looking at a complex social and
technical system; e.g. a systems in systems in systems interacting as a whole.
- Systems Thinking at the Core
Peter R. Scholtes makes a significant claim which is the core of his published
finding: “Systems thinking is the heart of twenty-first century leadership.
(see pp. 57-59)
- Systems thinking “refers to the general reflex
or habit of conceiving of reality in terms of interdependencies, interactions,
- Systems “refers to interactions and interdependencies
on a large scale; it consists of subsystems and processes.”
- Processes refer to components of a system, having purposes
and functions of their own.
- Methods refer to components of the process interacting
with other methods that make up the process.
- Sequence refers to steps as components of a method, interacting
with other steps to serve the purpose of the method.
- Customers refer to those in the chain who are the end-users
or consumers who benefit from the product or service; they have the final
say of its value. There are both internal and external customers. (see pp.
- Approaches to Systems Thinking (pp. 84-85)
Scholtes suggests that we can develop systems-minded organizations by backing
away from everyday work and asking basic, large-scale, long-term questions,
- What is our purpose? What capabilities do we provide our customers?
- Who are, or should be, our customers? What do they want? What do they need?
How do we know?
- Given what we know about our customers, what output (goods and services)
with which features and attributes must we provide?
- Given these outputs, what systems, processes, and methods must be in place?
How do we know?
- How do we monitor and control these systems, processes, and methods to assure
they will reliably deliver the output needed by our customers?
- Given these systems, processes, methods, and output, what input do we need
from internal and external suppliers?
- Which suppliers can best provide us with the needed input? How do we know?
- New Leadership Competencies (from pp. 19-49)
According to Scholtes, there are six new leadership competencies essential
for today's organization managers. Admitting with deepest respect for his
legacy from Deming's System of Profound Knowledge; Scholtes sets out
with details and examples six new competencies for leadership:
- The ability to think in terms of systems and knowing how to lead systems.
- The ability to understand the variability of work in planning and problem
- Understanding how we learn, develop, and improve, and leading true learning
- Understanding people and why they behave as they do.
- Understanding the interdependence and interaction between systems, variation,
learning, and human behavior. Knowing how each affects the others.
- Giving vision, meaning, direction, and focus to the organization.
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© 2006 servantleaderstoday.com; hosted and
copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church