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MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership student Isra AlBastaki shares a thought-provoking reflection on a conversation with a mentor that led to the discovery of a transformative book, ‘The Fifth Discipline’ by Peter M. Senge. Isra offers a rich perspective on leadership and organisational dynamics. Understanding complex health systems is a key theme of the MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership, jointly run by the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and the Saïd Business School. Read more about Isra’s learning journey within the programme below.

Portrait of a blog author, Isra AlBastaki, smiling and wearing a brown hijab against a plain background.

About the author:

Isra AlBastaki is a student on the MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership programme. Isra is currently involved in the development of the first academic health system in Dubai. Additionally, Isra served as the Vice-chairperson of the Global Council of Sustainable Development Goal 3, Health and Wellbeing, from 2021 to 2023.


“In late 2023, I had a reflective session with a senior colleague in my organization who is also my role model. He embodies the qualities I envision in a leader: wise, humble, calm under pressure, a great listener, and a thoughtful decision-maker. During our conversation, he recommended that I read "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter M. Senge. I immediately purchased and read the book, trusting his recommendation. Unsurprisingly, it deeply resonated with me, and I would like to share some insights I gained from it.

Senge's exploration of mental models made me realize how our beliefs and perceptions influence our understanding of the world and affect our decision-making processes. He illustrates that these models can restrict organizational innovation by fostering a top-down decision-making culture and limiting employee contributions. Senge also highlights how mistaken beliefs about people’s preferences can distort business strategies and how resistance to change is often rooted in a preference for the familiar over the new. Additionally, he examines how leaders' self-conceptions as primary decision-makers rather than facilitators can stifle team empowerment. Senge argues that organizations can encourage more adaptive and effective decision-making processes by critically analyzing and challenging these mental models. Senge's study of systems thinking emphasized that organizational dynamics are interconnected. We can see the ripple effects of our decisions and actions by considering organizations as complex systems instead of isolated entities. This perspective highlights the significance of considering the wider consequences of our choices, both in our personal lives and within our organizations.

In addition, I found Senge's concept of "skilled incompetence" quite intriguing. This paradox refers to our ability to shield ourselves from the discomforts that come with learning. It resonated with me because it sheds light on how deeply ingrained mental models can hinder our ability to apply knowledge. This can trap us in patterns of behavior that perpetuate dysfunction rather than promoting progress. Senge also emphasized how the core aspect of a learning organization is a shift in perspective. This shift refers to moving from seeing ourselves as separate entities from the world to acknowledging our connection with it. It also involves attributing external factors to problems and understanding how our actions contribute to them.

This applies to our personal lives too, as we often try to resolve individual life problems without considering all the contributing factors. Senge's book highlights the importance of viewing life as a system and the significance of this perspective when facing life's challenges. He used a common example that might resonate with many individuals: "Sometimes the easiest or most familiar solution is not only ineffective; sometimes it is addictive and dangerous. Alcoholism, for instance, may begin as a simple social drinking - a solution to the problem of low self-esteem or work-related stress. Gradually, the cure becomes worse than the disease; among its other problems, it exacerbates self-esteem and stress even more than they were in the beginning."

The timing of reading this book aligned nicely with the modules I am studying in my MSc in Global Healthcare Leadership, particularly the third and fourth modules, which focus on systems leading in comparative health systems and leading with evidence-based healthcare. Reading this book and engaging with diverse global leaders enriched my understanding of Senge's principles and provided real-world context. It fostered lively discussions and deepened my knowledge of their application.

Senge's exploration of mental models and systems thinking offers invaluable insights for navigating the complexities of organizational life. By challenging rooted beliefs and embracing a systemic perspective, we can break free from the constraints of skilled incompetence and foster environments conducive to growth and innovation.”



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