Feature Article: Reflections on the State of Integral Leadership Theory and Development

Russ Volckmann

Russ Volckmann

It has been almost ten years since Chris Newham, Prasad Kaipa and I had our first conversations about integral theory and Integral Leadership. Influenced by Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences and others’ work on emotional intelligence we turned to Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, No Boundary and Sex, Ecology and Spirituality for concepts and models that would be helpful.

Our work was contextualized by our own collective decades of management and leadership practice, consulting, training and coaching. Chris Newham and I pursued these ideas over a two plus year period and developed an initial framework that I published as A Leadership Opportunity. Subsequently, my work on this has been misleadingly solitary in the writing I have done and the facilitator role I have played in providing a voice for those who were also inspired in their work on leadership by integral ideas. I say misleadingly, because I have been inspired by and learned from the work of many others through their writings and in workshops. These sources have not been solely in the integral camp, but outside of it, as well. Several members of the International Leadership Association, leadership theorists and others who have published in the Integral Leadership Review or been interviewed must be included. And so, too, several writers such as Frank Visser and Mark Edwards have been making such valuable contributions.

Today I find myself wondering where has it all brought us. In this issue of Integral Leadership Review there is an interview with two authors of what I believe will be the first book specifically focused on leadership from an integral perspective that has been published by a major publishing house, Jossey-Bass. Prior books had been self-published or put out by small publishing firms. In any case, few attempted to address the issue of leadership and its development. While I have known of at least one other book in preparation, one that would feature articles by several authors, the status of that book still seems ambiguous.

We have publications about integrally-informed leadership in at least three peer-reviewed academic journals: Journal of Organizational Change Management, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Development, and Integral Review. Another will soon be published in the Leadership Review. I personally know of other articles submitted to additional academic journals, but none that I know of have been accepted as yet. In addition to the Integral Leadership Review, another journal will soon be released, we are told: AQAL, the journal of the Integral Institute. Like Integral Review, this journal will not focus on leadership, but after two introductory articles in the first volume, may have additional articles down the road.

The research opportunities—and challenges—are many. Thierry Pauchant’s 100 Books Project (Integral Leadership Review, August 2004) is one project that has potential. One dissertation that contributes to this project is almost completed. In 2000 at the Spiral Dynamicis Integral Confab, Steve March drafted a view of how leadership and organization theory shows up using an SDi influenced quardant model. As useful as this effort was, it was just a beginning. We need to meet the challenge of understanding how a potentially trans-disciplinary study, such as that of leadership, can be understood, not just through integral modeling, but through integral mapping of concepts, models and theories. This is a HUGE task! In addition, we need continued theoretical development about Integral Leadership and case studies of occurances of Integral Leadership.

While there are training programs related to Integral Leadership at the Integral Institute, The Stagen Leadership Institute, Leadership University, Notre Dame and, no doubt, other locations, it is rare to find such programs overtly billed as integral.

Theses and dissetations are being produced on Integral Leadership. One that will be completed soon for Fielding Institute focuses on the life and work of a labor leader. I am sure there are others. The new integral program at Fielding Institute might produce some useful work. I would like to see a feature added to Integral Leadership Review on “work in progress.” This would be an exellent way for researchers and writers to expand their networks in the development of their work.

Integral “institutes” are being developed in Europe (e.g., Germany) and there is evidence of European academic interest in integral theory. Interest in Australia and New Zealand has shown up in academia and consulting firms. There are a number of consultants, trainers and coaches who are working in the area of leadership development. These include (forgive me if I have not included you)

  • The Stagen Leadership Institute
  • Integral Institute
  • Axilent
  • Integral Development Associates
  • LeadCoach
  • Ron Cacciope
  • Susanne Cook-Greuter and Bill Torbert
  • Keith Bellamy

And the list goes on…Seeds are being planted; fruit is being harvested.

So what does this all mean in terms of how an integral approach to leadership can develop as a field of theory, development and practice? Clearly there is a growth in the number of applications of integral ideas to the theory and development of leadership. The integral perspective has been credited with importance for a United Nations program that was introduced in at least seven countries and has had the impact in at least one of reducing the incidence of AIDS in the effected population.

We cannot ignore the work of Don Beck and his associates in the Netherlands and in the Middle East. While the fruits of these efforts are not realized as yet, the promise is there. While the focus of these efforts is not on leadership, per se, they certainly provide one model of Integral Leadership.

We can anticipate further programmatic development and publication of articles and books on the subject in the near future. We lack clear case studies of the significance of an integral approach in the practice of leadership. Such studies are coming out of the integrally-informed work of Bill Torbert and his associates and a growing interest in stage models of development for the study of leadership. Such studies would focus on the application of integral models and mapping for gaining insights about leadership phenomena.

The intimate relationship between integral approaches and adult development theory and research offers rich potential for our learning. This will be explored in the next issue of Integral Leadership Review in an interview with Harry Lasker. Consciousness-related explorations provide an arena—in which I am not very comfortable. We will continue to publish articles on this subject in Integral Leadership Review.

We need to be cautious that what we learn about leaders and leadership from one context is not represented as guidelines for other contexts indiscriminately. One of the reasons that I value an integral approach is that it is highly effective in supporting clients in making sense out of their current situations and comprehending the choices that they must make to create what is important to them. As opposed to an approach that projects cause and effect, the integral approach provides a mapping methodology to assure that critical variables are considered in leadership and change. It is also an approach that supports understanding how to integrate diverse talents and worldviews. As Mike Jay might say, it can help people be who they can be.

The Integral Leadership Review has the potential for coming-of-age by continuing to chronicle the development of theory and practice. It is quickly becoming time to build a supporting structure for the evolution of this publication. One of the goals for 2006 is to begin to build an editorial advisory board that can guide the growth of a journal that will serve this important developing field of leadership theory and development. What will emerge from that remains to be seen. Your input and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.