seeing myself as a system

cables clint-adair-BW0vK-FA3eg-unsplash

I’m reading a book these days about leading change. My hope is that the book will help me and my team learn how to help others flourish – even through changes in our fast-paced, uncertain, complex world. I am learning a lot that will apply to the organization, but this morning I read something that applies personally to me.

I’ve struggled for a while with my inability to name my own desires and preferences with confidence. I hear others say without hesitancy, “This is what I like” or “This is who I am”, but I can’t seem to do that. I’ve wondered why. I’ve wondered if something was wrong with me.

The chapter titled, “See Yourself as a System”, gave me a fresh way to look at this.

The chapter starts out with the story of an Army officer who does not agree with some of the self-protective but unstrategic behaviors of the men he is commanding, but who does not stand up to them because he wants solidarity with the unit. The officer’s tension is an illustration of the complexity of our human system, with its “competing values and interests, preferences and tendencies, aspirations and fears¹”, many of which he linked back to needs he had developed during his upbringing.

The authors explain that our personal system is an inter-tangled network of our personality, life story, intellect, skills, and emotional intelligence. Our behaviors and decisions are affected by all of that and the situations, conditions, loyalties, experiences, and bandwidth that we have at any given time.

The chapter suggests that we cannot effectively lead change if we do not understand our system and our “multiple identities” that are a result of that reality. Not multiple identities in a psychotic or lack of integrity kind of way, but the fact that we do – in a healthy, authentic way – show up differently depending on the role we play, the need of the times, and the new growth we can bring to a situation now.

Personally, I felt a sense of relief when I read this. I was encouraged to hear that my perceived struggle with a set identity definition could actually be a benefit to a changing organization when I view myself as a complex system – less easy to describe, growing, updating, and changing over-time, rather than static, fixed, defined, and fully-formed. It’s given me a hopeful lens to consider some of my tensions. I’m looking forward to reading more about loyalties, influence factors, and roles in the next chapters.

What do you think? What is your perspective on being a “system”? 

¹ R. Heifetz, A. Grashow & M. Linsly. 2009. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership – The Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, p 178.

Photo credit: Clint Adair on Unsplash


4 thoughts on “seeing myself as a system

  1. Good thoughts…I’m still mulling over them. Often, as women, we think of what is best for the family or the team, keeping peace, rather than what we would want if we had our individual choice. There have been times when I told my husband, “I don’t have an opinion because it wouldn’t make a difference because of my role.” Sometimes I think it is God’s grace to not give me a strong opinion so that I can flex and go with other opinions. I do agree that it differs with different systems.


    • Thanks, Maggie. I considered many of the reasons you mention in my own hesitancy to have a strong choice or opinion. I am working to discern if I am holding back a God-given approach to something unnecessarily or if it is an appropriate “adaptive” response to a particular situation/setting/audience. Plenty to think about. Thanks for engaging with me!


  2. It makes total sense that we operate as a system that is fluid and changing. I KNOW you’re not static and stuck. The fact that every day gives us new opportunities to trust the Lord with our stuff as we continue to interact with people is huge. So when do we grow up enough to say, “This is what I like?” Still not there!


    • Yep – wondering when it is a maturity – do I have the freedom? – issue and when it is an “adaptive”/discernment issue that is actually a very mature reaction to a particular situation. Thanks for pondering these ideas with me! Appreciate you so much.


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