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Systems Thinking: An Essential Leadership Practice

Systems thinking is an essential leadership practice often not taught practiced or included in the education of public leaders. The complexity of the public sector combined with the number of people who depend on public leadership makes it essential for us to develop skilled confident systems thinkers. Ideally, public sector workplaces would be run by leaders who understand how to address system delays, how to manage intended and unintended consequences, and where the point of leverage is in a system. Our leaders must also educate the citizens who depend on them to think systemically as well. This field of learning is critical for our policy makers and legislators who can find themselves setting policy or making decisions that have unanticipated consequences that are both unexpected and costly.

Optimally, system thinking skills would be taught through our schools at an early age. Many states, like Arizona, have been doing this for some time. The closer you look, you find systems everywhere. Asking “Why are we getting a specific result” is the best way for leaders, citizens, and teams to understand our current reality and align the perceptions of the people affected by the system before designing solutions and goals. This is how we can stop wasting resources on solving the wrong perceived problem.

Over the last 15 years our work with teams at all levels of government make it possible to share a library of systems work done by leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. You may find the “why” questions which these systems address sound very familiar.

Please take a moment to look at the Systems Maps (click here) in the following categories:

  • Civic Engagement: Redefining the Modern Town Hall
  • Climate Change
  • Customer Service… Internal and External
  • Governance Systems, Structures and Partnerships
  • Land Use Zoning and Planning
  • Public Health and Contagious Diseases
  • Resources and Budgets
  • Schools and Education 

Training and Learning

The Public Sector Consortium provides a two-day system thinking training and a short online zoom program as an introduction to systems thinking. Click here to learn more about our Learning Programs.

Videos and Books where systems are everywhere…

Short introductory video on systems thinking brief systems thinking video,

  • Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  • What the Dog Saw” by Malcolm Gladwell (Chapter Million Dollar Murray in particular)
  • Boomerang” by Michael Lewis

Our PSC bibliography. From our Resources page, click download, sort by category, and scroll to Systems Thinking.