Feature Article: Field Testing the Integral Model in the Middle East

Elza S. Maalouf

Abou Nidal, our East Jerusalem Arab driver, is a big sturdy man who promised to take us anywhere in the Palestinian Territories. “These are our people. Safety is not an issue,” he proudly said. Well, not quite…

On May 20th Dr. Don Beck, a geopolitical consultant and co-founder of Spiral Dynamics integral, and I finished a presentation to the various non-governmental agencies (NGOs) in the West Bank and were heading to our next meeting at Fatah headquarters. Leaving the building we heard gun shots and saw Abou Nidal running towards us.

“A Hamas leader is injured and Hamas and Fatah might have a face-off,” he was saying.

Before he finished his sentence loud gun shots went off one street away and we heard a loud angry crowd approaching.

I yelled, “Let’s get in the car!” and “assumed” that our Fatah meeting was canceled. I knew that safety was indeed an issue and it was time to leave. In what seemed like forever, but was actually only a 20 minute journey back to the Israeli checkpoint, I was reminded of what “reality” looks like in this part of the world as armed men stood on each side of the road, facing each other and ready to pull the trigger.

Integral Leadership? Transcend and include? As an Integral Leadership consultant, I know that the integral approach calls on transcending the old value systems, beliefs, levels and stages of development, theories and models and including them in our new way of being. But my work in the Middle East leads me to question our methodologies. What versions of systems are we transcending and including? Is it the United States’ version or the multitude of versions that exist in our global world? We are more interconnected than ever before, yet so fragmented. For those of us living in a First World environment can we transcend and include energetically all levels and deal realistically with the different versions on a personal and cultural level? I know my bio-psycho-social systems and AQAL were put to the test this time in Israel/Palestine.

Integral Leadership is a situational leadership that has the resilience and complexity to deal with the spectrum of value systems in cultures and people. One of its main functions is to facilitate the emergence of new ways of thinking and to create a framework that can hold all key aspects of an organization in a coherent way: people, products, culture and systems. The main mission of an integral approach is to incorporate the various insights, models and theories in a style that builds on the strength of its various components to support change.

The Middle East presents a different version of Integral Leadership and calls on a different set of skills and an urgency to be centered in one’s own awareness at all times. The warmth of the tribal values that is still prevalent in business and socio-political environments relaxes you, yet can irritate you when it gets in the way of efficiency or objective decision-making. The power driven assertive nature of many egocentric leaders can both facilitate movement and at the same time destroy all efforts to build sustainable systems. The absolutist approach to religion provides a respectful moral code yet repels any attempt for a rational or innovative approach to communication and organization. The spread of capitalism in the Arab countries allows a certain level of success and empowerment of the individual and, to a certain extent, empowerment of women.

The Middle East version of capitalism, however, did not evolve in the same way as Western capitalism, i.e., the accumulation of capital that led to the industrial age and the quantum leap to the information age. Even though the Middle East benefits from the use of technology and the purchasing power that petrodollars provides, it lacks the socio-economic infrastructures that can slowly move the society to a First World capacity. In Spiral Dynamics talk, the Middle East region is centered in Purple-Red—Red (tribal-warrior culture) with a version of Blue (order and law) emerging from religion, not from Nation building and democracy. An Orange or capitalist desire is prevalent in the business sector, but without the underlying foundation of law that exists in the West.

My Work in The Middle East consists of three parts:

(1) Integral Cultural work that consists of facilitating emergence of new value systems in the Arab countries through culturally fit projects in various arenas. I am, for example, working with Dr. Don Beck on translating the integral conceptual framework to a real model that can be used for progress with real steps forward in Israel and Palestine.

(2) Integral Consulting/Coaching with corporations and governmental agencies in Kuwait and Dubai.

(3) Development of Integral Women, working with Arab women to support their transformation and full participation in their culture.

Here is a brief outline of my experience as an integral consultant working in the Middle East in these three areas.

Integral Cultural work: Israel/Palestine

Recently, Don Beck and I took our second trip to Israel/Palestine. The founders of Integral Israel invited Don last February to bring his expertise to the geo-political conflict of the century. Don invited me to join him to initiate the Palestinian side of the project. There was no hesitation on my part!

That first trip was a journey of discovery—time spent listening to key people on both sides. An article about Don’s work and theory written by a reporter in Haaretz introduced the larger public to the Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) developmental model. Two hundred people attended our half-day presentation in Tel Aviv and many of them wanted more.

On our second trip Don gave an SDi Level 1 certification training to 30 Israeli consultants, academicians and NGO representatives, some of whom work closely with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his cabinet. Generally speaking, Israel is an open system and has created First World business and socio-political systems that provide enough stability and opportunities to its citizens even in the midst of the conflict with Palestine.

Palestinians in the West Bank are facing difficult life conditions and dealing with paradoxes in their society and culture. The stream of well-meaning, peace-loving Westerners with non-violent communication initiatives and Ahimsa training programs has left them suspicious of all new initiatives since success to date has been minimal. Needless to say it is not easy to present a new systemic approach with a new perspective to solve their problems!

Many said to me, “We are tired of people coming here to test their theories on us.”

Wafaa Abdel Rahman, the Director of Filastinyat, an active NGO in Ramallah, put it best: “We feel like lab rats, but we do not have the luxury to say no to any initiative. We have to try anything and everything that comes our way.”

Whole Systems Approach…and more

After our first trip to Israel, and prior to Hamas’ victory, I asked Don, “What’s our strategy?”

He replied, “Which one? Yesterday’s, today’s or tomorrow’s?”

I realized and witnessed Don constantly assessing life conditions, the changing socio-political situation and with it the changing value systems and behaviors. Don stayed light on his feet adjusting his strategy as the socio-political situation changed. No cookie-cutter approach here—just splendid flexible second tier thinking and integrally designed applications.

Don’s work in Israel/Palestine is to present an objective analysis of the deep differences in the value systems that frame the issues within and between Israel and Palestine. Using the systemic analysis of the memetic codes (cultural DNA), a process will be created to support the design of political, economic, social, educational, and architectural habitats that will address the needs of each culture separately while being mutually productive.

This conceptual framework was explained to Israelis and Palestinians separately to help each culture design and align their own systems first. What drove this point home for me was a question Don put to a political leader in the West Bank:

Don asked, “What would happen if Israel moves to another continent tomorrow?”

The gentlemen said that the Palestinians would fight with each other.

Therefore, the focus in Palestine is on assessing the culture and designing systems to help with that transition. At our meeting with the NGOs, Don proposed a “Build Palestine Initiative” as a new movement for Palestinians. Not a new Party, not a third way. A movement for all Palestinians and all parties. This movement will be supported by international organizations and think tanks that can help Palestinians build a healthier society.

Integral Consulting/Coaching: Dubai & Kuwait

Dubai, of course, is attracting world attention for its colossal development initiatives. You just have to open GQ, Vanity Fair or the New Yorker magazines recently to read about the tallest building in the world, the largest shopping center in the world, the man-made Palm shaped islands or myriad other features of this opulent desert kingdom.

Kuwait’s economy is booming now from oil revenues and from the reconstruction projects in Iraq. However, Kuwaitis like other nationals of the Gulf region are not the majority of the work force. The owners of businesses are Kuwaitis but the managers and employees come from Egypt, Lebanon, Philippines, India and other countries. Dubai’s workforce, likewise, is made up of guest workers from other countries.

The true challenge we face in consulting with Dubai and Kuwaiti corporations is to devise strategies and training programs that can fit the various value systems in organizations from these diverse populations. These organizations often approach their tasks from two different perspectives. One corporation may have a competent CEO who worked in Western companies before moving back home and now faces the challenge of developing a culture and systems that can compete in the global market. Another corporation may have a power driven leader who uses top down decision-making, nepotism and manipulation of his people and clients to survive in such a marketplace.

For example, here are two common personnel issues in the Arab world. The first issue is that there is a scarcity of personnel who can function well in a power-driven marketplace and who can carry out key corporate functions. The second issue is that tribal affiliation may supercede competency. For example, a general manager at a petroleum product company in Dubai was facing a dilemma with one of his sales managers who was basically “stealing money” from the company by getting unauthorized commissions from clients. The GM told me that he has to keep the sales manager, because he is known as a go-getter in the industry and will be immediately snatched by the competition. Meanwhile, a director of a governmental agency is assigned his job based on his tribal identity but lacks competence in performing his responsibilities. He is really hostile to any subordinate who shows leadership and innovation.

There are many factors, however, that are supporting an upward shift in mindsets in the Arab world in general. The most crucial is that the world is becoming increasingly global in its economies and impact, as New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman describes in his book, The World is Flat. The leaders of the Arab world understand they must compete on a global basis and, coupled with an eagerness in the Arab psyche to build on historic achievements and usher a new Arab Renaissance, they are eager to do so.

When I work with Middle Eastern organizations, I make sure I have the full support of the decision-maker, usually the positional authority. Coaching him or her, in most cases, is the key element to any success we want to achieve in the company. To my delight, I am on occasion able to present the AQAL model and the color codes of Spiral Dynamics, which makes our conversations much easier. My coaching style is more feminine and process oriented with a focus on the leader’s self-awareness and self management. Starting with the Upper Left quadrant does not happen naturally with leaders from the Middle East. We almost always ease into it from the Upper Right quadrant. Much of the time we are dealing with the Lower Left culture of the company.

When giving a leadership training program to senior management, I title it Leadership Empowerment seminar or other more common titles unless the leader is fine with the Integral model and terminology.

While attending the Center for Human Emergence Netherlands event in which more than 900 Dutch embraced the concepts within Spiral Dynamics integral, I felt the power of such a gathering and the potential for change it brought to an area. Thus, I was inspired to launch the Center for Human Emergence, Kuwait and Dubai, with two integrally informed Arab leaders. We are still in the initial stages of our project but small steps are taken everyday. We started with the Arabic translation of Spiral Dynamics material and parts of Ken Wilber’s Theory of Everything. This erasure of the language barrier will help us introduce the integral model to a wider audience.

Development of Integral Women: Arab Women

This is another new integral initiative for the Middle East. We invited one of the founders of the Human Potential movement, Jean Houston, to Dubai in November to offer her “Social Artistry for the Middle East, a new Kind of Leadership.” Jean addressed Arab women in a letter I took with me in April to Dubai saying:

This is the most important time in human history, and one in which Arab women have the opportunity to play a critical role in keeping with their culture, and yet will enhance the life and empowerment of women everywhere. We must remember however, that for a new world to be born we have to bring a new mind to bear. Critical to this is the rich mind style of women that has been gestating in the womb of preparatory time, lo these many millennia.

Jean’s social artistry has been used by the United Nations Development programs to train leaders for the complexities of the 21st century. We feel that this will begin to seed the consciousness of Arab women in the possibilities of their critical contribution to Arab emergence. Although it may remain largely hidden to western eyes, many Arab women are already initiating change with individual programs.

My integral vision for the feminine in the Arab world is to fuse together these fragmented efforts into a coherent whole, bringing the process-oriented, intuitive, feminine into the realm of Arab emergence. Such emergence will be circular, empathic and narrative added to the linear, sequential, and objective nature of the masculine, activating the holonic vision for the whole society.

Building the Future

Through such initiatives, I am optimistic about the prospects for progressive change in the Middle East. The Modern Arab world is emerging, and I know that integrally informed teachers and leaders in the West and the Middle East will help facilitate this emergence.

The SDi model offers a fresh perspective to a region inundated by all kinds of Western designed theories that in most cases are not congruent with the culture of the Middle East . Most approaches face resistance, especially in the Arab countries where they are looked at as Westernization tools that can be disrespectful of Islam. The SDi model tracks how value systems form in a culture, and how they shape and are shaped by their geographic spaces and life conditions. It identifies the complex adaptive intelligences that emerge in response to these conditions. In the Middle East, that results in a change/transformation model that maps out real world strategies and actions to deal with the region’s fragmented and polarized social systems.

On another level, The SDi perspective allows the West to see the Middle East through different lenses; not Islam or Christianity, Arabs or Israelis, but people with different value systems and different cultural codes. Having Dr. Don Beck on board for our Middle East initiative is most valuable! His intuitive sense of the issues and his decades of experience in the field allow him to engage a Zulu leader and a fierce Palestinian fighter with the same mastery he engages leaders in modern Western democracies.