Notes from the Field: Integral Leadership in Action 2007: Falling in Love Again

Michael McElhenie and Allison Conte


Michael McElhenieAllison Conte
Typically, one would reach into the heart of a group to find its purpose. What if the heart itself is its purpose?

For Integral Leadership in Action (ILiA) 2007 attendees, the heart is the thread that connects us to each other and to our shared mission of creating a better world. In March, we gathered as a group of deeply compassionate and passionate people striving to apply integral theory in the world—and in that “we space,” magic happened.

It was indeed the magic of love – between individuals and amongst the group. As happens so often in our growing community, people fell into integral love—intellectually, emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually. Diverse as our integral community is, people wanted to work together and play together; this was evident at the beginning, the end and ever since the event took place several months ago.

Integral love is a special kind—what Chogyam Trungpa described as: pure, fearless, open, without typical territorial limitations, shining indiscriminately like the moon. We experienced this love on a “revolutionarily large and open scale, a universal scale” (Trungpa, 2002, p. 213). At the same time, we honored our integrity, boundaries and individualities, while allowing the energy of wide, expansive love to hold us together as we explored our integral realities.

Admittedly, we (Allison and Michael) were somewhat biased and pre-primed with positive emotion. We met in Colorado a day and a half prior to the start of ILiA with plans to work on a few projects together. We quickly completed these and began doing what we really wanted to do: walk, talk, climb facile peaks, nurture our dreams, cast our shadows on the mountainside, do a bit of voice dialogue—cry, laugh and gently push each other’s tender growing edges. As so often happens when integral coaches get together, we challenged each other to more fully embrace our subjective and objective complexities, and created a space of deep compassion—a nurturing soil.
Thus our bias: By the time ILiA began, our hearts were fuller than full, bigger than big. In this joyful learning state, we waded into ILiA and were eagerly swept along with the currents of 70 other hearts—plus a multitude of energies, minds, altitudes, attitudes, cultures, systems, values, beliefs, etc.

Allison introduced herself to the group by announcing that she finds herself falling in love with more frequency and velocity—first (surprisingly) with Ken Wilber and other beloved teachers, then (gratefully) with herself, then (openly) with friends and colleagues and at that very moment, (easily) with ILiA strangers. As big as our love was, we knew our heart-focus was partial, and we sought to expand our perspectives. In community with others, we dove into theories, practices, conversations, reflections, aspirations.

Enter AQAL-lite. As a community, we learned the power of using even the most basic of integral concepts in our work and personal lives. We heard case studies describing how the four quadrants—the foundation of integral theory—have been used to gain broader awareness of mundane realities, painful personal learning experiences, company board struggles and complex organizational changes.

Michael lastname? spoke of bringing integral awareness and solutions to the global challenge of HIV/AIDS and John Records shared the joys and challenges of implementing an integral approach to homelessness. From their stories, we learned that an easy-to-swallow dose of AQAL-lite can provide much needed critical perspectives, deeper insights and better solutions. And we realized that we shouldn’t hesitate to bring integral to the world. From integral-lite to integral-advanced, we have much of what the world needs to embrace greater complexity. The cost of hesitation is too great.

So in conceptualizing this article, we thought we’d experiment with reporting on ILiA ’07 through the AQAL-lite framework of the four quadrants. We attempted to map, in the simplest way, the integral reality of the people and the event (see diagram). In offering this diagram, we do not pretend to represent, or even understand, the complete reality of what happened at ILiA. Vast “I” spaces, including states, types and stages, were unavailable to us. We attempted to represent a slice of the “We space,” gleaned from our deeply felt (but seriously limited) individual experiences and bits and pieces of others’ spoken and unspoken expressions.

As we meander down the subjective hallways of our ILiA experience, we recall the actual hallways at the Westminster Westin. We see the legions of young dancers—ballet, tap, jazz, modern—that covered nearly every square inch of carpet. Their presence sometimes delighted and sometimes annoyed us—particularly during Open Space conversations, when quiet group space became a desired yet rare commodity. Mostly, however, it reminded us of our ongoing struggles with parenting, our forgotten childhood dreams and our ache for authentic artistic expression.

At ILiA, we experimented with a modified version of Open Space technology that allowed us to raise integral-related topics and converge in groups to explore them. Here’s a list of the conversation topics:

  • Language, altitude & skillful means
  • Integral parenting
  • Integral money
  • Integral coaching & leadership
  • Integral emergence & human dysfunction
  • Staying connected through ILiA
  • Holocracy, an integral system of organizational governance and steering
  • Integral relationships
  • Integral education

While the content of these conversations is beyond the scope of this summary, many participants reported that the Open Space process was incredibly valuable for sharing ideas and building relationships.

As at many integral events, we had easy access to interior dimensions via impromptu conversations and planned exercises. And, as integralites tend to do, we held ourselves and each other lightly and with care. In the fast, free flow of ideas and opinions, we questioned curiously and probed hungrily at one another to gain deeper understanding. We took in multiple perspectives, winced at our own incompleteness and felt deep compassion for others.

Once again Big Mind blew our minds, and Sensei Diane Musho Hamilton’s amazing presence was multiplied by her radiant creative impulse. Taking inspiration from Susanne Cook-Greuter and Beena Sharma’s infectiously energetic tour through the stages of ego-self identity, Diane last name? invoked the voices of diplomat, expert, achiever, individualist and strategist, inspiring joyful-painful realizations throughout the room.

Our descent into Shadow with Willow Pearson was simply delicious. An icon of the sacred, integral feminine, Willow gently guided us through an expanded version of the 3-2-1 process and delivered us lovingly from dark shadow to bright shadow. We released a collective, climactic sigh when we experienced oneness and the dissolution of the separate self. ILiA consensus is that the next version of Integral Life Practice would benefit from this mind-blowing addition to an already powerful module.

Our service cup overflowed. Michael Garfield had a whole lot to do with getting the flow flowing. An amazing young musician, artist, biologist, anthropologist, everything-under-the-sun-ist from Lawrence, Kansas (soon to be relocating to Boulder), Michael worked throughout the weekend to add beauty to our name tags and depth to our conversations. We each gave of our time, attention, assistance, compassion and space when needed. And a key aspect of ILiA’s emerging purpose—a supportive network of integral practitioners—was brewing before our eyes with a head so thick you could eat it with a fork. Did we mention that much of this network formed in the bar?

The Colorado sun smiled on us as we considered how best to bring more of the True, the Beautiful and the Good to the world. There was considerable emphasis on the importance of holding our community together and sustaining the powerful sharing and learning that was happening all around us. When Robb Smith spoke of the future of the Integral Institute, many of us passionately voiced our desire to be part of its future.

Although the nature of the relationship between ILiA and I-I (??) is still emerging, the community was clear in its desire to grow. Since leaving the conference, we have initiated an ILiA forum site on the Integral Multiplex (hosted by the I-I Business and Leadership Center), held two conference calls and we have begun organizing for next year’s event. Surely ILiA will bring many of us together again—with some returning folks and some new ones—and we will fall in love all over again.


Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.


Dr. Michael McElhenie works with leaders to manage individual, team, and organizational change through executive coaching and collaborative leadership development. Michael’s key area of expertise is helping executives assess the organization’s culture, discover optimal mission-alignment and bridge the gap through intentional, resonant leadership. Michael uses an integral approach that considers multi-dimensional aspects of people, business and the socio-economic environment. This approach integrates key facets of human development (interpersonal, emotional, intellectual, ethical, physical and spiritual) as the most effective and efficient way of developing leaders, the teams in which they work and the organizations they serve. He helps leaders better manage the complexity of an ever-changing world, and when clients embrace their complexity, they gain a critical edge over the competition and a greater possibility of meeting their mission. As managing director of Metatropia Institute, a Dallas-based leadership development and change management firm, Michael leverages nearly two decades of consulting experience. He is a faculty member for Duke Corporate Education’s Global Learning Resource Network and a senior associate for Teleos Leadership Institute.

Allison Conte, MSPODA, is a leadership coach, organization development consultant and contributing member of the Integral Institute’s Business and Leadership Center. In addition to integral business and leadership, professional interests include emotional and social intelligence, appreciative inquiry, sustainability, conscious business, cross-sector partnerships and holacracy.