Welcome to Leadership from the Balcony.
My name is Shawn Griesemer with my co-host Justin Dorroh. And each week we bring you a new leadership concept to inspire your growth and effectiveness as a leader in every area of your life.
On today's episode, we're exploring Peter Senge's timeless masterpiece, The Fifth Discipline, a fantastic resource that explores the cultural underpinnings to create a learning organization, an environment rich in possibility for adaptive and collective leadership. Don't miss the chance to elevate your leadership and inspire positive change in your organization by engaging The Fifth Discipline.
We trust you continue to enjoy this format in today's episode as you join us on the balcony and peer over the railing to gain an expanded leadership perspective.
The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge…what a groundbreaking work! I don't know how, I don't remember the exact publication date of this book, I guess it was the 80s or 90s. I don't know how I got my business degree. We missed this book. Somehow it was not a part of the program I was in. Reading it as an adult, being in the business arena for as long as I have, what we're going to talk about even here at this moment will be underwhelming compared to the denseness of what is found in this book. Basically, The Fifth Discipline has profound insights into organizational learning and system thinking. Organizational learning, I've just been surprised at how little organizational learning really exists in companies in this modern era. That's the premise behind this book is how do you really create an organization that is constantly seeking to learn and it's really using systems thinking as a construct around it. That's what we're looking at today is The Fifth Discipline.
The Fifth Discipline is a transformative exploration of organization learning and systems thinking. Senge introduces the concept of learning organizations, which really by his definition, it's a place where individuals continually expand their capacity to create results that they desire, fostering innovation and adaptability. This goes hand in hand with adaptive leadership we've talked about in the past and many of the other concepts originated for us coming out of The Fifth Discipline. Senge goes on to even state that systems thinking is a linchpin for creating a learning organization. So really, that's what we're getting at or that's what Senge is getting at in this book is how do you really create a learning organization, emphasizing that it involves seeing the world in terms of interconnectedness and patterns and understanding the dynamic relationships that drive organizational behavior. He really illustrates how mastering the art of that systems thinking concept and application is essential for leaders and organizations that want to adapt and innovate and thrive in today's complex and ever-changing business environment.
You know, it's called The Fifth Discipline because I suppose there were four disciplines that were already well-defined.
That would be the guess.
Primarily before he wrote this book, but what we'd like to do is just walk you through all five of the disciplines that are defined in this book, though keep in mind systems thinking, which he calls The Fifth Discipline, is what the book's premise is about.
The first one he calls Personal Mastery, and we've done a podcast episode on Personal Mastery. The way it's defined is it's emphasizing the importance for individuals to continually grow and develop. So, it's people who are committed to mastering their chosen field and continuously improving themselves, which causes positive impacts across the entire organization.
The next one is called Mental Models. Again, we have an episode by this title that you can go listen to. These are deeply ingrained assumptions and beliefs that really can shape our actions and decisions. So, this is becoming aware as a leader or as a team member, learning how to become aware of these Mental Models and challenging them. Another word you could use is assumption. So, challenging those assumptions really is crucial for fostering more effective decision making.
Shared vision is the third discipline and this is where you're creating a common sense of purpose and direction within the organization. Peter Senge argues that aligning everyone's aspirations toward that collective vision really can empower teams to work cohesively and to achieve their goals. Which gets us to the fourth discipline which is called team learning.
In team learning, the emphasis is on the importance of teams being the fundamental learning unit in an organization. So, when teams can learn together, they can solve complex problems and adapt more effectively to change. And as you can see, these things start to build on one another. So, a commitment to personal growth, challenging our assumptions, sharing a common vision, now that team really can learn together and so the fifth discipline kind of creates the capstone at least to this book. What systems thinking really is getting at is how do we take a holistic approach to understanding how these various elements within our organization interact with one another. So, we've got to be able to view the organization as a complex system just as you said earlier Shawn of interconnected or interrelated parts where leaders can identify these patterns, they can leverage them for more effective decision making, and the organization can be a learning environment or a learning context.
The book states, as well as our experience has been, the ability to see these interconnectivities when you can change one part of the system, it has impact in every part of the system. And so, we want to talk about at least one example of how this might show up in a real-world context.
It's amazing even as you were describing each one of the components, each one of the disciplines if you will, in the book. He does a masterful job of actually showing the interconnectivity of the individual components. So, it's almost as though he wrote it in a systems thinking way to have all these individual components, and talk about the interconnectedness. As we've looked at systems thinking one of the things that always comes to mind for me…I was coaching an individual who worked in supply chain. He would talk about the…it was for an international company, and they were moving commodities, you know, across the country. He would talk about, in his world of logistics and procurement and when things would happen in Mexico or fuel prices would change or production was up at one plant or one plant went offline for 12 hours or whatever, and he's dealing with all of these individual pieces. You have supplier relationships, and you have production processes and inventory management and generally in larger companies, those are all being overseen by different people, sometimes in different parts of the country. And if the people who are navigating and really trying to ensure that where they are at point A comes out at point F, G, H, I, whatever later, that every single point in between is being considered and adapted for or toward. And that's what systems thinking really is getting at. I'll never forget when he'd talk about prices being higher in something here and how are they mitigating it here and how are they signing a contract there? It is complex, but that's where the ability to say, you're right, it's complex. And are you allowing the complexity to stay in place or are you trying to simplify out the complexity and you're no longer dealing with the situation that's in front of you? You might miss a lot of pieces when you oversimplify.
A lot of pieces.
So really a systems thinker in the example you just gave really would analyze all of these components, how they interact, how they influence one another within that supply chain. And you might start to identify delays in shipping, not just due to transportation issues, but linked to problems in production. I mean, all the functions or the departments that you just named, they all have impact on one another. So, seeing the system as a whole really is what the heart of this book is all about. And taking a systems thinking approach to supply chain optimization, or whatever the complex business issue is, you really can achieve more holistic, sustainable improvements, rather than just solving one symptom of the system, of the problem. You're actually looking to address the whole thing, which could include transformational type solutions.
How often does somebody try to address one piece in it and think that it's not going to have an impact on something else in the system?
That's right. I heard somebody say one time, today's solutions become tomorrow's problems. And I think that's a great example of not taking a systems thinking approach, you create your future problems if you just solve a symptom, versus looking at the system as a whole. And there are real P&L impacts. You can save cost. You can improve customer satisfaction, which drives revenue, and maintain that competitive edge. And so hopefully what you're hearing is The Fifth Discipline really does offer a ton of practical tools, case studies that help illustrate these disciplines in action.
Yeah, so many case studies.
Senge really does give insights that emphasize the need for a shift in mindset. He helps leaders and organizations really, he encourages them to take, to move from more of a reactive posture to more of this problem-solving, creative, learning-oriented point of view. So, whether you're a leader looking to improve your organization's performance or an individual seeking personal growth, The Fifth Discipline offers a wealth of wisdom to inspire positive change.
And I think that's the thing that, again, we could undersell this book by saying it's just leaders needing to deal with systems thinking. There is so much more here. In fact, how many different podcast titles have we done that came out of this? We talked about Personal Mastery, Shared Vision, Mental Models, creative versus reactive. That was one of our earlier podcasts. Those concepts are in this book and many others. But all that to say, this is not just about a leader trying to create an organization that's leaning into organizational learning. Any individual can read this and take out areas in Personal Mastery and Mental Models and Shared Vision. It is just rich with concepts for leaders and individuals alike.
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