Systems Intelligence as a Framework for Expanding Social Emotional Leadership

R-S-I-E-S

“Systems intelligence approach stems from a deep belief in the human potential. It recites ancient hope and upholds what is good in us, as opposed to fixing what is broken. Our connectedness is embedded within our very existence, and SI describes a framework that allows us to leverage this infinite potential. It is a beautiful mixture of the macro-level skill of seeing beyond the current, visible reality (into what might be), while also relying on individual´s ability to sense the finest nuances in of our interconnectedness and to respond accordingly.”
Emilia Lahti (2013)

Systems Intelligence as a Framework for Expanding SOMO

BY SOMO STRATEGY TEAM ⋅ MARCH 27, 2013

An excerpt from an entity researched & written by MAPP students (Emilia Lahti, Marita James and  Elena Thompson) in service of their learning project regarding SOMO’s growth. Win-win.

At the core of the SOMO leadership labs vision is the idea that cultivating individual psychological, social and emotional capacities will lead to more flourishing families, organizations, communities and the world at large (L. Alloro, personal communication, January 20, 2013). In the following paragraphs we propose that social emotional leadership may benefit greatly from developments in the field called systems intelligence theory (SI), and that systems intelligence may offer a functioning framework for realizing the SOMO lab´s vision.

Systems intelligence is a key competence we posses as human beings. It functions on the premise that we live within a network, all of our actions matter, and that we, as intelligent creatures, are capable of adjusting and correcting our behavior based on the feedback we receive from our environment (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2007; Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2010). Basic systems thinking seeks to observe the network from the outside, but SI differs in that it seeks to understand these systems from within. Systems are dynamic and individuals cannot step outside the situation to reflect upon it, because this act in itself changes the system.

Goleman (1998) describes that there are three qualities a leader needs. The first one is related to the emotional aspect of intelligence; interpreting and managing one´s own emotions in ways are beneficial for different situations. The second one is about being socially capable of reading other people´s feelings and responding to them (Goleman, 2006). This involves having an intuitive sense of how the social world works. The third quality deals with a totally different capacity and is based on knowledge, seeing the big picture and having a solid grasp of it (Goleman, 1998). Systems intelligence encompasses all three of these dimensions. It includes both social and emotional intelligence, but it utilizes them from a broader systemic perspective (Vanhatalo, 2007).

Emilia, Marita and Elaine cranking out some systems brilliance : )
Emilia, Marita and Elaine cranking out some systems brilliance : )

SI acknowledges the significance of small things (and of each individual as a crucial change agent) as being capable of causing huge effects, and is not limited to only social systems (or interactions), but includes all the varieties of systems within we are embedded in. A great example of systems intelligence could be to consider environmental factors in Cleveland (the home of SOMO), which can act either as enablers or hinderers of social change. Dan Buettner (personal communication, October 22, 2012) gave a very practical example of showing the systems intelligence approach to a problem. As part of the Blue Zones community building effort, they trimmed down trees that were shading the streetlights and blocking the light from actually reaching the streets. Performing this small but meaningful act enabled pedestrians to walk outside with greater confidence and added to the repertoire of possibilities for an individual´s daily life in the community. SI is all about being in tune with the realm of possibilities available, and being aware that small positive changes can lead to unexpected benefits within the larger system. This attunement calls for emotional and social awareness, which SOMO leaders are already practicing. Adding SI to the picture will leverage the skills SOMO leaders have, and it builds seamlessly on top of SOMO´s existing resources and strengths.

We are all connected to each other biologically, chemically and socially through the dynamic system of networks within which we all operate. This social element is the one dimension of the three that you can actually have an impact on today. Introducing SI as part of SOMO 3000 will create awareness of the systemic nature of all life, and of the important role each SOMO leader has within the large scale of things. SI will encourage SOMO leaders to see themselves as contributing agents of an interactive system (Saarinen & Hämäläinen, 2004), instead of individual agents within a specific static situation. Understanding the systemic nature of life can also enable SOMO leaders to experience a sense of belonging to something greater. Seeing oneself as a crucial component of the complex puzzle of life can also encourage a sense of responsibility for one´s actions within their group (Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, & Flowers, 2004). The purpose of life need not be elusive and hard to find: it can be something as basic and immediate as striving for good moral and excellence in being human. How a SOMO leader chooses to fulfill their part in this intricate web has significant future implications. They truly hold the power to inspire, elevate and lift others to reach their deepest potential. Increasing this kind of awareness can enable the individual SOMO leaders to place themselves within the broader scheme of things, to see a greater purpose in SOMO labs work and propel a genuine passion for the shared vision.

Most people often want interaction which is supportive and life-giving. We want beautiful relationships and intimacy with our partner, yet life-giving interaction and beautiful intimacy does not always occur. Hämäläinen and Saarinen (2007) explain that so-called micro-behaviors of holding back give rise to a whole System of Holding Back (a culturally embedded paradigm of not to giving encouragement, praise or credit). There is also the opposite possibility which can be unlocked. A SOMO leader knows there is more good hidden within people than meets the eye. The key function is in lifting human interaction to a new ´upper registry´. This happens through allowing opportunities to rise where there seemingly might not be any, and consciously striving to unlock the good within the passing ‘in-between’ moments (Hämäläinen, & Saarinen, 2007). SI runs parallel to positive organizational scholarship, seeing the High Quality Connections (see Dutton, 2003) of considerate and sensitive interaction as key to enabling self-supporting spirals of uplift within the systems. Systems intelligence rests on the premise of optimism for change, and it acknowledges the potential power of each moment (Hämäläinen, & Saarinen, 2007).

This kind of ´leverage thinking´ might be quickly dismissed as idealistic or wishful thinking. However, as Hämäläinen and Saarinen continue to point out, it is fascinating how often in our own lives (as well as in broader societal level) some very small decisions have altered the whole narrative, causing a butterfly-effect leading to a shift of the whole paradigm. Surely Ms. Rosa Parks had no idea that her decision not to give up her seat to a white man in that Alabama bus in 1955 would become a catalyst for the entire Civil Rights Movement.

Systems intelligence approach stems from a deep belief in the human potential. It recites ancient hope and upholds what is good in us, as opposed to fixing what is broken. Our connectedness is embedded within our very existence, and SI describes a framework that allows us to leverage this infinite potential. It is a beautiful mixture of the macro-level skill of seeing beyond the current, visible reality (into what might be), while also relying on individual´s ability to sense the finest nuances in of our interconnectedness and to respond accordingly. By creating opportunities for shared knowledge to emerge out of those in-between moments, we can harness the potential of collective wisdom and shared vision. What this SI perspective brings to SOMO Leadership Labs is that not only can it strive to cultivate the potential and strengths of its leaders (while fostering a sense of purpose and meaning), but it can truly leverage this individual growth to benefit communities at large.

References

Dutton, J. E. (2003). Energize your workplace: How to create and sustain high-quality connections at work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam books.

Goleman, D. (2006). Social intelligence: The new science of human relationships. New York: Bantam Dell.

Hämäläinen, R. P., Saarinen E. (2007). System intelligent leadership. In R. P. Hämäläinen and E. Saarinen (Eds.), Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life (pp. 3-38). Retrieved on February 11, 2013 from http://sal.aalto.fi/publications/pdf-files/rham07a.pdf

Vanhatalo, M. (2007). From emotional intelligence to systems intelligence. In R. P. Hämäläinen and E. Saarinen (Eds.), Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life (pp.146-153). Retrieved on February 14, 2013 from http://systemsintelligence.tkk.fi/publications/rvan07.pdf

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