Leadership Coaching Tip: Leadership Coaching From an SDi Perspective

Rachel Castagne

Leadership Coaching From an SDi Perspective

Rachel Castagne

Rachel Castagne

Leader: A person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

‘To lead’: To cause a person or animal to go with one, especially by drawing them along or by preceding them to a destination.


Clare Graves’ research and theory on levels of existence, or Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi) as it is been made more widely known through Dr Don Beck, gives us useful insights into both the nature of the change process and the sometimes hidden motives that govern behaviour. These insights can be extremely valuable to coaches.

At the most basic level, SDi demonstrates that there is no single worldview, mindset or value system common to all human beings and that human beings co-create a view of reality that is congruent to their stage of development. Ultimately this means that everyone is right, even when it is difficult to hold the frame of different people being right when they are clearly in conflict with each other his is a great attitude to cultivate when coaching; it opens coaches up to hearing what’s truly important and of value to the person being coached. At the same time, working with people from diverse worldviews can leave us wondering how to create organisations, systems and societies that work for everyone.

Given this, a useful and appropriate leadership question from an SDi perspective is:


What kinds of people, at which levels of development, require what kinds leadership to make sense of their world or do the work that needs to be done?

SDi tells us that both the Life Conditions (historic times, geographic location, existential problems, of a particular human system, whether at the cultural or individual level) and the context (is it within an organisation, SME, multinational corporation, local community or country that the ‘leadership’ is occurring?) of ‘who is leading whom to do what?’ are vital elements of the Leadership Equation.

As such, whether you are coaching someone in a leader position or leading an endeavour yourself, SDi advocates:

  • getting to know your own value system or the lens through which you ‘see’ the world
  • recognizing that other people are different and not assuming that they are motivated by what motivates you
  • developing a style that incorporates oliteness, openness and utocracy (POA)
  • activating Second Tier thinking where this is possible given the contextual Life conditions
  • teaching leaders or manage that the appropriate person/people to lead is/are usually one half to one whole stage ahead of those they are leading

Specifically, with regard to value memes (vMemes)values and leadershipwe can understand that people with different vMemes have different understandings and expectations in terms of what they view to be ethical, what democracy means to them, and what they consider to be appropriate forms of political governance. In short, people with different vMemes have different requirements from their leaders.

Value Meme Values Leadership Model
Yellow Systemic FlowProcess OrientedPeople enjoy doing work that’s fits who they are naturally; workers need free access to information, tools & materials. The work to be done leads the most competent person to guide the tasks and functions through the use of appropriate intelligences.
Green Social NetworkPeople DrivenPeople want to get along and be accepted by their peers; sharing and participating lead to better results than competing All share equally in leadership and building consensus as all individuals are equal. Power of the group yields the best outcomes with fewest hurt feelings.
Orange Strategic EnterpriseAchievement DrivenEvaluate and gather data constantly; competition improves productivity and fosters growth. Those who can demonstrate success act as ‘pace cars’ to set benchmarks, and offer incentives for improvement to the winners.
Blue Authoritarian StructureOrder DrivenPeople work best when they are told how to do things the right way; workers owe the organization loyalty as it provides their well-being Seniority and rightful position in the formal structure determine who leads whom. Organisation lays down rules for all to follow according to rank, class or category.
Red Exploitative EmpirePower DrivenPeople need to be dominated by a strong leadership that gives rewards; workers put up with a lot if their basic needs are met regularly Leaders have the most power because they are stronger and tougher. They hand out payoffs to people they like and punish the rest whenever they feel like without guilt.
Purple Tribal OrderMysticism DrivenPeople are married to the group; nepotism is normal; workers owe their lives and souls to their parent-like organization. The customary ways of the ancestors are interpreted by the elders and chieftain so as to define specific roles and kinship relations; appease and honour the Spirits;

(from Dr. Don Beck)

Additionally, Beck and Cowan suggest ‘Rules of Thumb for Spiral Leaders’:

  1. Recognise whether the critical mass of thinking within followers is more complex than the proposed leaders; if so,  will only be able to lead through intimidation or force. Hence we have witnessed Egyptians en masse in the last few weeks demonstrate that they are more complex than their former leaders gave them credit for.
  2. Notice where the followers are in the in the cycle of change and whether they are in the Closed, Open or Arrested conditions. If they are closed or arrested at a specific level on the Spiral then leadership needs to be calibrated for that specific level. For example, lue eaders for blue followers or GREEN/orange leaders for people with GREEN/orange centre of gravity. (NB: if the leader is in the Closed state, then the enterprise will likely collapse when Life Conditions shift.)
  3. If those following are in the Open condition, then the optimum leader or manage is half a step beyond their position on the Spiral. In this situation, leaders occup the position that many are now entering and can therefore show them the way.
  4. If the group/organization being led is highly diverse then leaders need to come from the most complex system available to the group. Leaders/people who are in the Open condition in the yellow/turquoise range can be flexible and shift into congruence with lower order systems on the spiral, when appropriate.
  5. Bear in mind that if you manage Open people successfully you will probably fulfil all six conditions for change, which could result in the next vMeme on the spiral manifesting. In turn, this will require a change in leadership.
  6. Warning: If the leadership model is too far ahead on the Spiral it will destabilize or overwhelm those being led, causing them to ask, ‘Where’s this idiot coming from?’

Graves himself gave us some ‘golden nuggets’ with regard to change and transition to higher (more complex) orders of development, of which some of my favourites to keep in mind are:

“A person has the right to be who he is, dammit”


“Dissonance precipitates a crisis but it doesn’t trigger emergence of a higher level system; what triggers it are the biochemical changes which emerge during a regressive search through past solutions to resolve the current crisis/problem.”


“None of my subjects made the jump to a higher level without a period of crisis and regression before the higher level system emerged.”


In a very real sense, the SDi perspective on leading and organisational management asks leaders to turn traditional thinking on its head by seeking to align the tasks that need to be done to the natural motivational flows of those doing the work, rather than seeking to get them to change so they ‘fit’ the job.

The integral (i) aspect of SDi reminds us of the importance of considering the internal and external aspects of leadershipthe individual, the collective ‘fields’ and how each of these impact the others. Thus, shared meaningmaking occurs in both the interior and external ‘we’ space. And whilst strategy and design are important, without the requisite functional and effective relationships being nourished within the field, organisation or society, strategy will be all but useless; the state of the relational field largely determines whether or not it is possible to implement such strategy.

The space from which the eader is coming inevitably impacts the collective field in which they are operating as the work of Otto Sharmer  (Theory U) so well demonstrates:

“Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation. Two leaders in the same circumstances doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes, depending on the inner place from which each operates.”

Scharmer goes on to assert, “At it’s core, leadership is about shaping and shifting how individuals and groups attend to and subsequently respond to a situation.” and sees the challenge for many leaders to be recognising and changing the ‘structural habits of attention used in their organizations’.

This is pertinent given the discoveries of Quantum Physics: the very act of observation affects the behaviour of particles, in fact it seems that particles are literally ‘waves of possibility’ until they are measured or quantified in time and space. Therefore ‘structural habits of attention’ affect not only what we are able to perceive in the culture or organisation but also tend to reinforce our belief systems which in turn can impose limits on what kind of information we are able to receive.

The dominant cultures of the West since the Enlightenment have traditionally supported rationality and leading from the ‘Head’ n the process culturally we have undervalued the body and the heart. Human Beings (‘We’) are Spirits or some kind of Consciousness focussed within physical, biological bodies. We are information receivers and transmitters hen we refuse to acknowledge the rightful place of our Hearts and Bodies as valued parts of the systems that we are, when we refuse to listen and give voice to that which our Hearts and our Bodies inform us, we create heartless societies and in the process cut ourselves off from a valuable means of receiving information about our universe, both inner and outer.

It is my belief that so called ‘Yellow’ thinking will not be sufficient to resolve the existential planetary problems that homo sapiens have created. Firstly it will take more than ‘thinking’ to create the ‘yellow brick road’. It will take Art, Rage of the Heart (courage), levels of resourcefulness that some of us don’t know we are yet capable of and Infinite Patience, not to mention Fierce Compassion and Loving Kindness. It will take soul, and if you don’t believe in soul then call it what you will, for it will demand more from us, than our intellects.

The existential problems we now face will require more of us to face the darkness within our own hearts (so we can stop projecting it ‘out there’) and cross the internal abyss (the central theme of the ‘Hero’s Journey’) which will enable us to bridge the numerous cultural divides and facilitate both healing and initiation culturally and individually. In Second Tier we will see the individual (yellow) and the collective (turquoise) value systems work together in such a way that each enhances and maximises the healthy expressions of the other in ways we could never imagine from a First Tier perspective. In a nutshell, I don’t think that Yellow can be truly functional without the ‘Holonic’ worldview of Turquoise and Leaders will need to embody both poles f this is not possible due to their intrinsic motivational wiring, then to be effective they will need to collaborate with those who have the strengths to complement their own limitations.

Gallup has done much work in recent years researching Strengthsbased Leadership and within that, considered what followers need from leaders. The research tells us that followers need eaders to inspire compassion, trust, stability and hope in them. Given these times of ever increasing complexity which guarantees only more changeincreasing rates of change and uncertaintyleaders will have to tread a tightrope between stability and uncertainty. We would do well to co-create cultures where it is ok for eaders to be in the ‘don’t know’: a very powerful space for allowing the highest future possibility to be birthed.

About the Author

Rachel Castagne is a Bodyworker/Healer and Coach, Wisdom Keeper, Storyteller, Artist and Mother. She is committed to making the Journey from Matter to Spirit consciously this time round and specialises in accompanying others on the path. She wasn’t always in her body, in fact for whatever reasons she had to work hard at becoming embodied in this lifetime and at 42 years young is still ‘getting here’, hence her interest and passion for bodywork, energy healing and the inner journey. When she wasn’t in her body, she lived from her head, hence she knows the dangers and pitfalls of ignoring the heart and body inside out (she occasionally goes back there from time to time, as the heart is a vulnerable place to be). She is currently developing a sense of humour and greater trust in the ‘Flow’ of Life as it wants to flow through her. She works with Jon Freeman and Ian McDonald of the Center for Human Emergence UK ( and with Yolanda Dolling of Co-Liberation on Accelerated Healing and Wellbeing in the work place.

You can find out more at
or contact her at

If you are interested in learning more about SDi she will be delivering a training with Jon Freeman in London from May 9th 2011, which will be followed by a level 2 in Organisational Design from 12th May 2011.


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  3. Alain Volz on March 18, 2011 at 2:16 am

    Hi Rachel,

    Some work you have made of the coaching tip, congrats with this publication. In the Netherlands a small group has been studying coaching from the SDi perspective in the different value systems for a few years now. Allard de Ranitz is leading this group. You might find it interesting to contact him. I’m sorry that we have to do without your perspective during the next Euroconfab.

    Warmest regards from Alain