Holistic Thinking in Leadership


Since educational leadership involves a great number of tasks and competencies, success is impossible without continuous improvement. To contribute to positive change in their teams, educational leaders should make decisions thoughtfully and foresee potential problems, and the development of data synthesis skills remains crucial in this regard. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the role that systems thinking plays in school leaders’ ability to succeed and transform their organizations.

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There are numerous prerequisites to effective leadership in the field of education, and many of them relate to leaders’ ability to summarize the existing knowledge and make connections between the seemingly disparate aspects of learning. Wagner et al. (2006) pay focused attention to the need for this competency and provide some practical recommendations to improve students’ opportunities to learn and become high-demand specialists. In the first chapter, the researchers highlight that educational leaders should see the whole picture to transform their organizations, enabling them to “meet adaptive challenges” (Wagner et al., 2006, p. 11).

Under proper supervision, educational institutions become the generators of new knowledge instead of relying on the fruits of other generations’ work. Sometimes, this goal is impossible to achieve if the leader is unable to concert different specialists’ efforts.

Leaders’ ability to synthesize large amounts of data and make credible conclusions is further explained in chapter two of the book. Based on the discussion presented by Wagner et al. (2006), collaborative work lies at the heart of instructional improvement and makes it possible to “develop a shared vision of success” (Wagner et al., 2006, p. 35). As for other aspects of the profession that have to deal with systems thinking, educational leaders are also responsible for managing efforts aimed at making teaching plans less detached from reality. Today’s students are unlikely to “retain knowledge or master skills” if they do not understand the real-world applications of some information (Wagner et al., 2006, p. 41). Thus, linking new ideas to learners’ everyday experiences is a prerequisite to positive change.

The competencies discussed above present the outcomes of the so-called systems thinking in education. In the sixth chapter of their book, Wagner et al. (2006) demonstrate the practical uses of this approach to information processing. According to their 4C’s Model, to recognize actual and potential problems in educational settings, leaders should analyze the existing links between organizational cultures, conditions, and stakeholders’ competencies (Wagner et al., 2006). The results are to be put in the wider context to consider the contributions of families, as well as students’ needs associated with “work, citizenship, and continuous learning” (Wagner et al., 2006, p. 108). Therefore, by developing data synthesis skills, educational leaders can propel their institutions’ work to the next level.


As is shown in the cited chapters, being able to work with information from multiple sources is linked to good leadership qualities. Disappointingly, not all people who perform the functions of educational leaders find enough internal resources to develop such competencies. Particular problems that leaders should avoid include the lack of continuity in education, poor priority-setting practices, specialists’ misunderstanding of their roles, disconnection in terms of ideas, and a silo approach to risk analysis and management (Wagner et al., 2006). As for negative examples from practice, I know a former teacher who works as a school administrator and makes sensitive decisions based on financial considerations instead of trying to see the whole picture and the long-term consequences of potential changes.

The researchers’ views of holistic thinking in education are in tune with my dispositions and values associated with teaching and leading others. Based on what I have learned about the profession so far, good educational leaders strive to achieve excellence in details but never lose focus (Wagner et al., 2006). It means that, under any circumstances, they understand that students, their parents, teachers, and school administrators are the interconnected parts of one system. I strongly believe that effective leaders are capable of applying this knowledge to real-world problems.

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When it comes to systems thinking and my performance, I focus on the relevance of information that I share with other people. In particular, when teaching someone or collaborating with colleagues, I prefer to introduce new information by finding its place in the system of knowledge to make sure that links between different concepts and ideas are seen by everyone. At the same time, there are some areas for improvement when it comes to the applications of data synthesis skills to intraprofessional collaboration. For instance, as a young specialist, I should know how generational differences predict teachers’ philosophy and implement this knowledge when working with others to develop a common vision of success.


To sum up, being able to establish a holistic view of the system is particularly important in educational leadership. This competency is associated with numerous advantages, including the accuracy of risk prediction, leaders’ adaptability to change, and effective collaboration within teams in educational institutions. Also, the use of systems thinking involves paying close attention to the real-world value of the knowledge provided to students, thus contributing to learners’ positive post-school outcomes.


Wagner, T., Kegan, R., Lahey, L. L., Lemons, R. W., Garnier, J., Helsing, D.,… Rasmussen, H. T. (2006). Change leadership: A practical guide to transforming our schools. San-Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

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