Ms Sheila Damodaran, MD & Lead Consultant
I work with leaders of sectoral, national, and regional platforms as a strategy development consultant to develop the confidence and habits that would make a systemic impact on growing their nations and economies. My practice now spans 26 years. For my milestones, click here.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
I am a subject matter trainer on the five disciplines of The Fifth Discipline, made popular by Dr. Peter Senge in his landmark publication, The Art and Practice of Learning Organisations. I have a management degree from the National University of Singapore with a specialty in Banking Finance and a personal deep interest in the sciences and enjoy the arts, and three decades of executive and leadership experiences both within the private and public sectors in Singapore, including setting up two separate organizations in Botswana.
I hold professional qualifications from the Civil Service College of Singapore in the field of The Fifth Discipline, the only one of its kind in the world. I graduated from the program in 2000 while also acting as a teaching aide to my peers. I am currently the Principal and Lead Consultant of Systems Thinking Leadership Development Institution (STLDi), an organization that I am developing in Botswana that undertakes global works in the field.
I have so far offered training close to 3,000 senior personnel worldwide across central and local governments as well as the private sector and in the case of the Government of Botswana offered support in their efforts to develop national strategies for systemic impact.
WHAT IS THE PRACTICE?
My methodology adheres to the principles of the five disciplines. I then embark on a co-discovery journey with my clients uncovering systemic causalities that underlie their realities. The entry point to the works is resistant issues and then we work our way to uncover the iceberg through the discipline of Systems Thinking. Recognizing these structures better allows the client to decide on strategies for a systemic impact. These are strategies that shape actions to allow us to turn their persistent situations around.
At STLDi, we then work with you at identifying underlying (systemic) causal structures that control the persistence, reverse its effects and also bring into being what is desired in its absence through supporting national strategy and policy formulation processes. For example, reaching for excellence and growth by nurturing the quest for learning rather than seeking to be successful so as to avoid failures.
I work with leaders of national, sectoral, and regional platforms on concerns of persistent nature despite ongoing efforts to curb their impacts and yet assume national and sometimes regional or even global significance. These include the likes of national unemployment, national education attainments, and health concerns that persist such as HIV/AIDs, productivity, rainfall levels, agricultural output levels, crime, and national conflicts, to name a few.
Among my recent successes include working with / are currently working on areas such as national unemployment, HIV & AIDs, human-wildlife conflicts, and the drying up of lands. I have successfully pioneered and completed the first of its kind, a study that showcases the application of the tools on a national issue. It presents an analysis of the ongoing unemployment situation of a country on the African continent. The study was published in early 2019. (https://sheilasingapore.blog/2019/02/14/when-the-economy-speaks-reversing-national-unemployment-statistics/).
To do so, I research and work, if needed, with subject matter experts to uncover an in-depth practical understanding of issues that are inter-disciplinary in nature and undertake the analysis of collected data to provide an evidence-based integrated picture of the reason for the persistence.
To ignore the persistence would mean allowing it to “suck you back” into designing interventions that feed its own persistence. That is its inherent nature and happens to the best of us. My team and I work with you by conducting leadership development training programs, systemic research analysis, and strategy development dialogue activities that use the five disciplines of Learning Organizations.
FUTURE PLANS: TEXTBOOK OF CASE STUDIES & SETUP OF POST-GRADUATE LEADERSHIP PROGRAMMES
However, the work I do goes beyond formulating strategies. I am currently developing a series of research spaces across the globe (Africa, Asia, India, Europe, the Americas) with the ultimate aim of creating global research centers and post-graduate programmes (Masters qualification) at national tertiary institutions that would require its graduands complete the conduct of research on real-life situations to qualify. This will be a first, for governmental or sectoral leaders who desire to create systemic learning organizations. These three arms, strategy development consultancy, training and research form the backbone of the work we do with our clients.
WHY IS MY PRACTICE THE ONE FOR YOU?
Let me break this down for you.
Systems Thinking with its four sister disciplines (mental models, team learning, personal mastery, and shared vision), assist nations to identify and then take the roots out of, like weeds, resistant issues that demand national responses.
These could, for example, include the likes of droughts, crime, unemployment, low school grades, health scares, lifestyle diseases, divorce rates, work ethic, production of raw materials, water supply, and so on. Most times, we attribute such to resource unavailability. These, in fact, are resource sappers. As these become weeded out, their effects now begin to dissipate.
Stay with me here because what happens next is, that nations learn to release resources that had been tied up in ‘fighting these issues and drive them into education and infrastructure, seeing their populations grow in terms of productivity and generating both individual and national economic wealth.
And now you are thinking, why does this work? That’s because the work targets the resistance, not just the issue or the problem as we would refer to in management.
Here’s a no-brainer. If the problem keeps coming back, we are no longer looking at solving the problem. But rather, work at resolving the reason (s) for their persistence or recurrence. And something in turn is causing the recurrence, which we refer to in this language as systemic or vicious and often, circular causal structures.
Here’s why it is a no-brainer.
If whatever causes the recurrence (cycle of causality) of a problem goes away, that becomes, no recurrence means no problem.
That’s when it begins to hit us. That it is not good enough to ‘try to do things better’. We need to learn to ‘do better things‘. Doing more with less is not just a word in this world. It always happens in reality, particularly so, with this work.
HOW THE WORK STANDS APART:
THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURE – A CASE STUDY
Most practices of management and management consultancies focus on minimizing the consequences of a persistent problem. Most are typically not as aware of their persistent nature or prepared to deal with it. The work I do focuses on dealing with persistence itself.
An example is a case. Students’ grades have not been improving. The correction is to continue to instill fear in them through stiffer corporal punishment, believing that, even though it is not a case of indiscipline, the fear that is instilled by it would prevent them from ‘daring’ to commit a mistake.
Classroom students respond to the ‘correction’ by now choosing to commit answers to memory rather than understand the reasons for getting to the answer. It is faster to commit to memory (rote learning) than take the time to understand (deep learning) the concept before remembering it. This would allow them to avoid the pain sooner. However, when the question is phrased differently, they would often fail dismally. Hence, national education achievement grades continue to slip over time.
We sometimes forget, however, that the interest to learn, not memorize, is latent in any child (all children are learners who will develop at their own rate. Children learn best when they have interesting things to do and interested people to help them. There are many ways of learning by watching, listening, and doing. Encourage children from babyhood as they try new things and explore new skills). This work would seek to understand what is, otherwise, causing that interest to dwindle for the child and figure ways instead to nurture its growth.
Failing which, we would need to be aware that whatever else happens (curriculum reviews, parent meetings, infrastructure development, teacher support, pay reviews), these children would grow up into becoming teachers themselves for the next generation but lack what it takes to help the child learn to arrive at answers to any question and continues to take the easier way out by instilling further punitive measures onto now, the next generation with no real effect on changes. This, while avoiding the embarrassment of being found out that they do not know it within themselves.
And so, the cycle continues with widespread repercussions on the capacity of the population to be flexible and learn on the job, on productivity, sales, economy, and poverty for the nation. That right there is persistence, the work that I do seeks to work with. When the persistence goes away, its absence not only restores the results you are seeking but also causes them to grow by themselves.
Is this something you would like to see happen differently in your country? Or Sector? Or region?
BUT THERE IS A CATCH!
Clients undergo rigorous study of works by Drs Peter Senge (the five disciplines), Chris Argyris (defensive conversations & skillful discussion), and Sandra Seagal (human personality distinction) in preparing to do the job.
For documented use of the tools, refer to her blog: https://sheilasingapore.blog/
MY TRACK RECORD
I have been in the field for now over two decades and I combine insights of works by:
- Dr Peter Senge and his works on the five disciplines of”The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of Learning Organizations”,
- Dr Chris Argyris works on defensive conversations & skillful discussion.
- Robert Greenleaf works on servant leadership and;
- Dr Sandra Seagal works on understanding human personality distinctions in her everyday practice.
My practice includes clients in the private sector as well as non-government organizations based in Singapore, India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. But there is more. In my recent work on a medium-term project with the Government of Botswana in understanding and dealing with persistent issues affecting the country, I formulated four areas key to national development that allow consistent growth of a nation. These include understanding the nature of:
- Systemic development of human resources and facilitating the learning of their interactions with each other (education, youth, family, labor, organizations, villages, communities, and districts);
- Systemic development of natural resources and their interaction with humans (systemic growth of crop and livestock production, wildlife management, human health, in short, systemic growth of both the plant and animal kingdoms in systemic measures);
- Systemic development of factors of the national economy (systemic use of land, technology, waste management) and economic resources (systemic development of financial and economic development for the country), i.e. to allow for synergistic development of economic sectors (value chain) of the nation to;
- Systemic management and development of local, regional, and national inter-relations.
These efforts have the onset allowed the country to see ways to reduce its deficit by up to more than 50%. Over time, the generic theme of these four aspects was adopted by the country in formulating the vision of the nation for the next twenty years and guiding its everyday works.
My wish going forward is to continue uncovering systemic structures that dominate public life around the globe. Also to encourage the seeing and understanding of dynamic complexities surrounding these structures among the populace and pass on these skills to teams so they may use it to create results that matter for themselves as well. I am additionally, in the process of developing the syllabus for the post-graduate Master’s course. The programme targets preparing for leadership positions in all sectors.
The lessons we learn as a country can go beyond it to other nations and including the United Nations.
The specific steps of development of the works in the field for me include:
- Building global research database with a focus on understanding systemic issues
- Extracting and developing systemic analyses for the sector, national, regional, and global strategy use
- Developing a coherent system for evaluating and monitoring the shifts in systemic changes as a nation and as a globe
- Drawing lessons from the above steps and developing a curriculum for post-graduate Master’s programmes on learning and leading systemic issues across the following:
- Human Resource Development and growth
- Natural Resource Development and growth
- Industry inter-sector (value-chains) Development and growth
- National and global interrelations Developments.
With the current global (over-)emphasis on management, the above areas of development are relatively unknown territory for most. I believe, with the development of their understanding it will become the key to determining the extent to which systemic growth of any nation and therefore the world, happens for us.
WHAT YOU CAN FIND ON THIS SITE
This site gives a picture of what I intend to include in an upcoming book sharing my experiences as I take the journey with these works. This would act as a step towards building the post-graduate programme. Start off with our FAQ page here.
Do feel free to share your reactions and learnings here.
We hope you enjoy reading and participating in the blog.
Sheila Damodaran (Ms)
Principal and Lead Consultant
Systems Thinking Leadership Development Institution (STLDi)
Associate Consultant Member: Synovations Pte. Ltd, Singapore, The Woodland Group, LLC (USA)
My Blog: http://sheilasingapore.blog/
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sheilasingapore/
SoL Online: http://www.solonline.org/members/member-detail?member_id=15944150
LinkedIn my groups: http://www.linkedin.com/myGroups/
Peter Senge – What schools need to focus on now! (annmic.wordpress.com)