I’ve spent time recently engaged in conversations about how to think. Some of these conversations are about how to develop a new organization, and others are about how to think through problems or tell a story that leads to the resolution of some conflict or problem.

In each of these situations, the ability to think in a wholly integrated manner, rather than in-part, is the key to progress.

When you think in-part, you focus on one or two of the Three Dimensions of Leadership –  Ideas, Relationships, and Structure. Thinking in-whole, you see these three dimensions aligned. 

Ed Brenegar - Circle of Impact


The following is an example of what I mean.

A corporate manager and his boss are in conflict and their working relationship is rapidly deteriorating despite several attempts to find a resolution. Their perspectives differ as to why they continually butt heads and how to address the dilemma.

The Manager’s Point of View

The manager finds that he is at odds with his boss. He feels mistreated because his best work gets criticized and, in essence, rejected. He becomes frustrated and loses motivation to do his best.

He and his boss reach a crisis point. He either changes to satisfy his boss’ expectations, which he is clearly not meeting, or he leaves to find another job and repeat the process over again.

His Boss’ Point of View

The boss is thinking:

  • The manager doesn’t follow instructions.
  • He doesn’t meet expectations and he is always venturing off on tangents that are irrelevant, time-consuming and counter-productive.
  • He offers excuses for not meeting goals and, never taking responsibility, he blames others for his failures.
  • The manager says he is doing his best, but his best isn’t good enough. He lacks focus, discipline, follow-through, and timeliness.

The manager’s future with the company is on the line.

Examining the Problem in 3D

Let’s look at how the manager can analyze this situation using the Three Dimensions of Leadership as separate perspectives.

The manager sees the problem as simply a Relationship one:

His boss is a jerk and just treats him badly, with no respect or confidence. He feels a victim and speaks of his boss’ bullying of him.

Secondly, he sees that there is a problem of miscommunication between them.

He feels that he is not explaining himself well enough to his boss, which is why his boss doesn’t understand and treats him as he does. He reasons that he needs to better clarify his Ideas to his boss, show that he is meeting his boss’ expectations, and does understand what he is supposed to do.

He also sees that there is a is a Structural issue whereby no matter how well he performs, he won’t be able to meet his boss’ expectations.

Now, until he looks at this scenario as a whole, in an integrated manner, he really doesn’t know why his boss is critical of him. All three explanations individually are valid in the abstract, but are they the reality?

The manager must consider each explanation together to resolve the conflict that exists.

Examining the perspective as a whole begins with the manager understanding what his boss’ expectations actually are, particularly in terms of methodology, timeliness and completed goals. He must see that fulfilling those expectations is not personal between them, but rather what is required to work within the structure of the company’s organization.

He needs to stop, listen and pay attention to his boss.

Thinking in a wholly integrated manner means the manager must listen to his boss’ critique and address it in a positive, proactive way. He can’t simply write off his boss as a jerk who doesn’t understand that he is doing his best.

While the boss’ expectations are not personally imposed upon the manager, the boss and the manager must develop a rapport based on respect through open, honest conversation.

Moving from Thinking In-Part to Whole

To think in a whole-integrated manner is very time-consuming. However, what I have learned from practicing this approach is that you actually see more quickly what is going on in situations, and therefore know what to do in response more quickly.

This faster-thinking process leads to greater agility and confidence.  You gain greater clarity about your lives and work. You can be more responsible, more effective and actually more closely come to fulfilling our potential.

Thinking in part is fragmented thinking, unable to see the connections and relations between various aspects of life and work.

Develop Situational Awareness for 3D Thinking

When you align Ideas and Relationships within the Structure of an organization in which you work, you see things that others do not. The Ancients call this wisdom. I call this Situational Awareness.

At the heart of the problem for this manager is not simply his relationship with his boss. It is his understanding of his boss’ expectations and how he is to function within the structure of the company. If he saw these three dimensions in a connected way, he’d find the pathway to being his best would open up for him.

To move from thinking in-part to in-whole is a process of learning to not personalize your thinking in such a way that you can only see your perspective.

This is what both the manager and boss had not been able to do.

It is the challenge that we all face in complex life and work situations. Learning to see the whole picture frees you from the contradictions of thinking in-part to seeing how you can bring your best to each situation that we encounter every day.

When you bring your best to each situation, you are better positioned to create an impact that makes a difference that matters.

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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