Featured Article: Integral Leadership Coaching: A Holistic Meta-Framework and Process

Lloyd Raines

Raines imageNever before have coaches been faced with such a wide-open field of conversations directly relevant to the effectiveness of leaders and the stakeholders they serve. As the business world’s center of gravity moves from a traditional financial focus to one that includes environmental and social stewardship, leadership coaches now are able to scale curiosity and connections between the personal and global levels.

The Leading Edge of Business and the Future of Leadership Coaching

Climate change, more than any other phenomenon, is dramatically altering the way we understand ourselves and our relationships with the world around us. We are quickly learning that climate change is an integral teacher. Within the last year, ordinary citizens are talking about carbon emissions, cap and trade, ecological footprints, hybrids, and the need to change the design of how we live.

We seem to be on the verge of a paradigm shift, moving from a deeply fragmented way of seeing life to one rich with coherence. After hundreds of years of progress defined as growth and consumption, dumping toxins into the soil, air, water, and wildlife, nature has reached absorption points, no longer able to cleanse the toxins or replenish its resources. Nature is undergoing structural challenges to its homeostasis in all its major living systems. As ice sheets melt due to carbon emissions from industry and transportation, the receding ice releases carbon dioxide from the previously frozen tundra, creating negative feedback loops, reinforcing and accelerating the pattern of global warming. Other ecological symptoms of global warming are easier to see here in the Mid-Atlantic region of the East Coast: the extra hot summers and milder winters. Patterns are changing.

Ironically, it is the long-term impact of our short-term profit and production system that has brought us full-circle, back to an awareness of our place in the natural order. The crisis of climate change finally re-positions science ahead of ideology, bringing an honest accounting of the full costs (internal and external) of our systems of production and consumption.

Over the past 10-15 years, many well-known corporate leaders have come to their own judgments about what good, sustainable business should look like. Johnson & Johnson, Interface, Goldman Sachs, Unilever, British Petroleum, Dow, DuPont, Hewlett Packard, Patagonia, Starbucks, and a long list of other familiar companies comprise what are called triple bottom line companies. (For one version of the list, see Esty and Winston 2006 p. 314). Beyond the traditional single bottom line concern of financial success, a triple bottom line perspective includes, as well, strategic concern for social and environmental health and well-being. All three bottom lines are primary and are inextricably linked in the company’s strategic plans, goals, and metrics.

It is within this larger set of forces that leaders operate today. Leaders who acknowledge and embrace the reality of climate change sooner will be better able to act as responsible stewards for their organization’s resources (financial, human, technical, and natural), and keep their companies viable. Embracing climate change’s impact is, at its core, a holistic and systems based awareness—connecting the dots between people’s thinking, actions, culture, and systems within the broader social, economic and ecological systems within which we live.

In the past, many of these companies have been major polluters, yet without being forced by government regulation, they chose to respond to the science-based trends, take the long view on their corporate and fiduciary responsibilities, and change the very design of how they envisioned their business model.

Even six months ago, the concept of “sustainability” was on the fringes of mainstream awareness. Yet, every day it is becoming more mainstream, part of the daily dialogue, and the way news reports are framed. Hundreds of major companies and thousands of smaller businesses have been addressing sustainability in a disciplined, strategic way for well over a decade. Of late, the general public, politicians, and federal government have tipped to acceptance of global warming, by the combined impact of former Vice President Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” Britain’s recently released “Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change” (HM Treasury 2006). These reports acknowledge what has been obvious to scientists worldwide for quite some time. The reality of climate change is no longer in question. What does this mean for leaders? What does this mean for coaches?

Over the past few years, I have been surprised and at times startled by the lack of awareness and active discussion of sustainability and climate change in the companies and federal agencies where I coach. At various times I ask about the nature of discussions underway in an organization to anticipate some of the impending climate challenges, but hear instead about a diverse set of opinions regarding climate change’s relevance or veracity. In the heartland of organizational life, other issues still dominate. Yet, an integral conversation that unsuccessfully raises certain issues at one point in time may find that six months later (or even less) the very same issue is hitting fertile ground for the client.

For now, though, I want to leave behind the larger social and environmental context, dropping into the person-to-person level where all coaching begins.

Where Coaching Starts

When we’re invited to be interviewed as a potential coach for a leader, we may hear some specific developmental focal points like: enhance communication skills, cultivate leadership presence, sustain high performance, delegate more, mentor others, improve work-life balance, or enhance relationships and networks. At some point, the leader will want to know what is the coach’s method or philosophy? Each coach responds uniquely, giving his or her approach to serving and partnering with leaders.

The scope of integral coaching addresses four key areas of leadership competence:

  1. The personal interior (health and well-being of thoughts, emotions, sensations, spirit)
  2. The personal exterior (health and well-being of body, behaviors, etc.)
  3. The collective interior (cultural norms, values, and espoused beliefs)
  4. The collective exterior (social behaviors, business & economic systems, etc.)

When leaders invite coaches into their private worlds, we hear many aspects of the leader’s reality. We hear unguarded thoughts and feelings, observe behavioral messages in posture and affect, sense subtle mood and energy shifts. We ask questions that, perhaps, few others might feel safe to ask. We are inside their tent, building trust and safety.

To get familiar with the leader’s world, coaches meet with leaders personally, perhaps “shadow” them as they go about their work, and may also coach their teams. We interview peers, direct reports, supervisors and sometimes spouses to learn more about who they are and how they go about leading and living. What vision do they convey and embody? What attitudes and feelings do they engender in others in the leadership team and broader organization? How conscious are they of enriching the diversity of the workplace and input into their discussions? Getting a sense of their work-life balance is important to know – how and when do they relax, how do they connect (or not) with important stakeholders, and take time to rejuvenate? We read their 360 feedback reports and performance evaluations. In the process, we learn a great deal about them, their organization’s culture, structure, and systems, appreciating the complex context within which these leaders work.

Recently, I reviewed the files of 50 leaders with whom I’ve worked in the last few years and listed the issues they chose to work on. Not surprisingly, the lion’s share had to do with enhancing the effectiveness and impact of their communication as key to their leadership effectiveness. Communication may have taken the form of improving certain skills like presenting, listening, inquiry, dialogue, building team cohesion, driving outcomes, or cultivating group intelligence instead of simply leading meetings. Often, though, communication is a function of a leader’s interior development—including awareness of their stories and mental models, managing their emotions (including “triggers,” “shadows,” and “projections”), strengthening their authenticity, walking their talk, and generally attuning their mind, body, emotions, and spirit for enhanced effectiveness in communicating, leading, and driving change. And, at times, leaders wanted assistance on positively impacting the organization’s culture, bringing about more accountability, collaborating to dissolve silos, maintaining mutual respect, and building esprit de corps.

When entering the top tier of leadership ranks, the challenge is to make a qualitative transition from one kind of leading to another. At these pivotal points, leaders recognize their former managerial mastery as no longer what is being asked for or valued. Instead they are being called to a different way of engaging the company’s vision, with a broader strategic view, and a more sophisticated communications and networking acumen with stakeholders. They will have to let go of trusted markers and competitive strategies that got them to the top of their game up to this point. And, they will begin learning new approaches for leveraging value.

Coaches help leaders bridge these transitions through dialogue, reflection, targeted readings, and experiments in learning—using self-awareness exercises and behavioral practices. What an integral approach does for me, as a coach, is to help me pay attention to the presenting issue while stepping back conceptually and wondering how other dimensions might play into supporting or getting in the way of moving from one level to the next.

Coaching Barry – Stepping into the Leadership Ranks

When I began coaching Barry, he was one level below the leadership ranks—a strong contributor and manager who wanted to deal with feedback he recently received regarding his sharp tongue and sarcastic tone. Although his critical abilities were considerable and highly valued, he also introduced a dynamic in the group that did not serve him or his colleagues well. He was very bright and known to have a sarcastic comeback for stated positions or interpretations from colleagues that he thought lacked logic or adequate data to support them. Barry’s sarcasm, supervisors noted, was a potential barrier to his progression in the company even though he continued to meet his financial goals and delivered very high quality services to clients.

During the first year we worked together, occasionally I would introduce broader concepts—like seeds planted off-season, to prime his awareness of issues and worldviews that soon he would likely encounter as an emerging leader. I shared with him readings about learning organizations, business and environmental trends, innovations, creating networks, and tapping collective intelligence.

Mid-way into our first year of coaching, Barry was invited to consider a project based in Europe. After some careful interviews with those putting together the project, along with some intense conversations with his wife and family, he decided to go for the opportunity. He negotiated a number of complex conversations with his current supervisor and other primary relationships, and was granted room to formally explore the overseas position. Over the next six months, the experience became a learning laboratory that accelerated Barry’s behavioral shifts away from sarcasm and towards seeing and supporting others in more positive and collaborative ways. Plus, he enjoyed it more.

Previously, Barry had focused primarily on individual achievement, making his numbers, and staying above the talent pool enough to distinguish himself. In the new position, however, he was able to let go of his subtle yet intensely competitive attitude and turn to an attitude of cultivating the best in his available team—through collaboration, facilitating information flow, strengthening networks, negotiating conflict, and knowing how to effectively connect people and resources for desired outcomes. His focus shifted from individual contribution to being a steward of the broader team, its resources, and outcomes. This shift involved more than skill. It transformed his mental models about how things worked and his place in getting things done—which, in turn, helped him to grow in professional maturity. He assumed more responsibility for the health and well-being of others and their work, caring for the strength and quality of relationships with internal and external customers. He became more attuned to keeping people in the loop, and took his attentiveness to the RACI model (who’s Responsible for the work, ultimately Accountable, needs to be Consulted, and Informed) up a clear notch.

Coaching Barry involved a series of self-observations, social observations, and behavioral practices that fell within a relatively tight circle of an integral perspective. His shifts were initially mental, emotional, and behavioral – exploring his present states of being and observing the states of being of leaders he found to be inspirational and effective. The more he closed the loops between his desired behaviors and actual behaviors, the more he conducted his own intrinsically-motivated experiments in leadership growth.

In one of our final sessions, I asked Barry about his attentiveness to climate change issues in his work in Europe. His eyebrows arched in a look of surprise, and he acknowledged that, yes, his clients were in fact concerned with carbon emissions and other environmental factors. Until that point, he didn’t really grasp its significance for them, nor appreciate how his American perspective lagged behind the European point of view regarding climate change. He asked for recommendations on what to read. I recommended he do a careful viewing of Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth” and to read Green to Gold.

What integral coaches know is that attuning the close-in relationships within the self and between the self and others is the primary node from which one scales outward to the broadest integral connections, including stewardship for nature. Put another way, naked self-interest matures beautifully and powerfully into enlightened self-interest when one awakens to the fullness of circles we live and work within.

Coaching Terry to Move from COO to CEO

Within an hour of meeting with Terry, I felt like I was meeting myself—similar personality type, manner, energy, and way of seeing the world. Based on Terry’s recent 360º feedback, he wanted to work on being easier to read, more available with his ideas real-time, less distant and critical in his affect, and more genuinely appreciative of and light-hearted with others.

Terry’s gifts included a fine intellect that was able to quickly grasp complex concepts, hear weak spots in an argument, and pick up on subtle signs of incongruence. These gifts, if not used in a balanced way (e.g., appreciating the good points while also pointing out potential weaknesses) could have a chilling effect on others as they introduced half-formed ideas in his presence.

As the COO, Terry was superb at follow-through. He implemented the CEO’s vision in ways that inspired the confidence of the CEO and respect of the top leadership team. His job was to provide support, but also to challenge, when needed, the CEO’s passionately-presented positions—being willing to stick out his neck, put his head in the lion’s mouth, and live to tell about it. His feedback from other leadership team members gave him kudos on this count, yet Terry felt there had been times when he should’ve spoken up yet didn’t.

Over the next six months, I helped Terry to re-focus on the things about which he felt most passionate. When he spoke from that place, he was animated, his eyes were bright and his energy was light and lively. Fortunately, the issues that mattered to him were also central to the organization’s mission. He had done a good job of aligning who he was with where he was working. What he needed, in part, was to find ways of tapping into his impassioned feelings when in conversations and meetings with others.

Here are some self-observation exercises I offered Terry.

  • Notice how you are taking part in those conversations (active, passive, engaged, detached, intellectual, emotional, etc.).
  • Are you expressing your passion or holding back? What holds you back?
  • Have you contributed in a way that feels satisfying?
  • Are you appreciating and building on others ideas or primarily being a critic?

After two weeks, Terry shared with me that he noticed he was standing back from full engagement around these issues, being more of a critic intellectually than emotionally engaged, and not looking for ways to build bridges with the ideas and energies of others. These insights bothered him and he determined that he didn’t want criticism to be his primary modus operandi.

During that follow up session, I asked Terry what it might be like for him to experiment with sharing more of what was emotionally inside him with the other leaders on the executive team. For him, this was a stretch. He prided himself and even defined himself on being intellectually competent in his comments and observations. If he tried jumping out more spontaneously with his thoughts and emotions before his intellect could refine his ideas, he might say something he regretted or that others found less than stellar. Terry had to be willing to let go of his commitment to high intellectual certainty, and move towards a parallel commitment of being more emotionally accessible, more passionate and engaged—not so distant and critical. It was a trade-off he was willing to playfully explore.

At the beginning of the next coaching meeting, Terry reported with excitement that he had indeed allowed himself to be more spontaneous, pushing himself out there, and found himself more naturally animated, connecting with others in slightly different ways than before. He was even asking questions of others instead of just offering his own points of view or judgments or mini-critiques of their points. In sum, he found it to be quite refreshing as a new way of being. The competing commitments he had worried about ended up, after all, not competing at all, but actually collaborating. He didn’t give up his mental acuity, he simply lightened its touch by being curious and by engaging emotionally during discussions. It was simply an additional way to play with his thought process. He connected with others and himself in expanded ways, being less studied, while accessing more of the moment-to-moment dynamics of the conversation.

Once Terry had experienced the positive surprises of that learning experience, it offered him a cache of courage and created some solid ground for other leaps of faith into unknown territory.

Over the next six months, he uncovered a deeper awareness of what he wanted to be involved with at this point in his life. He was at the height of his professional achievements and noticed there was still quite a distance between what he wanted to be contributing as a leader vs. what he has been contributing – up to this point. Through a number of exercises, he identified where those gaps were and pondered what it would be like and how he might go about bringing those desires more into the make-up of his daily and weekly work.

Terry found that his ideas were becoming more generative, offering up big, hairy, audacious goals (affectionately coined by Porras and Collins 1994, as BHAGs) instead of smaller incremental ideas that played off the CEO. Because Terry’s sense of self was centered, and he was tapping the passion of the idea and not his ego, his BHAGs were heard by his fellow leaders as great ideas – not just Terry’s ideas. Terry went from holding himself back to letting himself access what was inside him, and in the process accessing an excitement that was infectious. He was, in those moments, straddling the experience of thinking and behaving like a CEO while carrying out his full obligations as the COO.

During our private coaching discussions around Terry’s BHAGs, one of the areas was to do something significant about global health care and poverty. How might his organization think and act beyond its boundaries and borders, introducing a way of connecting at the global level while also clearly serving the needs of stakeholders. In those early discussions, Terry had touched the outer reaches of a full cycle integral perspective, connecting the dots from his personal interior to the global exterior around health and wellness. It remains to be seen whether that particular BHAG will take root, but from audacious visions come audacious actions.

The Frameworks We Hold, the Lenses We Use

Every coach holds a particular framework when coaching, along with hidden lenses, whether recognized or not. For example, a coach may listen and observe primarily from a cognitive perspective—picking up on how language provides entry into the client’s interior world, thinking, assumptions, point of view, dominant stories, and insights into his or her interactions with others. Another coach may be naturally attuned to working from an emotional lens, sensing the degree to which the leader is emotionally self-aware, socially aware, and healthy in terms of self-care and social care. This emotional intelligence lens may bring significant focus to the leader’s capacity to harness social energy through emotional connections and the experiences that make those connections meaningful. Coaches can be specialists or work holistically, partnering with leaders for specific improvements or to cultivate a more integral approach for congruence. (I shall use the terms “holistic” and “integral” interchangeably.) Holistic leadership coaching holds a frame of reference that listens and observes for coherence that goes beyond the leader’s personal development. It includes how the leader affects the organization’s culture and the design and integrity of its systems and processes. Are the culture, systems, and processes, in fact, animating and reinforcing the attitudes, values, and behaviors that align with the organization’s vision and mission? Do the vision and mission align with the broader social and ecological health and well-being?

Within each leadership coach’s framework is a set of stories informed by our biography, expertise and education—comprising how we understand the world. Therefore, we have a particularly unique style when we coach—the manner and focus of our curiosity and inquiry, how we challenge, evoke, sometimes provoke, and listen with discernment and nonjudgment. In the process we build a useful body of distinctions, stay disciplined and purposeful in our conversations while helping to stimulate further insights and capacities in the leader. As we coach, we encounter moments of new awareness in leaders—moments that coaches call “openings.” These openings offer a mother lode of opportunities for growth and development, and sometimes a particular kind of growth will have transformative impact, with cascading benefits to other areas of their leadership effectiveness (not to mention benefits to family relationships and home life).

My experience in working with various coaching communities of practice suggests that each leadership coach evolved his or her expertise from one or numerous preferred focal points, primarily either the 1) intrapersonal, 2) behavioral, 3) cultural, and/or 4) systems dimensions. Depending on our formal education, personality type, proven expertise, and passion, we find ourselves with a tendency to see and use particular focal points first and others to a lesser degree. Even focusing on two dimensions alone, like the intrapersonal and behavioral can result in valuable coaching and leadership results.

For me, my initial primary expertise had been at the intrapersonal, behavioral, and systems levels. I chose to study psychology (an intrapersonal and behavioral focus) at the undergraduate level and justice (intrapersonal and social systems) at the graduate level.

Early on, as a leadership coach, I began wondering to how power, position, and privilege enhanced or got in the way of people’s development in social organizations. And, in a roughly analogous way, I wondered about the same thing for myself, as a leadership coach. Also, I pondered the impact of dignity, respect, mutuality, reciprocity, fairness, and justice on the resilience and durability of social relationships. But, later I became aware of the importance of the parts I had paid less attention to—culture and a more in-depth study of individual behaviors. Once I became cued in on the contributions of these other elements to the whole, I engaged in active study, training, and communities learning to of fortify my knowledge base. Culture became core in understanding how an organization reproduced itself (for good or ill) over time. Culture held the key.

When it came to sharpening my awareness around behaviors, I was surprised at the richness in nuances and distinctions I had previously overlooked. The body indeed expressed so much of the interior story that a trained eye could notice early indicators of self-limiting or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. A person’s interior world literally expressed itself in their somatic expressions (e.g., pace of movement, gestures, eye focus and movements, facial expressions, gait, subtle energy, posture, tone of voice, attentiveness, presence, balance). How additionally beneficial it was—for my clients and me—when I was able to include those observations in my approach.

In my coaching, what I may miss without an integral mindset, is the rich interplay of the leader’s interior experiences with their behaviors withtheir impact on the organizational culture with the design of organizational systems—and how harmoniously (or not) they work together. And, I can miss the larger web of relationships and variables in extra-organizational systems and natural systems. When written out in this way, it may seem too big, all-encompassing. Yet, it is as intimate as the air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, and hopefulness we feel. Discovering ways to scale my coaching conversations from the personal to the larger global systems has been a matter of learning from experimentation and experience. And sometimes it has been rough around the edges as I learned to make transitions in a more organic way.

Coaching Through a Wide-Angle Lens

There are two cardinal truths that coaches know: 1) the client holds the requisite wisdom and expertise worthy of birthing whatever growth and development are called for; and2) to be in shape to coach involves more than just calling on the coach’s intuition and capacity to ask good questions.

As my awareness evolves around the connections between things at the micro and macro levels, so does my sense of the scope of leadership coaching. At present, it takes this form: as a leadership coach, I serve the development of leaders’ capacities to have optimal influence within and beyond their organizations, including its sustainability, and furthering the leader’s beneficial impact and contributions in the world. My primary focus with leaders is to cultivate their further growth, engagement with life, integrity, courage, and stewardship of vital resources (including themselves)—displayed through their private and public actions and contributions. This integral set of concerns includes care for self, others, and nature expressed in the ways leaders contribute to the organization and society through their position and authority.

Is It Time for a Bigger Coaching Role?

Traditional business tends to respond well to traditional coaching with some room for cutting edge coaching – while not going too far out too soon. Cutting edge businesses, analogously, tends to respond well to cutting edge coaching. Integral coaching.

Integral coaching is most fertile as a learning intervention when the coach carefully balances his or her development between the art of coaching and the science of life. When coaches are artists, we are in the moment with the leader, open to any variation of thinking or acting, willing to engage in a bold and risky brush stroke outside the lines of convention. When coaching as scientists, we know the data and science of social life, organizational life, business life, ecological life, global life, and are able to inquire, make declarations, or introduce provocations that help leaders to confront the short and long-term impact of their actions within the broader grounded reality. We are better informed and equipped as coaches when we ponder the meaningfulness of the global story, and ask how these global facts map to our day-to-day conversations and actions. Consider these statistics from the book, Natural Capitalism (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 1994, p. 4).

In the past half century, the world has a lost a fourth of its topsoil and a third of its forest cover. At present rates of destruction, we will lose 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs in our lifetime, host to 25 percent of marine life. In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s resources, its “natural wealth,” have been consumed. We are losing freshwater ecosystems at the rate of 6 percent a year, marine ecosystems by 4 percent a year. There is no longer any serious scientific dispute that the decline in every living system in the world is reaching such levels that an increasing number of them are starting to lose, often at a pace accelerated by the interactions of their decline, their assured ability to sustain the continuity of the life process. We have reached an extraordinary threshold.

Facts like these may be difficult to internalize and operationalize when coaching leaders. They challenge us to bridge the meaningfulness of such massive information to the daily experience we live. But, it seems worth the effort. One of David Whyte’s poems (1999, p. 88) brings the focus back to fundamentals, helping us see the human element in this mesmerizing age of information.

Loaves and Fishes

This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

What are the good words, loaves and fishes offered by leaders? And by coaches? I think there are many in our line of vision—prototype businesses that are loaves and fishes, integral coaches that cross-pollinate stories from one company to the next as best practices. With business breakthroughs and transformations popping up faster than we can track and absorb them, it is exciting to try to stay abreast of trends and best practices of cutting edge businesses. “People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.” Here’s a good word: the trend worldwide is towards more socially and environmentally responsible corporations.

In 2004, nearly 1,800 transnational corporations (TNCs) or their affiliates filed reports on issues of corporate responsibility, up from virtually none in the early 1990s. With some 1,600 reports already filed for 2005—estimated at about 85–90 percent of the likely total—this trend is on track to grow. These responsibility reports, sometimes referred to as non-financial reports, cover everything from labor standards and impacts on local communities to toxic releases and greenhouse gas emissions. (Hawken, Lovins and Lovins, 1999, p. 4)

Thus far, most responsibility reports are filed by European corporations. Of those produced between 2001 and 2005, 54 percent came from Europe, 25 percent from Asia and Australia, 17 percent from North America, 2 percent from South America, and 2 percent from Africa and the Middle East. (Worldwatch Institute, 2006)

The awakening process in corporations creates new perspectives for coaches, too. To be relevant, I believe, and morally engaged, coaches are called by the full reach of our professional standards to stay abreast (if not a few steps ahead) of industry and global trends, with a working knowledge of integral best practices worldwide. As coaches, and especially at the Master Coach (MCC) level, we can be expected to coach with more perspective, depth, courage, and compassion, from a perspective that bears witness to the larger social, economic, and environmental conditions and trends in the world. I know that stance may strike some as an agenda, but I believe it is simply a grounded framework. What is the alternative – especially in this globally intimate, climate-changing, ecologically endangered, and socially unstable world in which we compete for limited resources? If an integral perspective has any worth beyond a nifty organizing process for understanding phenomena from a systems perch, it is that the heart of integral is about a normative stake in the ground around health, wellness, and the sustainability of living systems.

At a minimum, coaching and leading can be said to live by a common expectation: do no harm. I will offer a sampling of sources and a few excerpts to see what forms “do no harm” may take. Below, biologist Pepper Trail (2007) offers 10 principles for living in greater harmony with the earth. He calls the principles “The Earth Precepts”:

1. Honor the earth, upon which all life depends.
2. Consider the consequences of all environmental actions over at least a 100-year time frame.
3. Do not destabilize the earth’s atmospheric or aquatic systems.
4. Do not depend upon energy sources that cannot be replaced.
5. Do not remove living resources, including soil, trees, and marine life, faster than they can replace themselves.
6. Exploitation of the earth must be accompanied by restoration of the earth.
7. Preserve biological diversity.
8. Do not have more than two children.
9. Do not assert ownership over species or their genetic codes: they are not ours to claim.
10. Do not exempt corporations from the environmental precepts that individuals must follow.

Some of those 10 precepts may be easy to accept and support, while others may invoke push-back or pause. That’s a good start to a worthwhile conversation. Other internationally recognized sources have created their own operating principles in a variety of ways, most notably Karl-Henrik Robert’s “The Natural Step” (2007). These are attempts at identifying the governing principles for responsible living and sustainable living systems.

Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins’ (1999, p.1) recall a scientific experiment attempting to recreate the conditions of our biosphere. The experiment showed, in part, the extraordinary complexity required for humans to reproduce the complex self-regulating systems that balance the chemistry of air, soil, and water in ways hospitable to life. They write,

On September 16, 1991, a small group of scientists was sealed inside Biosphere II, a glittering 3.2 acre glass and metal dome in Oracle, Arizona. Two years later, when the radical attempt to replicate the earth’s main ecosystems in miniature ended, the engineered environment was dying. The gaunt researchers had survived only because fresh air had been pumped in. Despite $200 million worth of elaborate equipment, Biosphere II had failed to generate breathable air, drinkable water, and adequate food for just eight people. Yet Biosphere I, the planet we all inhabit, effortlessly performs those tasks every day for 6 billion of us.

Disturbingly, Biosphere I is now itself at risk. The earth’s ability to sustain life, and therefore economic activity, is threatened by the way we extract, process, transport, and dispose of a vast flow of resources – some 220 billion tons a year…

As the Biosphere II experiment vividly illustrates, humans live within the earth’s environments and ecosystems, and what we do within that biosphere directly impacts its health and our own, in turn. We are all downstream from what we put into the air, land, and water. What we collectively put out there, we absorb in here. Our social actions, marketplace decisions (as leaders, producers, and consumers), and ecological concerns are looking for ways to be mutually sustaining and healthy. We need to consciously design ways for them to be mutually reinforcing.

These are areas of great inquiry and exploration for coaching leaders. Consider this excerpt from Natural Capitalism:

Natural capitalism maps the general direction of a journey that requires overturning long-held assumptions, even questioning what we value and how we are to live. Yet the early stages in the decades-long odyssey are turning out to release extraordinary benefits. Among these are what business innovator Peter Senge calls ‘hidden reserves within the enterprise’—’lost energy,’ trapped in stale employee and customer relationships, which can be channeled into success for both today’s shareholders and future generations. All three of us have witnessed this excitement and enhanced total factor productivity in many of the businesses we have counseled. It is real; it is replicable…(emphasis added)

I’ve italicized various words and phrases in the above excerpt to highlight the common language that characterizes powerful leadership and effective coaching. At the core of leading and coaching is transformation – often including a journey, overturning long-held assumptions, questioning what we value – to find hidden reserves and lost energy (trapped in stale relationships) to be channeled into success (for shareholders and future generations). We might call the process “The Hero’s Journey,” socially responsible education and action, or stewardship for sustainability.

As integral coaches and leaders, we might ask:

  • How might the impact of leadership be diminished if one or more of these dimensions are underdeveloped: authenticity and integrity of leaders; leaders not walking the talk; leaders not paying attention to the health and morale of the culture; systems, processes and practices that are not aligned with the organization’s mission and culture?
  • What does sustainability look like in our production and consumption systems?
  • What does transformation look like? Where are transformations needed?
  • What personal journey calls to us regarding self-attunement internally and externally?
  • What impact do social, economic and ecological trends and tipping points have on how leaders lead (and coaches coach)?
  • How do we intellectually absorb and emotionally motivate ourselves to act boldly, with visionary goals, and an enlightened self-interest needed to address the challenges of sustainability?
  • How do we transform the design of organizational structures, systems, processes, practices, and cultures to honor the dictum: “do no harm”?
  • What are the synergy points between financial, social, and environmental health and sustainability?

An Integral Model to Get Started

Ken Wilber offers a simple set of distinctions as a unifying framework for thinking and acting in the world. In a nutshell, he says there is an interior, exterior, particular and collective reality to almost everything.

figure 1 image

Figure 1: Wilber’s basic four-quadrant model

The four quadrants can be utilized as a quick scanning device to diagnose a leader’s or an organization’s strengths and growth areas, providing a more complete set of options for comprehensive development and reinforcement. When aligned, each quadrant becomes a reinforcing feedback loop for the other quadrants. Conversely, if one quadrant is underdeveloped, it can undermine the effectiveness of the other three quadrants.

An integral framework listens for and observes in these dimensions of leadership for potential developmental leverage points. The focal areas that follow are within the Upper Left quadrant, in the realm of the individual interior “I,” and include:

  • Key leadership skill levels: awareness of skills ranging from novice to mastery;
  • Moral/maturity levels: awareness of maturity levels ranging from selfish/self-interested to care to universal care;
  • Lines of development: awareness of distinctions within and between physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual domains of intelligence; Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences;
  • States of physio-spiritual awareness: basic physical sensations, subtle energetic sensitivities, communion or “flow” experiences;
  • Types of knowing: awareness of personality preferences, MBTI, Enneagram type, learning styles, FiroB, archetypes, etc.

The nature of coaching often involves slowing the leader’s pace of work (and life) to help them grasp the distinctions in their interior world. Coaching conversations and the exercises and practices coaches suggest are little hothouse experiments that later are transplanted into the open field of everyday organizational (and private) life.

Leadership behavior and performance (“IT”), in the Upper Right quadrant, are assessed via a 360º tool, tapping supervisors, peers, and direct reports, for detailed feedback regarding a leader’s strengths and areas for development. Once completed and scored, a careful review of this comprehensive data with a leader is a mainstay of coaching, providing ample openings for contracting around commitments important for leaders and the organizations they serve. Also, within this quadrant’s focus, connections are made between a leader’s physical health, nutrition, sleep, stress levels, and other biological conditions—that directly impact leadership effectiveness.

  • 360º feedback tools: (The Leadership Circle, Benchmarks, Executive Dimensions, and many others)
  • Brief 360º interviews conducted by coaches or consultants with immediate stakeholder group
  • Shadowing of leader in various group situations
  • Behavioral practices and experiments tracked as part of a coaching developmental process

Between the Upper Left (interior) and Upper Right (behavioral) quadrants, feedback loops are in continual process. Thoughts, assumptions, emotions and feelings from inside a leader are played out behaviorally— potentially prompting self-reflection on the experience and outcomes while also noticing or inquiring about other people’s reactions. For that matter, all four quadrants are intimately linked and engaged in continual synergistic feedback loops – with many linkages occurring below our conscious awareness, while others are consciously identifiable. The more we are able to deconstruct and understand the content of our feedback loops (i.e., what specific stimulus generates what response), the more our conscious awareness is cultivated, becoming a learning loop, allowing either self-corrections (a range of chosen optional responses instead of an unconscious default response) or a reinforcing affirmation.

Through 360º feedback, shadowing, and dialogue, we sharpen the leader’s sense of how they are who they are, and how they do what they do(i.e., their being and their doing). Leaders undertake this exploration and development within the daily realities of their individual roles, as a member of a leadership team, within an organization of employees and stakeholders who share a common culture that live through the metabolism of systems (organizational, social, and ecological).

When looking at the cultural dimension of leadership (“WE”), Lower Left quadrant, there is an array of culture climate surveys that uncover organizational values, with two in particular that complement an integral approach.

  • Cultural Transformation Tools (Barrett) and PeopleScan (Spiral Dynamics integral) – both of which are integrally designee,
  • Other in-house designed culture surveys,
  • Many pre-developed and customizable cultural assessment tools.

Whatever the tool used for culture scans or climate surveys, coaches are able to access another quadrant of data for inquiry, awareness, engagement, and alignment with content from the other three quadrants. The Lower Left quadrant most often holds the key to understanding the level of esprit de corps and vitality of a working community, helps explain low morale, low productivity, sick leave, and turnover. Although overlooked by many leaders as “soft information,” coaches know this to be a critical nexus that captures or loses opportunities for tapping the collective intelligence and harnessing the social energy of an organization. As former IBM CEO Lou V. Gerstner expressed it: “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game” ( Inc. 2005).

Leaders who ignore this quadrant suffer the steady trickle of lost talent, lost capacity, and disengagement from internal and external customers. For those leaders who recognize culture’s centrality, however, this is the lever for strengthening bonds, focusing energy, and engaging the best intellect and heart of the entire workforce.

In the Lower Right quadrant lives the systems dimension (“ITS”) of leadership: from design to implementation and oversight of the organization’s vision, mission, values, and principles, and embedding them in every system, practice, and process in the organization. For example:

  • Designing and implementing an organizational structure, systems (financial, budgetary, hiring, evaluation, compensation, benefits, rewards and recognition, etc.), and processes (strategic planning, decision-making, information sharing, feedback systems, development and promotion opportunities, etc.) that are aligned and mutually reinforcing;
  • Creating and maintaining learning systems to address changes or opportunities at the local, regional, national, and international systems (socially, culturally, economically, politically, and ecologically).

Systems within systems within systems—adding up to a meta-ecology. The unique impact and alignment of these synergistic force fields require on-going assessments, tune-ups, and even re-design to maintain dynamic equilibrium, optimal capturing of intellectual and productive energy, and minimal waste of resources. Systems gurus like Francesco Varela, Humberto Maturana, Fritjof Capra, Peter Senge, the Society for Organizational Learning, Edward O. Wilson, Elizabet Sahtouris, Brian Swimme, Margaret Wheatley, Peter Block, and others have provided sophisticated assistance through their writings and field work, but ultimately, each organization is a constellation of systems within a unique environment.

The dynamics that affect the flow of energy among a workforce takes the efforts of many to discern, and is critical for leaders to understand. Just as doctors track the health and synergy of nine major interdependent systems within our skins (musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, urinary, integumentary, lymphatic and immune, nervous, endocrine, reproductive), so too any organization needs on-going assessment as a synergistic complex of its own hard and soft systems (e.g., McKinsey’s 7-S Framework: structure, systems, staff, style, strategy, shared values, skills). It is in our self-interest as coaches and leaders to enhance our capacity to listen and observe well, and to learn about interdependencies that support the sustainability of life and organizational life,. In the long term, it is an act of enlightened self-interest to act on our natural global interdependencies, acknowledging the reality of one meta-ecology.

Our need to understand the impact of our diverse political, economic and cultural systems on the ecological commons (and, therefore, one another) is inseparable from our pursuit of a peaceful, healthy, productive social life—locally and globally. Social sustainability and ecological sustainability live cheek to jowl with one another. Yet, ecological sustainability has time on its side (able to regenerate over thousands and millions of years, after cataclysms of any sort), while our social sustainability is bounded by nature’s diminishing capacity to provide essential resources. As durable and resilient as nature is, her capacity to meet our needs is increasingly challenged by an onslaught of industrial and consumer-oriented pollution, deforestation, over-fishing, loss of topsoil, and massive species extinction by our hands .

What is Integral Coaching?

Integral coaching is a panoramic, integrated vision of the wholeness of life, within which parts are focused on and developed— forthe health, well-being and benefit of the whole. An integral approach is both client-centered and integrally-centered at the same time—holding awareness and bearing witness to what is and what wants to be. Integral coaches help leaders explore ways to connect their individual attunement with their leadership team and ultimately with the whole of the organization’s talent. An integral view stretches conscious awareness of how organizations sit within the larger living systems and affect the health and well-being of life. “Integral” assumes awareness of and responsibility for the fluid dynamics that connect the interior and exterior, the individual and collective. We are a global system with a global commons, living at a particular place in time on this spherical planet as individuals within interlocking communities.

Integral coaches engage leaders in a personalized pilot program of holistic development. We always begin wherever the client is—with their “presenting issues” as identified by the leader. At the same time, we know that these presenting issues are but parts of larger wholes and systems. Indeed, part of the joy and power of coaching and being coached is around this growth that wants to happen. Get anywhere close to the door of growth, and it swings open freely.

Like plants, we lean towards the light (of energy and growth) and will reposition ourselves in that direction if we can find a way. Yet, it is also true that we are habitual creatures with well-worn patterns to face when trying to change. Change comes in many forms, as does resistance to change. Even good ideas, ones we take as “no brainers” may lay fallow in the face of habits. Consider a few of mine: I should get to bed earlier, but I love reading when the house is quiet late at night. I’m trying to lose weight, but while reading, a few spoonfuls of Häagen-Daz are just the perfect pleasures after a busy day. I know better, but then…I’ve got competing desires and commitments tugging at each other. I would like to satisfy both, but they’re mutually exclusive, so – in the interim, I take each day at a time, being at choice point each evening when commitments and desires confront each other. Ultimately, I have to ask myself directly,“Is my long term health of more value to me than the temporary pleasure of eating ice cream?”

To develop behaviors that serve us better, we can call upon our discipline and willpower. If those are not sufficient to break a habit (and its neural pattern), then we can call on a support community. A coach, colleagues, friends, and family members can be enlisted to help reinforce our intentions by keeping our awareness high and accountability intact or at least moving in the right direction. And, if our actions are at a critical point of self-destructive behaviors, a coordinated intervention may be needed.

At its most basic level, integral coaching is about awakening and cultivating the breadth and depth of what is good, true, and beautiful in the individual, the team, organization, and stakeholders – through focused development of leaders’ intentions and behaviors, at the individual and social levels. The process of leadership coaching strengthens awareness, deepens understanding, stretches capacity through explorations and experiments with new behaviors, assesses learning and makes corrections along the way. It is about a dual, balanced cultivation of observing with fresh eyes, non-judgment, curiosity, generosity, assertiveness and receptiveness, and with an eye towards the health and well-being of the whole.

Robert Greenleaf (1982) took a unique position, setting forth a new framework through which we could understand the underlying dynamics of leadership. The essence of leadership, said Greenleaf, is the desire to serve one another and to serve something beyond ourselves, a higher purpose. My sense is that this larger context is the defining narrative of our work as coaches and leaders, and it begs to be with us, a voice of conscience bearing witness, taking note of what is in front of us, and bringing this awareness into our conversations as we lead and coach. Anything less is a convenient paring down of the bigness of the story we live in.

Ultimately, our self-interested, short-term motivations come back to bite us hard. Short-term benefits for some at the expense of many over the long-term lacks a moral maturity. We may do well to study anew the basic connections between things: What depends upon what? Many indigenous people have understood the connections between the individual, community, nature, and cosmos in ways our culture and institutions have forgotten. We remain in peril because of that forgetting and the fragmentated worldview that incapacitates our abilities to see what needs to be seen, and do what needs to be done.

How Integral Coaching is Different

The business world contains a spectrum of enterprises with diverse motivations or drives for doing business. They operate in a marketplace still strongly influenced by Milton Friedman’s dictum that the sole responsibility of business is to maximize profits for shareholders (Fast Company 2005).

There is one and only one social responsibility of business— to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

Friedman presents an elegant principle, which, at the same time, is brutal in its disconnection from a sense of stewardship or care – except care for maximizing profit for owners. Taken to its logical end, this principle consumes itself in oligopoly, devastates the social and ecological commons—or both—while devouring in the process its defining principle of maximizing individual liberty and minimizing coercion.

Yet, many companies have chosen to lead their businesses in an opposite direction from that championed by Friedman. And they are doing so with a grounded awareness and enlightened self-interest, creating a business philosophy that is socially and environmentally responsible while also concerned with profitability. Far from being weakened by these additional dimensions of care, their businesses prosper. They call themselvessocially responsible or green businesses and include a growing presence in the Fortune 100 and 500. Their agenda is to be good business people while also being good corporate citizens in the world.

In a parallel sense, what I’m proposing in this article is that leadership coaching benefits too from being socially and environmentally responsible. (To get the simplicity of this, imagine the opposite proposition: “Leadership coaching should not be socially and environmentally responsible.” Or, “Leadership coaching should be nonjudgmental regarding social and environmental responsibilities.”) Social and environmental responsibility, we are beginning to see more clearly, are interdependent with and ultimately inseparable from financial ventures that are sustainable. This kind oftriple bottom line coaching may be called green coaching, socially responsible coaching, holistic coaching, integral coaching, sustainable coaching, stewardship coaching, or other monikers that represent and cultivate a profoundly different way of seeing our relationships with each other and nature.

But, is that taking coaching’s role a bit far? For some, it will be. Yet, I’d prefer it to be held in a “ both and” instead of an “ either or” way. Coaching from a holistic lens may seem to some more like an agenda than a framework. I see integral coaching as analogous to holistic medicine. Holistic and specialized medicine are each powerful and both, I think, essential. As a person, I want to understand my health from a holistic perspective and, likewise, have a doctor or practitioner assess my conditions from that perspective. Yet, I also want to be able to call on specialists in particular areas so that I can get as well-informed as possible before taking big steps in any direction with my health. Holistic medicine has the huge advantage of being proactive in its philosophy; while traditional medicine and specialized medicine tends to be reactive in its philosophy. A holistic perspective of anything enables greater understanding of the complex factors affecting the ecology of any particular thing as a part of larger systems. When understood in that way, choices expand dramatically and strategic decisions can be made regarding the long-term health and well being of an individual, social groups, economies, nations, the global community, and the environment.

When I began coaching leaders and executives, I had the scaffolding of an integral perspective and practice. But, I found I had much work to do. I had to deepen my knowledge of the business world, its processes, the markets, and jargon through self-study and communities of learning. I had to deepen my understanding of how the market’s natural dynamics led to the ignoring of the “ecological commons.” And, at the same time, I was engaging in a pretty comprehensive integral scan of myself, plugging the gaps in my integrity as a person and steward of vital resources in my domain of living. What the integral framework does is to make that scan disciplined, simple, fast, and applicable immediately. And it enables me to see my part in harmful outcomes, whether intended or not. This awareness humbles me and keeps my critical faculties most sharply focused on my own choices and behaviors. To be engaged in holistic coaching, I must be actively engaged with similar areas of development in myself. The cobbler, so to speak, must be walking in decently maintained shoes.

Integral Coaching, Integral Leadership

My intention in integral coaching is to help cultivate the best capacities in a leader around responsible, intelligent, resilient, and wise stewardship of vital resources. At the core of stewardship is a commitment to the dignity of people and the vitality of nature as reflected in leadership values and behaviors, organizational culture, relationships with stakeholders, and the design of organizational systems.

For coaches, leadership coaching is an extraordinary “opening,” by design, to contribute to the learning edge of leaders. We help leaders to coax from themselves their human potential, wisdom, and courage, and, in turn, to understand how to cultivate that in others.

What else is Integral Leadership? Integral leaders know how to intentionally design into the architecture, structure, systems, processes, and job functions an organization’s core identity, relationships, and ways of sharing information. When done well, that design will stimulate and strengthen dignity, meaning, and community among internal and external stakeholders. Out of those interdependent elements, the culture is shaped.

Moral Development and Integral Coaching

How do coaches explore the moral dimensions of leadership without passing judgment in the process? How might we engage in inquiry in ways that stimulate careful reflection on the leader’s and organization’s impact on others and nature? Carefully, yet courageously. Moral development is a dialogue of exploration that requires looking truthfully at the short-term, intermediate, and long-term responsibilities that go with positions of authority. How can we do that?

As mentioned earlier, coaching always starts with where a client is, presently, and develops from there. The coaching might initially start in the cognitive domain, yet quickly move toward explorations of the body, emotions, and spirit—noticing how one dimension relates to the other.

This entire process moves developmentally toward maturity, in moral and spiritual terms, through three basic stages, according to Carol Gilligan (1982). At the first stage, we encounter behavior that is self-interested and selfish. This looks out for Number One, regardless of what it means for others. I am the center of the universe, and I act accordingly. There is a “me and the rest of the world.” The second stage encounters behavior that expresses care. When our circle of concern expands, we see our self-interest as being directly tied up with the self-interests of others in our close-in tribes (based on some particular likeness, belief, or affiliation). These tribes have an insular feel, with members acting one way with other tribal members, and another with those not of the tribe. There is an “our and they” or “insiders and outsiders” experience. At the third stage, we experience the interconnectedness of people everywhere and our connection to nature. This is expressed by behaviors that act from a sense ofuniversal care. At this level, the entire global community and ecology are seen in an “I-Thou” relationship. There is an inclusive “we” experience. This third moral stage acknowledges and behaves as if people anywhere are part of one tribe, inseparable, where we experience the joys and suffering of others as akin to our own. This universal tribe willingly acts from an active reverence for the ecological commons and the global human community.

When under duress, stress, conflicts of interest, or the intoxication of privilege or power (in service to self-interest), anyone can fall from a higher moral stage to lower ones—sometimes dropping two moral stages in Gilligan’s taxonomy.

Each of these three stages has to do with harnessing intelligence, as well. The first stage, selfishness, is the harnessing of the individual for the individual. The second, care, is for harnessing the collective intelligence of one’s close-in tribes for the care of those tribes. And finally, the third,universal care, involves the full-fledged harnessing of the collective intelligence of the human community to benefit the whole community, including those least well off and those who are the least powerful. As leadership coaches, we can choose to bear witness for the well-being of the global community through our listening, distinctions, questions, and provocations. Or, to put it in reverse, we can choose to take part in conversations with powerful leaders, with the dispossessed and those without voice or power – sitting invisibly on our shoulders, listening with us, wondering how we will call forth and speak for the dignity of their spirits and ask questions that honor their predicaments.

stewardship graphic

Figure 2: Stewardship

What the integral framework provides for leadership coaches and leadership coaching is a way to see the wholeness of the playing field we enter every time we engage in coaching. By holding a framework of wholeness, we can be more attentive, careful, and caring about what we listen for and inquire about with leaders. It enables us to have a balanced awareness and approach to supporting the personal flourishing of a leader in service to the responsibilities and opportunities that accompany their position. Connecting the interior landscape with the exterior reality becomes the muse.

In one of the Hindu sacred texts, the Mahabharata, the warrior Arjuna pauses to confer with Lord Krishna before beginning armed battle. In his spiritual confusion, he confesses to Krishna, “I’m torn because I don’t know whether the real battle is on the field or in my heart,” to which Krishna responds, “I can see no difference.” A partially cultivated heart renders, at most, partially cultivated eyes for discerning the truth and knowing how to respond from the wisdom of the heart-mind instead of lower order instincts.

Engaging Oneself

What orientation might coaches embody to partner in the cultivation of wisdom in leaders? The good news is that many diverse approaches to leadership coaching work. I continue to be moved and amazed at the multitude of ways that coaching evokes transformation in leaders. It’s as if there are so many ports of entry for that catalysis, and the desire and hunger are so strong on the part of clients, that touching any one dimension of that longing throws open big doors and windows, cascading into many smaller shifts that result in a qualitative shift. It’s beautiful to behold.

Based on my own experience, I also know that I am able to coach only to the limit of my own understanding and experience. To that degree, I am called to continually study, experiment, and grow as an experienced Integral Leadership coach, improving in the ways I am able to hold active focus on the interplay between the leader’s interior of and his or her behaviors (performance and outcomes), the surrounding culture/s (organizationally and beyond), and systems (organizational, social, ecological). That’s a rich, holistic awareness. Each of these dimensions is synergistically alive in the other, in an on-going exchange of subtle energies. Each approach holds within it the seeds of the other, and when consciously aligned tap into a synergy that has a multiplier effect, enhancing the potential for a greater capacity in four areas understood as one whole “ecological” system. From a distance, as the astronaut flies, we live within one natural biospheric system populated by endless systems within systems. Our challenge in part is to act as if we understand that we are one interdependent biospheric system.

Integral Gap Analysis

Leaders are familiar with and are likely to regularly use a “gap analysis” to gauge their team’s or organization’s progress. It can also be applied to a leader as an individual. It involves three basic questions:

  • What is the current reality?
  • What is the desired future state?
  • What needs to happen to get from here to there?

Approaching each question, above, through four quadrants of leadership development (see Figure 1) accesses substantial data that directly impacts a leader’s potential for effectiveness and organizational influence.

Leaders most often are highly competent in analyzing and acting on the Exterior quadrants & less proficient with the Interior—at both the individual & collective levels. In Wilber’s language, they are more at ease and competent with “It” and “Its” than they are “I” and “We.”

The interior and exterior dimensions include the physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual developmental domains, including distinctions in levels of mastery and particular types of development. Within each of those four domains, the span of focus includes the individual, team, organization (and stakeholders), and finally the whole human community and global ecology.

What is the Current Reality?

  • What is the leader’s current level of development around self-awareness (in the physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual domains), self-appraisal (strengths and weaknesses), feeling of being treated with dignity, finding meaning through work, and balance of self-confident and humility? (Competency in the Personal Dimension)
  • Are the organization’s culture and shared values healthy and compatible with long-term sustainability? Is the leader strategically helping to shape and strengthen the culture, core values, norms, and desired behaviors? (Competency in the Cultural Dimension)
  • What is the leader’s current level of personal development around behaving authentically, walking their talk, relationship building, transparency, courage, driving positive change, executing strategic plans, appropriately using technology, engaged in on-going due diligence, etc.? (Competency in the Behavioral Dimension)
  • What is the leader’s current level of development with business systems acumen, accountability with stakeholder groups, care for the health and well-being of people, stewardship for ecological systems, active care for the organization’s sustainability & long-term impact on the global community? (Competency in the Systems Dimension)

What is the desired Future State?

  • What is the leader’s desired level around self-awareness, self-assessment, dignity, meaning, and balance between self-confidence and humility? (Competency in the Personal Dimension)
  • What is the leader’s desired role and impact re the organizational culture’s core values and behaviors around empathy, compassion, courage, ethics, collaboration, and general social awareness? (Competency in the Cultural Dimension)
  • What is the leader’s desired level of personal development around behaving authentically, walking the talk, relationship building, executing strategic plans, technology, finance, etc.? (Competency in the Behavioral Dimension)
  • What is the leader’s desired level of development around business systems acumen, accountability with stakeholders, care for the health and well-being of people, stewardship for ecological systems that affect the organization’s sustainability & long-term impact on the global community? (Competency in the Systems Dimension)

What needs to happen to get from the Current Reality to the Future State? (to intentionally develop and implement actions that bring congruence and mutual reinforcement to the Personal, Cultural, Behavioral, & Systems Dimensions)

  • What actions are needed— with exercises and practices to expand awareness and distinctions, enhance judgments and behaviors, cultivate feedback loops for heightened awareness and self-correction, and strengthen networks— within a particular time frame, to achieve desired outcomes?

The actions of leaders, like those of anyone, are affected by their internal personality traits, biography, education, expertise, strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, and shadows. Their actions, in turn, impact their internal reality—their sense of self-respect and dignity, optimism or pessimism, victor or victim. At a social level, leaders are affected by their interactions with colleagues, family, friends, and stakeholders. The push-pull is ever-present.

Moving through an integral gap analysis affords coach and leader a thorough window and considerable data for focused development.

An Integral Leadership Coach’s Dream

When I daydream about clients I’d love to coach, I imagine being inside the world of CEOs of traditional companies wanting to re-design to triple bottom line companies or coaching government leaders who have identified stewardship and sustainability as key issues in their leadership vision. Yet, there is one client—even more than these—that dominates my imagination: Mother Earth. I wonder what it would be like to coach this most successful of all CEOs in history. This humble servant leader that has organized an incomparably vast network of intelligence, diverse resources, and organic technologies worldwide, into the most efficient, collaborative, “green,” durable, and resilient productive enterprise ever.

What would it be like to coach her? Here’s how I envision it. During the first meeting, I am sitting across from Mother Earth. She is perched in a sturdy winged-back chair, ever so slowly rotating on her axis, yet basically remaining in place. Patiently, she listens as I describe our coaching partnership, our agreements, the way we’ll be focusing on things that matter to her – areas in which she wants to develop and grow. I let her know that I’d like to do a series of interviews with her stakeholders.

She’s a great listener, absorbing everything I say and do. I’m immediately aware of being in the presence of stillness and dynamism. How does she do that, I wonder. I know from readings about her that she spins at almost 1,000 miles per hour (not to mention hurling at 67,000 miles per hour through space in her revolution of the sun), yet she appears to be still much of the time. I’ve got to watch my assumptions. As I take in her presence, I feel her unconditional acceptance.

I recognize right away that this is an eloquent, no-nonsense client. She doesn’t speak in the conventional way, and will require more subtle capacities in me for a good working relationship to take form. I sense she is poet and artist, creator and destroyer, made manifest in her being. Sheis art and science, species and integral systems, flora and fauna, emergence and dissipation. She seems to have it all. I recognize we’ll have to collaborate differently than I have with any other client I’ve ever encountered.

Before long I have that recurrent feeling as a coach: being both the coach and the coachee. I am learning as much from the client (about myself and the world) as the client could be learning with me. We are mutually exploring, experimenting with what is and what wants to be.

I pose a series of questions to Mother Earth: “What explains how successful you’ve been? What have been some of your most meaningful experiences over time? What has helped shape who you are? What’s going well right now that you appreciate and want to reinforce? What would it be like if it was even better? What could you be doing more of, less of, or differently that would make a difference that mattered? What goals do you want to set so that our conversations can be purposeful and meaningful? How can I best support you in meeting your goals?”

I listen and observe quietly, relaxed and appreciatively. Clearly, she speaks with a different voice than any to which I‘m accustomed. She provides detailed pictures of what’s going well and where there are breakdowns—pointing to parts of her being, her somatic self. From what I am observing, I can see she is “saying” a great deal, yet, honestly, I know I’m missing a lot. It’s as if she is speaking in some ancient tongue that, surprisingly, I grasp. I hear Mother Earth say, “It seems you are a little distant when you sit with me, observing, calling me Mother Earth. I feel as if you are observing but not really seeing; listening but not hearing. Why not occasionally use my initials when you are addressing me and just call me ‘ME’?” Hmm, I felt that one.

Over the first several sessions, I’m gathering information. I go to people who have studied her, taken her measure, so to speak, and spoken for her. Here’s what I’m told. Mother Earth has mastered efficiency, is full cycle, is constantly seeking value in detritus so that there is no waste – everything is valuable to some other part of her systems. But, there is one species that has had an impact that challenges her capacity to absorb and self-correct: humans.

ME absorbs everything that is – all the creation and destruction of life, beauty and poisons, life and death – from the tectonic plates to micro-organisms. Nature is full cycle. Humans have introduced non-organic toxins at a level that go beyond her capacity to absorb and cleanse them. Her precious topsoil that takes 1000 years to accumulate one fertile inch is being washed away at a rate that threatens human capacity to grow enough food to feed itself. Her topsoil continues to be poisoned through oil-based fertilizers, making agriculture the most polluting industry in America. “What are you doing to ME?” she asks. She’s playing with my head and heart. Trying to wake me up—I finally begin to listen more intently, with more awareness to connections between things, as if what I ask about her is also about me.

Now I’m spinning on my axis, and we’ve just really begun to dialogue in earnest. As I observe and feel, she reveals to me that her most advanced species is caught in a negative feedback loop based on continual growth and diminishing resources. Mesmerized by an ancient historical belief in dominance and competition, it is killing her natural capital—astonishingly, the very capital that this most developed species takes for granted—even though the species is dependent on nature for everything it needs for survival.

Between sessions, as her coach, it is I who end up being given homework. She asks that I read Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse (2002) . Then she suggests Green to Gold (Esty and Winston 2005), and both of Al Gore’s books (1992, 2006) so that I can get a better handle on envisioning how a healthy, sustainable economy coheres with healthy, vibrant ecosystems and the organizations and societies they support. And there are still other things she suggests for me to read, places to visit, people to talk with.

She suggests I visit three different types of her ecosystems. Type I is a random mix of organisms, plant, and animal species—an area of intense activity around abundant resources. There is only a drive to reproduce, consume, and move on. Think of the opportunities for weeds in a farmer’s newly turned field. Type II reflects the beginnings of cooperation and balance between some organisms, throwing down deeper roots that endure the seasonal changes, resulting in more stability over time, some cooperation, and more efficient usage of available resources. Think of the farmer’s field with perennial berry bushes and tree seedlings. Type III is a fully integrated, self-organized flow of energy exchange between organisms, in a state of relative equilibrium, living in synergy and characterized by zero waste—everything providing service and value to other systems, with totally efficient usage of available resources. Think of prairies, coral reefs, old-growth redwood forests. (For more on these three types of ecosystems (Benyus, 1990).

As I ponder those three Types, I sense they are roughly equivalent to Gilligan’s three levels of moral development. Type I is akin to moral level one: selfish; Type II is like moral level two: care for one’s own tribes (or species); and Type III is roughly equivalent to outcomes from care for the global tribe. Nature, then, has its own dynamics of selfishness, cooperation, and enlightened self-interest. If we study nature’s lessons, we may learn from her organic intelligence embedded in nature’s technology and systems that efficiently filters water, transforms sunlight to energy, grows protein-rich marine life, and scrubs the air—in ways beyond the best technological capacity of humans—and does so for free. Free. For the poor, agrarian, and wage-workers in the world, this is a huge stabilizing force.

I love this coaching relationship I have with ME! Everything I learn about her helps me in some direct or indirect way. Whether literally or metaphorically, every conversation, observation, reflection, and exploration with new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving is unifying. Fragments of myself are coming together.

Coaches are observing, inquiring assemblers of our clients’ storyboards. And, more often than not, those storyboards happen to resemble big parts of our selves, as well. When that storyboard expands outward to include our experiences and relationships with Nature, we are able to reflect on how to live sustainably and flourish. If coaches and leaders are attentive to the natural order (the matrix of life), then we will understand how to properly steward our environment and design our businesses.

Integral and Non-Integral – Does It Matter?

Can an integral approach offer value that is qualitatively different from non-integral? Unlike earlier decades and centuries, it seems that the tipping points of the late 20th century and early 21st century, especially climate change and pollution, call for leaders to be more aware of the impact of visible and hidden connections that bind humans to humans and humans to nature—not just at the organizational and local levels, but fundamentally at a systems global level. Individual and business actions cascade well beyond their locale.

Leadership coaching, like any other enterprise, is a medium for growth, perhaps even a measure of enlightenment, enhancing one’s capacity to enjoy and contribute to a meaningful life. Whether people ‘chop wood and carry water’ or lead large organizations in the delivery of goods or services, they can choose to cultivate an attitude of openness, observation, and learning about the deeper and broader connections in life. Coaches and leaders together explore the visible and hidden structures that make life work.

Purposeful conversations, self-observation exercises, and behavioral practices serve to enhance a leader’s capacity for wise stewardship of vital resources. The fruits of the collaborative inquiry between leaders and coaches help leaders engage the best intelligence available for implementing responsible strategies to benefit local and global customers—and to do so in ways that preserve and restore the health of the global commons. Global communications and a global economy have dissolved boundaries of space and time, making us virtual neighbors and intellectual partners no matter our coordinates on the map. This self-organizing global network is re-designing the very architecture of human living to attune with nature. That attunement may well be human history’s greatest breakthrough in healing the human spirit.

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Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Esty, D. and Winston, A. (2006). Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage. New Have, CT: Yale University Press.
Fast Company (2005a). The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.
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Gore, A. (1992). Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. New York, NY: Rodale, Inc.
Gore, A. (2006). An Inconvenient Truth. Emmaus, P A: Rodale Books.
Greenleaf, R. (1982). The Leader as Servant.
Hawken, P. (1993). The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.
Hawken, P., Lovins, A.& Lovins, L. (1999a) “A Roadmap for Natural Capitalism” ( Harvard Business Review, May-June).
Hawken, P., Lovins, A.& Lovins, L. (1999b). Natural Capitalism. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
HM Treasury (2006), “Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change” see
Inc. (2005) “Leading Ideas: Culture Drives Success” Inc. magazine, July 25, 2005
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007,
McDonough, W. & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to Cradle. New York, NY: North Point Press.
Nattrass, B. & Altomare, M. (1999). The Natural Step for Business. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers.
Robert, K. (2007). “The Natural Step” (see
Trail, P. (March, 2007). “The Earth Precepts” from Shambhala Sun. Halifax, Canada: Shambhala Sun Press.
Wheatley, M. (1992). Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco, C A: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Whyte, D. (1996). “Loaves and Fishes” from The House of Belonging: Poems. Langley, W A: Many Rivers Press.
Worldwatch Institute (2006). State of the World 2006. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
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Lloyd Raines is a seasoned executive coach (Master Certified Coach, International Coach Federation), consultant, and trainer, and Principal of Integral Focus. He applies insights from the behavioral sciences, action learning, moral considerations, and integral development to help clients expand their individual and organizational awareness, teaming capabilities, and performance within a global context. He supports leadership growth in self-awareness, attentiveness, and impact through dialogue, experiential learning, and collaboratively designed practices that consider the breadth and depth of stewardship responsibilities. Lloyd is a founding member of Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program where he continues to teach, a member of the International Coach Federation, ICCO, Coach University, and The Mankind Project. He is certified in the Leadership Circle, Cultural Transformation Tools, PeopleScan (Spiral Dynamics), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and Syntax Communication Modeling (NLP). He earned an MS in The Administration of Justice at American University and his BA in Psychology at the University of Maryland. He enjoys writing, café conversations, his two artistic daughters in NYC, and the buzz of an enriched life with his wife and their energetic chocolate Lab.

Office: 301 933-8280; Cell: 240-277-8660;


  1. Yun on May 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    I agree with the comments aleadry posted. I’d ask the team what impact it has on their work when team members don’t show up, and what they want to do about it.I think AL coaches have to be careful and clear when they wear the dual hats of AL program manager and coach. I experienced this situation with a team working a multi-month org challenge. I was serving as program manager and coach. The team developed a lot of hostility toward one member who wouldn’t show and wasn’t pulling his weight. They would not confront the individual directly, but the non-verbals could have knocked you over! Since they knew the AL experience was part of hi-po leadership development, they looked to me in my PM role to do something about the non-participating individual. The Problem Owner was aware of it, so I deferred to him to take action about the individual’s lack of participation. (He didn’t, that I could tell.) It all came to a head when the AL teams were finished, and they wanted some mention of their work/contribution included in performance appraisals, since the AL engagement took a considerable amount of their time. The PO decided to honor that request and wrote that input, as he was in their management chain. Which brings up another issue for a Program Manager and the leadership sponsoring AL teams: setting clear expectations up front with participants about AL as a development activity, rather than a performance expectation. What will be formally documented? How will uneven participation be regarded? Would love to hear some other experiences on this one, from the Program Manager perspective. My own experience tells me it’s better to frame it solely as a developmental experience, and to keep it out of the performance appraisal process.