Book Review: An Integrative Approach to Leader Development

Laura Santana

David V Day Integrative Leadership coverLaura SantanaDavid Day, Michelle Harrison, and Stanley Halpin. An Integrative Approach to Leader Development: Connecting Adult Development, Identity, and Expertise. New York: Taylor & Frances Group, Routledge (2009).

Mindful of the fragmented approaches to developing leaders and leadership, these authors have thoughtfully integrated fields of inquiry (cognitive, social, organizational, developmental and organizational psychology, identity theory, competency/behavior) in one comprehensive, well-documented book. The authors point out that given the complexity of an interdependent system (a human organism—a person), any discussion based on one part alone cannot address the richness of the leader development process. Complexity of leadership skills and competencies (one part of the complex system), accelerating the process of their development, attending to individual differences in learning, development, and transfer, are all included in this book’s discussion. These differences in human behavior and the complexity of the interdependent system demonstrate why an overall theory for leader development has been elusive. From the beginning the authors’ approach seems integral—including and transcending the epistemologies of the fields with knowledge and theoretical perspectives.

The reason for this eclecticism (we prefer integration) is that what is expected of leaders is multifaceted and complex. Any theoretical approach that is expected to illuminate the key developmental processes that affect leaders will likely need to be integrative and to draw from various literatures. This is what we have attempted, drawing largely from the social sciences and in particular psychology. Because we are trying to better understand the inherently relational processes associated with leadership, psychological theory is naturally at the core. (p. 173)

It is a fair analysis of the importance of developing leaders at this point in time, and the challenges facing those whose quest is to develop leaders, starting with the realization that leadership development programs are actually often leader development programs. The differentiation and integration sets the tone for the work: leader development focuses on the expansion of an individual’s capacity, while leadership development is concerned with a collective’s capacity. Previous work by Day (2000) also refers to this distinction of creating human capital (leader development) and social capital (leadership). The authors note that the development of the individual, who is a member of a collective, will impact the collective development as well—so both leader development and leadership development are connected and necessary. Doing one without the other is less than a complete initiative. This book focuses on leader development, but discusses its intersection with learning and leadership development.

A developmental theory of complex leadership skills and competencies cannot be adequately based on any one particular discipline or theoretical perspective, regardless of whether it is a leadership theory, a developmental theory, a cognitive skills theory, or a social identity theory. All of these various perspectives help to inform the leader development process: however, no single approach can address the full complexity and richness of the leader development process. (p.. 4,5)

Beginning with the title, my integral radar begins to find AQAL thinking throughout the book, and I kept waiting for integral theory to be mentioned explicitly (which does not happen). Individual and collective, interior and exterior is woven throughout the chapters, as is a constant and complex view on the development possible in any of these domains. It is largely focused on the individual, but still includes system and collective contexts. Along the read, I notice including and transcending happening with their work. Integrative is their word choice, and they make good on the promise of integrating epistemologies that have not been placed together before with this kind of rigor dedicated to the development of leaders.

Quick to point out (p. 160) the ‘lack of rigorous evaluation studies, the link [connection between leader development and high-quality leadership] is often assumed rather than demonstrated empirically,” the book proposes an integrative theory of leader development. This brings together elements of adult development literature (identity development, moral development, epistemic cognition, reflective judgment, critical thinking), and learning-based approaches to leadership (mental models, expertise, learning-from-experience, leadership development and teams).

The authors build layers of understanding about the development of leaders. They acknowledge and address characteristics (traits, motivational systems, values) as an innermost layer (UL), with behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs about oneself (UL, UR) getting rigorous attention. Another layer, the most visible to the external observer, are the skills and behaviors individuals bring to the leadership situation. The more highly developed leader brings a larger repertoire of skills and behaviors to bear on leadership challenges. Highly developed leaders are able to think about leadership in more sophisticated and complex ways (authors consider measurement on reflective judgment and moral reasoning skills). Leader development, according to the authors, is “manifested ultimately in observable behaviors” (p. 176) though there are layers beneath.

Even the acquisition of skills and competencies that others may observe is impacted by individual differences in the learning style and speed, in transfer of the learning, and in how likely it is to stick. Bringing transfer of training/learning into the conversation is critical, and historically often-times missed in classroom leader development initiatives. The authors recognize and link adult developmental perspectives to the challenge of bringing a changed person back into an unchanged system, and how it can be, as the adage reminds us, “an exercise in futility” (p. 161). Without mentioning integral theory (either in the index or Wilber in the references), the transfer of training discussion also speaks to the interplay between quadrants, and the impact of development in any of them upon the others.

There is significant discussion about key adult development processes for selection, optimization, and compensation of motivating goals (SOC). They play a role in establishing a sense of one’s role as a leader (leader identity) and the self-regulation process to continue to see one’s self as a leader. Day, et al’s discussion of leader identity is an integral, and not widely mentioned aspect of leader development. Even collective sense of identity is addressed (social identity theory) citing Wren and Mendoza (2004)’s work conceptualizing “collective identity as on objective identity of the collective, whereas public identity is derived from the subjective individual understanding of group membership, the social identity” (p. 62). The focus remains on the individual, yet cultural identity, and sense of one’s identity within the group are all brought into the conversation. Citing Lord and Hall’s (2005) work on the focus of individual identity shifting to more collective identities and more inclusive worldviews as a leader develops, leaves me wishing that a more thorough discussion on leadership identity of collective’s could get the same amount of attention (although it is decidedly a book on leader development).

That being said, two thoughts:

  1. Leadership does get a whole section (Learning Based Approaches to Leadership, Section 4) devoted to collectives, groups, teams, making sense of working and learning together as a part of leader development, and
  2. The Appendix B is a full three pages of instruments to measure knowledge, competencies, development, self-awareness, self-efficacy, wisdom etc. True to the focus of the book on leader, most measurements seem to fall within the individual holon of perspective taking and analysis (individual answers and reports on the individual domain).

Bringing in moral development, epistemic cognition, reflective judgment, and critical thinking integrates some fields which have been disperse in the leader development conversation. Subjects such as moral reasoning, spiritual intelligence, Gardner’s intelligences, and meta-cognition have been pulled together in a section on adult development carefully citing research which steers the conversation into inclusive terrain—rather than isolating the conversation, for example, a whole theory isolating spiritual intelligence’s role in leader development.

The fully developed and integrated leader identity can help a leader navigate the unpredictable circumstances and address the complex challenges facing them—bringing in Heifetz’ work on adaptive challenges. The authors highlight the potential for a developing individual to address increasingly complex challenges—adaptive challenges, as Heifetz (1994) would call them, for which no existing solution exists—and the urgency for leadership. The idea that as leaders develop, there can be a shift in focus from individual to relational to collective identities (Chapter 5), is adult development theory with an integral twist: it seems like the movement between individual and collective, between internal and external is being offered in this “Integrative Approach” to leader development.

The comprehensive treatment of leader development is to be lauded—its individual holon of analysis without forgetting the collective’s presence and impact. I will anticipate such thorough treatment of leadership development, should the authors decide to take on a collective holon for their analysis, and the systematic exploration into developing leadership in the collective.

Laura Santana has dedicated over twenty years to facilitating leader and leadership development with the Center for Creative Leadership in Latin America, Europe, US, and Middle East. Her international organization development consultancy, coaching practice, and action learning facilitation are all mindful of integral theory, while her passion for development of individuals and collectives has led her to research post-classroom design’s role in sustaining development. Leveraging technology and integral theory provide a lens to observe the space between leader development (human capital) and leadership development (social capital) after the classroom leadership initiative ends. Contact Laura