Systems Disruption

To be a leader is to be a problem-solver. It is vital for every leader to have the skill to tackle complex challenges and navigate the landmines that are certainties in problem-solving. For leaders to excel in their ability to effectively solve problems, it is necessary for them to understand the network of relationships problems within a complex system present. The tendency leaders have is to break down complex systems into smaller pieces, compartmentalize into small sections, and then problem solve within that compartmentalization. At times this is effective since complex systems are a compilation of simpler systems (Kauffman, 1980), however, many times leaders must step away from the small compartments of the system and seek to understand the interrelated relationships that exist throughout the entire complex system.

What leaders must understand first is that complex systems take on a life of their own and have the ability to be self-stabilizing, create goals, anticipate, and modify the environment in order to serve its own objectives (Kauffman, 1980).  Failing to understand this will cause leaders to make missteps because they fail to respect the potential for disaster complex systems can produce (Anderson & Johnson, 1997). Most common problems leaders will run into if they fail to appreciate complex systems are conflicting goals that can sometimes originate from within the system itself, the tension of centralization and decentralization, and the loss of predictability (Anderson & Johnson, 1997).

For leaders who are proficient at solving relatively simple problems within a simple system, the recommendation would be to either remain in similarly complex environments in order to stay within their comfort zones, or undergo the proper training and development to understand complex systems in order to avoid coming up with random solutions without clear understanding.


Anderson, V., & Johnson, L. (1997). Systems thinking basics: from concepts to causal loops. Cambridge, Mass: Pegasus Communications.

Kauffman, D. L. (1980). Systems one: an introduction to systems thinking. Minneapolis, Minn: Future Systems.

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