In business, as in life, short-term thinking never works for very long. Many leaders are content to look only at what is immediately in front of them. While it may be tempting to behave this way in an increasingly complex and interdependent world, such narrow, near-sighted leadership hardly serves the organizations and systems we are a part of. Bigger systems naturally require bigger, broader thinking.

Thinking Big Within Your Organization

Organizations are quickly learning that departments operating in isolation are ineffective. There are no projects or processes that can be accomplished solely within a silo. Interdependent relationships are necessary in all organizations if goals are to be met and good work accomplished. This collaboration requires that we actively include others, communicate our planned actions, and assess the impact our decisions have across the organization.

Too often competing goals are established within an organization, resulting in internal competition for human and material resources. When pursuing goals, leaders must recognize interdependencies in terms of:

  1. Resources outside their span of control required to meet goals, and
  2. Impacts that their actions may have on others. Failure to recognize long-term effects causes friction, impeding the goal achievement process.

Thinking Big Within Your Community

Larger scale, interdependent thinking can also be applied to systems your organization functions in: your community, the wider business world, the government, the world stage, and Earth's environment. Personal leadership decisions impact these greater systems and, conversely, these systems have tremendous impact on our organizations.

When our focus is limited to within our organization, we become organization-centric. The fact that we — our organization and these systems — are interdependent has not changed. What must change is our recognition of the relationships we rely upon on and the way in which we approach them. Isolated, short-term results that seem to feed profitability and growth may distort and shrink our perspectives, keeping our vision narrow and the wider world peripheral at best.

In an increasingly global and uncertain business environment, leaders will need a broader understanding of what it means to do business internationally.

In an increasingly global, uncertain, and unsettling business environment, organizations and their leaders will need a broader understanding of what it means to do business internationally and interdependently. Our focus must be as much external as it is internal. We must recognize we are a part of a larger whole. We impact the very systems we exist in. Interdependencies are always present, even if they cannot be quantified in short-term financial models. They must be recognized for the sustainability of our organizations and our world.

Are You Making the Best Decisions?

Are you making the best decisions given the big picture? Are your decisions truly for the greater good? If within your organization you are optimizing only your department, without regard for the organization as a whole, the answer must be "no." If within the global community you are optimizing the results of your company alone, without regard for others affected, again the answer must be "no."

There are huge incentives for leaders to suboptimize. Leaders are generally compensated based on their personal performances. Companies are rewarded for meeting and exceeding earnings targets for their organizations alone. In both cases, interdependencies are frequently ignored, causing increased friction within organizations and increased disparities in communities and the greater world.

Although critically necessary, the transformations required for change are never easy to make. They require enormous culture shifts that alter the way we collectively think about issues and our role in approaching them.

What Can You Do?

Optimizing your organization — and your world — requires major personal changes:

  1. Open up your thinking. Challenge yourself to see how big the picture truly is.
  2. Become aware of a pervasive culture that encourages small-systems thinking so you can better step outside of it.
  3. Identify points of interdependence in your life. Ask yourself, "Who are the colleagues within my organization and my community that I need to have proactive conversations with?"
  4. Have these conversations, inviting others into your vision for the future of a bigger system and planning collaborative actions to move toward this vision.
  5. As a leader, assist others in expanding to broader perspectives and operating in more interdependence-conscious ways.

These changes in thought and behavior are not easy. But they are some of the most critical moves you can make in your business and in your life. As you widen your perspective, you widen your possibility of obtaining success that will benefit all of us.


Barbara Osterman
About The Author Barbara Osterman [Full Bio]
Barbara Osterman, founder and owner of Human Solutions LLC, is a business leadership consultant and cultural catalyst. She supports organizations in increasing business performance and results by successfully weaving business initiatives and culture transformations.

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