How often have you heard someone say, “What does the boss think?” Great question, but there’s another more fundamental question that affects ‘what’ the boss thinks. We should ask ourselves, “How does the boss think?” Some think conceptually, others fragmentally. Both affect how they see the world, how they react to it, and how they lead. How leaders think becomes who they are and their approach to their responsibilities.

Leaders who are conceptual thinkers see the world in complex ways and understand how people and purpose connect. They often see shades of gray and can live with ambiguity and uncertainty because they do not expect the world to be an orderly and tidy place composed of black or white questions or sequential logic. Consequently confusion is endurable because change occurs with disequilibrium and its resulting residue of unanticipated outcomes. Disconfirming data and information are accepted as these leaders adjust their thinking and possibly disregard short-term data and past practice or approaches. Leaders transform, help others transform, and transform organizations through the power of values, ideas and principles.

Physicist David Bohm asserted that there is a potential problem with thinking – fragmentation. We are taught the scientific method that emphasizes analysis – slicing a problem or issue into parts and components. Trying to remain aware of the whole is difficult because leaders have traditionally been trained through the scientific method and part-to-whole management approaches. Our approach to thinking is not holistic – instead, we go from component to component.

Organizations are based on this mind frame. As we break our world into isolated pieces, we create phalanxes of specialists and on a national level divide ourselves as a nation into separate groups of hyphenated citizens. Fragmented thinking is evident in our organizations with emphasis on structure and departments, functions and responsibilities, and roles and responsibilities, complete with linear plans. Knowledge is disjointed and can be distorted and dangerous because the parts may not be characteristic of the whole.

In schools today we have focused on structures and standards and the constant metrical analysis of the parts. If we collect data on skills and concepts we think we will understand the health of the whole. We study variables as if they were separate and distinct, trying to identify the ones that will cause the others to react in specific ways.

Holistic thought, however, examines complete entities and investigates the subtle and forceful dynamics that affect conditions and the web of interconnections and relationships. ‘Systems thinking’ considers organizations as interconnected, dynamic, evolving, and developing integral entities.

The integral nature of things and their subtle interconnections has great consequences. Our thoughts are not isolated from how we perceive our total being. Through fragmented thinking we see our mind as where thought resides, our body where our physical being is housed, and our emotions where our feelings are contained. But we are not that discreet. Our thoughts affect our feelings and can create physical conditions, symptoms, and vice versa. Our physical health affects our emotions and thinking. We are a whole being integrally connected through head, heart, and spirit — all interwoven and inseparable. We are not a conglomeration of parts or mathematical algorithms.

Margaret Wheatley in her book, Leadership and the New Science indicated, “power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships. How leaders organize relationships is more important than how functions and tasks are organized. The energy from tight relationships is the power that can break inertia because people are really ‘bundles of potential’ that, if capitalized, can change the world. Listening, sharing stories, and eliminating the boundaries that separate us can bring out the power of energized people working together in a common enterprise”.

Leaders shake people’s perception and thinking about their world. Ideas capture the imagination, stir creativity and excite the spirit: all activities of the mind and soul. The power of ideas is fundamental to efforts of changing schools. Ideas, particularly noble and important ones, form fields of thought, which generate energy and motivation that can create new structures and processes.

Ideas and the “force fields” around them can help people make sense of the uncertainty and ambiguity with which they struggle. Concepts provide a framework for us to understand the confusion, or at least help us think about it in a productive way without being isolated and immobilized.

How we think is important because it permeates everything we do and how we do it. In essence, thought creates our world and our own reality. And we act on it.

SEE … the book “Soft Leadership for Hard Times” available at Amazon