Integral for the Masses: Focusing on Differences – A Critical Trait for the Aspiring Integral Leader?

Keith Bellamy

Keith BellamyGreetings to all our reader(s)—well I know that there is a least one as he writes to comment on each article almost immediately after publication—here’s wishing you a healthy and harmonious 2009 and may all the trials and tribulations of 2008 fade rapidly into a distant memory or in some cases just a bad nightmare.

Talking of nightmares, one that returns to haunt me on a recurring basis is based around my participating in a second rate cable TV program where I am participating as a panel member of an “improv” team. At some stage, the master of ceremonies throws open to the audience to provide a number of topics or themes for the panel to weld into a witty and humorous sketch. I sit there with a deadpan face as I hear the words coming out of the audience who resemble the crowds at the Roman Coliseum baying for the blood of some poor gladiator who has failed to meet their approval.

“Integral” comes flying from the back stalls accompanied by a self-satisfying snigger. With the first word on the board, there is no holding back and others fly fast and furious, “Leadership” this time followed by a deep belly laugh. Just as I am recovering my composure comes to sucker punch, “Australia!” As I feel myself dissolving into oblivion, I awake with a start I realize that this was no dream, but it is yet another conversation with Russ about my forthcoming column for the Integral Leadership Review.

My friends, I put it to you that behind the avuncular smiling face of my dear editor lies a closet sadist. Who but an individual with mischief in their heart would ask a Brit to write an article on Integral Leadership with an Australian twist? There is a love hate relationship between the Brits and the Aussies that commenced when the first boatload of convicts were shipped from England in 1787, primarily because we had lost our previous dumping ground, namely the colonies in the New World.

We lovingly call each other “Pommies” which stands for Prisoners of Mother England. We use it as a reference to the fact that the origins of this antipodean nation were built upon released prisoners (not true but a myth we like to propagate); they use it about us because considering the potential and beauty of the world’s largest island they cannot understand why everybody would not want to live there unless they were being held prisoner (which, reluctantly, I have to admit makes sense).

But I think the thing that grates most with the Brits about our dear Australian cousins is probably the fact that we have given them two of the greatest sports ever designed by mankind (yes it is OK, American cousins, if you skip to the next paragraph at this point) namely Rugby and Cricket. Not only have they taken these sports to an art form, but have raised the performance of their teams to a point where the conversation in England is rarely about “who will win?” But whether we can reduce the level of our defeat to merely embarrassing rather than utter humiliation.

So, as you might imagine, I approach this column with something of a bias. If elements of my shadow seep out into the words and thoughts that I am offering, know that this is most certainly an element of work that I need to undertake in my personal ILP—but not just yet, or at least until I have had some fun with it. Returning to my nightmare scenario above, I have to admit that the use of the words “Australian”, “Integral” and “Leadership” is not something that I have ever contemplated writing about. I confess to being somewhat ignorant about the developments taking place down-under. Sure, there is the monumental conversation between Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann that has graced the pages of ILR for what seems to be forever. I know of the work of Guest Editor Ron Cacciope and the community that he is building. Clearly, as this issue of ILR suggests, there is a significant amount of work going on in the new “New World”, but when it comes to Integral Leadership, Australia is rarely the first place one tends to look.

This got me thinking about why we might have a tendency to turn towards the USA these days when we are seeking new and groundbreaking ideas. It strikes me that if you were to put a Yank, a Brit and an Aussie in the same room and none of them said a word, it would be extremely difficult to determine who came from where (well the Brit’s grey pallor might be a give away considering the lack of sunshine in the UK, but hopefully you get my drift). Of course once the three open their mouths, the different accents and the mutilation of the Queen’s English will quickly differentiate the three. But superficially, on the surface so to speak, it is difficult if not impossible to discern any real differences, yet failing to do so could lead to significantly different outcomes.

In an attempt to try to understand the differences between the three cousins I thought I’d take a look at how the CIA report on the three nations in their World Fact Book. The table below is a synopsis of the key specifics that I uncovered. Is it possible that by looking at some of these basic key details that it might be possible to gain some greater insights into what makes these seemingly indistinguishable individuals from three corners of the planet tick? Of course, you might draw your own conclusions but to me it would appear that:

  • All three hail from predominantly Christian societies, but there would seem to be double the level of rejection of God in the UK and Australia than in the USA;
  • The US & Australia have almost the same land mass compared to the miniscule postage stamp in the North Sea where the Brits have chosen to live;
  • That said, the UK’s Coastline is only one half of Australia’s and 62% of the USA’s, which posits the question as to why the UK doesn’t have as many beach-based TV programs as the other two?
  • But I guess one only needs to see that over 50% of the days are overcast in the UK to answer the question (there is a myth that the only reason the British Empire covered 2/3 of the globe was the perpetual desire to escape the weather!);
  • Both the US and Australia are highly profligate in their use of water per capita compared to the UK which uses only 12% compared to an individual in the USA and 16.5% of an Australian;
  • The organic growth of the population in the UK is steady whereas both Australia and the US are growing by 6 per 1,000 population;
  • Despite the hullabaloo made in the States about immigration, Australian immigration is more than double that of the US per thousand population;
  • The United States spends double the amount on healthcare compared to the next nation in the world yet the infant mortality rate is approximately 20% higher and the US citizens, both male and female, have lower life expectancies than the other two;
  • The number of people living with and dying from HIV/AIDS in the US swamps the other two nations;
  • The United States is highly profligate in it use of Electricity, Oil and Natural Gas by an order of magnitude; and finally
  • The USA spends 70% more as a percentage of its GDP (which is also the largest in the world) on its military.

As Benjamin Disraeli said, and Mark Twain popularized (sorry, I couldn’t find an Aussie user of the phrase) “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics!” Within some Integral Circles there is a propensity to shy away from such “flat-landish” information for fear of being distracted from the inner dimensions that have been so readily ignored in recent years.

table 1 table1

Source: CIA World Fact Book

So much time is spent focusing on an individual’s state or stage of development or the “We Space” he or she occupies. Yet if one wishes to be a truly Integral Leader, the overt differences need to be taken into account. It may not make you the most welcome individual at your local Integral Salon when you raise right hand quadrant facts to further the debate, especially as you will probably have to do so using plain English (or French or German, etc.) rather than esoteric Sanskrit or Aramaic or some such other ancient language.

But, as I am forced to think about the three cousins that look the same but are subject to greatly different forces in their lives, it reminds me that Integral is about taking into account the left and the right, the lower and the upper. Integral Leadership is about discerning the subtle differences and using that information to make, like a gentle hand on the tiller, slight changes in decisions that are optimized to maximize the benefit to all.

As we enter 2009, a year where for better or worse we are going to experience change on a scale that happens only once or twice in a lifetime, it is critical that those of us who aspire to wear the mantle of an Integral Leader remember that focusing on differences to inform our decisions is a trait that we cannot work too hard at.