Developing a Systems Thinking Lens for Collective Leadership

Joan O'Donnell
Published in
2 min readApr 10, 2023


A short guide to systems thinking for leading in times of uncertainty — on issues big or small

Cover: Developing a Systems Thinking Lens for Collective Leadership, Joan O’Donnell

We can let change just happen or we can be purposeful about creating the changes we seek. In order to understand what is required, it is necessary to understand the challenges that complex problems pose and how they manifest in the situation you are looking at.

There is a growing realisation that traditional policy-making processes struggle to be effective in a world where issues cannot be contained by national boundaries or different administrations, and where linear cause-and-effect relationships no longer apply. Blueprint planning and log frames might get us from A to B on a long journey: indeed, it served public services well when operating environments were complicated but considered stable. It is less useful for the complexity and uncertainty we are now operating within, however, where the speed of change is faster than any generation has experienced before.

Responding to complexity involves understanding that different kinds of problems need different kinds of responses. In other words, the tool must fit the job in hand. Complex situations have no natural boundaries such as child poverty or climate change and are characterised by…