Feature Article: Up-lifting the Integral Down Under – Some Remarks on the Potential for an Integral Leadership in Australasian New Worlds

Wendelin Küpers


Wendlin KupersThe present context of leadership of Australasia is situated in increasingly complex, uncertain and dynamic business environments with multiple, demanding realities, value systems and growing pressures, particularly facing the environmental predicament and recent economic downturn and financial crisis. Australasia, the world south of Asia (“austral” being Latin for “southern”) particularly New Zealand, and Australia, with its neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean is a region at the (other) end of the (same) world which have a special relevance for ‘integralism’.

What potentials for thinking and enacting integrally does it imply that Australasia is a region, which is situated on the margin compared to prevailing mainstream of (other Western) culture? How far is being on the edge and living on the fringe of the world advantageous for integral developments? Is there a subversive potential in being on the periphery?

From an outsider perspective, integral concepts and practices are still marginal and have relatively little impact for main-stream (societal) institutions, organisation and management theories and practices in business. Like many other avant-garde movements, the integral initiative (co-initiated by Ken Wilber and his nexus) not only pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking and acting, but is situated in a kind of boundary condition.

The (Wilberian) integral model remains still outside mainstream academia. Despite its tremendous potential, particularly with regard to its sophisticated framework and methodological pluralism, the integral conceptualization, the integral worldview, has not reached into the centre of academic institutions and practices, thus having relatively little transformational impact in terms of a real paradigm shift. There are various reasons for this, including paradigmatic, epistemological and methodological issues, political and ideological grounds, the explicit and inclusive focus on spirituality, as well as matters of style and rhetoric (polemics). Here is not the place for a detailed reconstruction and critical assessment of the processes and effects explaining the marginality of integral theory and practice. However, the emergence, existence and rise of the integral model and practice on the fringe may have some specific qualities and make it somehow suitable for the Australasian context.

Being marginal implies a freedom and being relatively unconstrained by the need to conform to expectations and orthodoxies as well as certain institutional pressures, which coincide with a more conventional centred position. The power of the fringe can be a compelling embodied orientation and intellectual device, practically and metaphorically. Already in terms of biology and evolutionary perspectives, changes in species often occur first at the fringe of a species’ range, where the population is most sparse and where the established ways of the centre are weaker.

Also culturally, niches allow venturing into new lands, discoveries of the unknown, and supposedly unthinkable or undoable. For example, isolated as it has been, New Zealand was (and still is) a kind of social laboratory which gave women the vote first, introduced a cradle to the grave social welfare system, adopted an antinuclear position and made itself an open economy in the world. With regard to the latter, however in a globalised world, New Zealand’ s dependency on free trade, particularly in agricultural products and tourism makes it vulnerable to international commodity prices and global economic slowdowns.

Likewise, Australians’ very early established basic wages and old age pensions, but like New Zealanders’ face increasing difficulties to finance modern comforts and attainments. Nevertheless, being relative free from the historically loaded energy field of the old European Worlds, and as one of the latest regions where humans settled, this region provided a realm of a different more experimental practice.

For me as a European, who has recently relocated to this still emerging new world, New Zealand has become a new see land, a land to perceive differently and with differences compared to the elderly European cultural worlds. But we may ask more generally: How can an integral thinking and acting may develop here, what kind of proto-integral potentials does this region of the world hold? Particularly, what are possible perspectives on an Integral Leadership in Australasia?

Perspectives on Integral Leadership in Australasia

To understand and explore the integral potential of leadership in Australia and New Zealand requires considering the specific impacts of the national culture. According to the GLOBE study, both countries can be classified as part of the Anglo Cluster of countries, carrying the legacy of the British Empire. These countries are characterised by low power distance, high humane orientation, low collectivism, high assertiveness and a high future orientation (Ashkanasy, et al. 2002).

Derived from the earliest days of colonial administration when free settler ad freed convicts set out together to appropriate and live on the land, a distain for bureaucracy and authority as well as an egalitarianism become a leading orientation within the new countries. Accordingly leadership in Australia and New Zealand is characterised by the egalitarian leader (Trevor-Roberts et al. 2003). As leaders in Australia and New Zealand must thus ensure that equality (and a “fair go”, which ensures that everyone should be given the same fair opportunity) is maintained and nurtured, this may be supportive for an integral orientation and development. A certain inclusive egalitarianism can be interpreted as a proto-integral, post-egoistic and post-ethnocentric orientation. However, it can also contribute to supposedly mean green v-meme-like pathologies and non-integral practices. (For a critical analysis of the mean green hypothesis see Todorovic 2002).

The effects of egalitarianism as a surface belief manifest particularly in the so-called tall poppy syndrome, a specific propensity for spontaneously criticising and cutting down high achievers, causing mediocrity and undermining initiatives. All those viewed as tall poppies, that is those who are conspicuously successful and whose distinction, rank or wealth attracts envious notice or hostility, are denigrated. In particular, the tall poppy issue seems to represents a distaste for higher achievers, who ignore their roots and don’t acknowledge their mates. As such it is mostly directed at those who make what they have achieved pretentiously big and they appear as arrogant about that while forgetting to acknowledge their debts, actively disparaging where they came from or flaunting their success without due humility. Thus, the tall poppy idea is quite nuanced in several ways (See It often gets misrepresented or one-sidedly interpreted by high flyers, but it actually is not just only about being above the pack. For example, Australians and New Zealander seem extraordinarily proud of actors, artists, sportsmen and sportswomen who make it big.

Reframing egalitarianism into a negative phenomenon, the tall poppy-rhetoric can also be used as a political and cultural weapon for maintaining power or serving conservative or neo- liberalistic calls for more productive performances. Without falling into this kind of instrumentalisation an integral orientation can facilitate a justified constructive criticism directed at under-achievement as a learning chance, the reconciliation between different levels and sections of business and society and a more inclusive orientation for dealing with the tall poppy issue and other enigmas.

Interestingly in their analysis Ashkanasy and Falkus (2007) found that Australian culture and leadership was enigmatic, full of contradiction and change. For example Australian leaders are expected to inspire high levels of performance, but must do so without being too charismatic and standing out from the rest. They are expected to articulate a vision, while they must still get things done in an egalitarian way. Furthermore, it encompasses an unselfish and collaborative regard of work mates, a generous and compassionate leadership style, whilst being group-oriented and focused on building a collaborative team (Interestingly Kiwis were found to place even greater emphasis on the team than Australians). Egalitarian leadership needs leaders to be honest, sincere and modest and the mate-ship element is reflected in the emphasis on integrity. Is this enigma and egalitarian orientation a chance for developing an integral practice of leadership and organisation? In which way are such orientations favourable for leading and following as part of an integral learning (Küpers 2008b)? Besides the aforementioned danger of levelling effects by which too tall poppies are cut, also a certain compliance orientation and a bureaucratic leadership style in Australia that emphasises formality and the need to follow established routines and patterns (blue v-meme) seem to impede somehow an authentic Integral Leadership practice.

One last point, which refers to another dimension of possible integral enfoldment in Australasia, concerns a specific richness. Although Australia and New Zealand are some of the most sparsely populated countries on the globe, both have highly urbanised societies with a diverse multicultural society comprised of people from different ethnic backgrounds. This ethnic diversity manifests a tremendous challenge for integration, which may transcend parallel worlds of non-integrated multicultural society and simplistic diversity management approaches.

Considering the particular role of place and space for leadership (Küpers 2008) and its traditional but living spiritual heritage Australasia provides promising prospects for the realisation of integral perspectives on and practices of embodying Inter-Leader- and Followership (Küpers & Weibler 2008). This is true even more, when it considers systematically the status and relevance of phenomenology for an advanced integral research (Küpers 2008a).

Critically probing integral philosophy and practice is a way of exercising the mind and body, of keeping it from becoming complacent and sluggish in bodily and mental comfort zones. For me such practice invites and urges me to perceive deeply, feel more intensely, think questioningly long and hard about phenomena, and to work and play to improve through rigorous examination and experimental exaltation.

By this orientation the aspired integral perspectives can reach a synthesis grasping the major insights of pre-modern, modern and post-modern worldviews and re integrating modern differentiation between science, arts and spirituality as the three major realms of human beings’ expression and construction of reality.

At a recent conference on leadership at the University of Auckland the international participants could experience the references to particularities of Maori art and spirituality and its implication for a corresponding leadership education and practice. Experiencing presentations, and discussions of spiritual dimensions as part of a rather conventional leadership conference is an encouraging sign. The readiness to learn from the tribal wisdom of the Maoris (beyond pre-/trans-fallacy) may also be interpreted as a yearning for more comprehensive concepts and practices while facing more and more the limitations of modern and postmodern orientations and realities.

Being situated at geographical and somehow also social, institutional and temporal peripheries allows one to perceive differently and enables one to take a decentered and decentering perspectives, as well as corresponding practice. But this only happens when those living at the peripheral realm are ready to suspend and overcome centric approaches and a centre-oriented and centering metaphysics. Thus, to activate and tap into the proto-integral potential requires a post-metaphysical stance, which not just follows conventional (Western) ways of thinking and acting. Such a perspective offers entry gates and movements into the in-between of cores and peripheries, of organizing and improvising and of leading and following. With this entering into relational spheres the challenge will be to think and enact in horizons of events in particular (Australasian) locales not only of the AQAL matrix, but of spiralling and co-creating enfoldments, which remain open to the flux of the open, ambiguous processes of which embodied, emotional and aesthetic spheres are an interplaying constituent. Thus the task will be to situate (Australasian) leadership freely in horizons as that space of possible experience and a meeting place of first, second, and third persons as they mutually enact each other.

Australasia can contribute for developing what the Australian based Joseph Voros (2008) calls integral futures, which recognizes that there are many ways of knowing, different paradigms, methodologies and practices of knowledge seeking including analytical rationality, intuitive insight and spiritual inspiration (see also Slaughter et al. 2008).
When here in New Zealand the sun rises, in terms of time the Australasians’ are the first to the future…Hopefully being situated as close to the future also opens up an integral prospect and practice to come.


  • Ashkanasy, N., Trevor-Roberts, E. and Earnshaw, L. (2002). `The Anglo Cluster: Legacy of the British Empire’, Journal of World Business 37: 28—39
  • Ashkanasy, N. and Falkus, S. (2007). “The Australian Enigma,” in J. S. Chhokar, F. Brodbeck? and House, R. (Eds.), Culture and Leadership Across the World: A GLOBE report of in-depth studies of the cultures of 25 countries (pp. 299-333). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Küpers, W. (2008). “Inter-S.p(l)aces—Embodied Spaces & Places of and for Leader-/Followership – Phenomenological Perspectives on relational localities & tele-presences of leading and following between im- & displacement.” Paper for The 7th International Conference on Studying Leadership ‘The Locales of Leadership’, 12/2008, Auckland
  • Küpers, W. (2008a). “The Status and Relevance of Phenomenology for Integral Research—or why Phenomenology is more and different than an “upper left“ or “Zone #1” Affair,” paper for 1st Biennial Integral Theory Conference “Integral Theory in Action: Serving Self , Other, and Kosmos” Presented by JFK University, San Franciso, August 2008
  • Küpers, W. (2008b). “Embodied ‘Inter-Learnin’- An Integral Phenomenology of Learning in and by Organizations,” The Learning Organisation: An International Journal, Vol. 15, Issue 5. pp. 388-408.
  • Küpers, W. & Weibler, J. (2008). “Inter-Leadership – Why and How to Think Leader- and Followership Integrally,” Leadership, Vol 4(4): 443–47
  • Slaughter, S.; Hayward, P. and Voros, J. (2008), “Futures – Special Issue: Integral Futures; vol.40, no.2, March 2008.
  • Todorovic, N. (2002). “The mean green hypothesis: Fact or fiction?
  • Trevor-Roberts, E., Ashkanasy, N. and Kennedy, J. (2003). “The Egalitarian Leader: A comparison of leadership in Australia and New Zealand,” Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 20(4), 517–540.
  • Voros, J. (2008), ‘Integral Futures: An approach to futures inquiry’, Futures, vol.40, no.2, pp.190-201.

Wendelin Küpers, PhD, is affiliated with the Department of Management & International Business Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand. He is a member of the Integral Leadership Review’s Integral Leadership Council and is its Bureau Chief for new Zealand. His publications in peer reviewed journals tend to focus on Integral Leadership and\or phenomenology.