The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

MLDP Recap: “Turning Dreams into Reality: The Power of Strategic Planning and Systems Thinking” with Marty Jacobs '82

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This ongoing series explores sessions of the Management and Leadership Development Program (MLDP) through participant narratives. MLDP is a one-term program designed to develop citizen leaders among sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Dartmouth College. Led by expert guest speakers each week, sessions employ experiential teaching techniques to engage students through hands-on learning of core management and leadership skills.

MLDP participants during a systems thinking activity 

"Systems thinking is a state of mind; it's a process," Marty Jacobs ’82 told students during the eighth spring-term session of MLDP. According to Jacobs, president of Systems In Sync in Thetford, VT, systems thinking is an alternative to problem solving; it focuses on creating a broad vision. "When you practice systems thinking, it provides an environment where more people are more likely to take risks," Jacobs said.

Indeed, leaders need to assign a mission to their organization, establish a vision, and constantly reflect the values of their groups. A large part of systems thinking is the strategic planning process. There are five steps to the strategic planning process. Leaders must start with a vision, and then establish a force field analysis, meaning that people must assess current reality and identify propelling and resisting forces. Thirdly, leaders must brainstorm possible goals and develop action steps for achieving those goals. Finally, leaders must develop and implement evaluation plans; they must set a timeline for their organization's priorities to be achieved.

Despite these guidelines for success, Jacobs advised students, "Don't get too hung up on the plan."

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences