Feature Article: Developing Leadership Capacity: Searching for the Integral

Mary Key, Ph.D. and Robin Wood, Ph.D.

Leadership involves inspiring people and organizations to develop the capacity to create the futures they desire. This often means leaders are called upon to stimulate significant changes in human systems, which invariably require changes in individual behaviors. For such changes to be sustainable, individuals must examine the meaning that gives rise to their behaviors and the leaders must engage with those meanings inside themselves.

Dozens of scholars and commentators have attempted to define what really lies at the heart of great leadership. Bennis (1998) proclaimed the four universal traits of leadership as the management of attention, trust, self, and meaning. Hersey and Blanchard proposed a “situational leadership” model, while Kegan (1982 & 1984) talks about leadership as the making of meaning and examines the developmental challenges of the evolving self in reconciling differences.

Kotter (1990) sees leaders as being people with high energy, drive, solid mental health, intelligence, and integrity, who are able to establish direction, align people, motivate and inspire, take on multiple roles, and develop thick, informal networks.

Wheatley (1992) talks about participative leadership in self-organizing systems, drawing on the metaphors of the new sciences, which one of the authors of this paper later echoed in his study of the way successful leaders managed complexity, captured in the idea of “collaborative capitalism” (Wood 2000).

White et al. (1996) assert five key skills of leaders:

  • Continually learning things that are hard to learn;
  • Maximizing energy as masters of uncertainty;
  • Capturing the essence of an issue to achieve resonant simplicity;
  • Balancing the long and the short term in multiple focus;
  • Applying an inner sense or a gut feeling in the absence of decision support data.

Trompenaars and Hampden Turner’s “reconciliation theory,” based on a large global database of managerial cultural preferences, asserts that successful leaders must:

  • Elicit and become aware of major dilemmas in trans-cultural environments;
  • See dilemma resolution as a crucial ingredient of strategy;
  • Utilize dilemmas as strategic contexts for action;
  • Learn the art of achieving one value through another in a virtuous circle (a process known as “through-through thinking”); and
  • Understand how trans-national entrepreneurs take their stands (preneur) between (entre) contrasting values.

Many other authors and researchers have faced this struggle and have published numerous prescriptions and explanations. However, they lack a coherent underlying rationale or fundamental principle that predicts effective leadership behaviors. These models tend to seek the same end, but they differ in approach as they try to encapsulate the existing body of knowledge about what makes a good leader.

Given this background, it is not surprising that a recent study of over one hundred companies undergoing major change initiatives found that eighty-five percent don’t result in tangible, long-lasting results. One of the major reasons for this failure is that we are not taught how to make sense out of what appears to be a chaotic set of circumstances (Anderson, Klein, and Stuart 1999). Clearly, we need new ways of viewing information and the world to effect positive change in leadership and beyond.

Philosopher Ken Wilber (2001) offers a simple and elegant framework that we can use to organize the many facets of leadership and provides a lens through which we can see its future evolution. Wilber’s “integral” or integrated approach is based upon a two dimensional matrix. The two dimensions are:

  • From left to right: interior to exterior; and
  • From top to bottom: individual to collective.

In Wilber’s “All Quadrants” framework, subjective experience appears on the left hand side (ME and WE), while the objective characteristics of the world and ourselves appear on the right (IT and ITS/THEM). Equally, our individual experience appears on the top row, while our collective experience appears on the bottom row. This framework is a useful way to sort leadership development and change interventions, because an integrated approach requires representation in all four quadrants.

Figure 1- The Integral Framework:
Wilber’s Framework for “A Theory of Everything”

Leaders don’t operate in isolation. As leaders make the transition to meet today’s challenges, they must consider which aspects of the leader, organization, and system are being impacted in order to set priorities and act on information. Wilber and others have found that an “all quadrant” approach is essential for effective change. In other words, organizations that embark on systemic change and development must address each quadrant of change. Here’s an example using the quadrants as they apply to change and leadership in organizations:

Figure 2- The Integral Leadership Grid:
An Integral Approach to Leadership and Organizational Development

All four quadrants are important for the development of leaders and for producing organizational shifts. The purpose of most change initiatives is to create a new and improved system for such things as increasing capacity, speed to market, merging cultures, responding to customers, or innovating for competitive advantage. In looking at why leaders often fail in leading change, two reasons stand out. First, the focus does not include attention to all four quadrants when clearly a whole systems approach is needed. Second, change efforts are often piecemeal or linear in orientation and usually ignore the left hand side or internal portion of Wilber’s framework.

Below we have added some questions that are representative of the issues each quadrant deals with regarding leadership and change.

Leading Starts with Self Knowledge

Leaders need to begin with themselves in order to understand what is going on around them more accurately. If leaders cannot change and transform themselves personally and find their own peace and joy in self-knowledge, then seeking to “create value” or “make a profit” can become a series of meaningless, unsustainable activities. How can leaders work toward greater self-knowledge?

When addressing the challenges in the top left quadrant, start by reflecting on your answers to these questions:

  • What is affecting rather than informing you right now?
  • What are you projecting rather than perceiving?
  • How much energy does holding this position consume?
  • Are your contributions taking you towards the realization of your fear or towards the realization of your deepest intention?
  • When did you last put that energy into motion—physically, vocally, and/or experientially? In other words, when did you move beyond talking?
  • What are your underlying fears?
  • What will it take to move to a place where “acceptance” is not only thought, but also felt with your whole being?
  • What is your natural leadership style? Are you using it in your interactions?
  • Is it working for you? What kind of feedback are you getting?
  • If it is not working for you, how are you adjusting your natural style to the environment? How much energy is this taking?
  • What do you see as your purpose in life (purpose answers the questions, “Why do I exist? What is the essence of my passion?”)?
  •  Is your current role in alignment with that purpose?

From Self-Knowledge to Peak Performance

Moving across to the top right hand quadrant, you begin to translate your insights into ways of attaining peak performance for yourself and others. Based on personal insight and environmental feedback, finding ways to build competencies and skills is a critical element of leadership development. Furthermore, sometimes the organization you work for requires your participation in building skills for future assignments. Here are some questions that can help you think about your personal development plan and how you can improve your performance as a leader.

  • What are the skills and competencies that will help you act on your personal insights gleaned above in examining Quadrant I?
  • When do you operate at your peak? Describe the experience.
  • What are you doing? What are the conditions?
  • What do you notice about the benefits of “flow” state?
  • Are there any specific methods you use to get yourself into a peak performance state (Visualization, Coaching, NLP, etc.)?
  • Do you know what your greatest talents and skills are? How are you developing them?
  • Where would you like to improve?
  • Do you have a “scorecard” or way of holding yourself accountable for your performance? How have you performed in relation to it?
  • Think about the major decisions you have made recently. Do you feel that you have been effective?
  • What would enhance your ability to make better decisions?
  • What kinds of rewards and recognition do you receive for your performance as a leader?
  • Are there additional ways you’d like to be rewarded?

From Peak Performance to Meaning-Making

As we go to the bottom-left quadrant, consider how the value systems that operate in and around you shape the way in which the collective vision and shared experience of your organization evolve. Understanding our values and those of the organizations we lead is a precondition for expanding leadership capacity and shedding light on the importance of coherent and resonant leadership. Values deal with the interior consciousness of each of us – what drives us, what we value, and what matters. These are components we can only address when we understand the values we hold dear and the values we live out on a daily basis. Some key questions for leaders include:

  • To what extent can you describe the unique future contribution you and/or your organization can make to the world?
  • How engaged are others in this vision? How do you know?
  • Can you describe the three most important shared values in and around you and an organization you are close to?
  • How much energy and enthusiasm is there for the vision and values you have just described?
  • What is the role of leadership in recognizing and engaging with the different value systems present in the organization?
  • What are the “unwritten rules” in your organization?
  • How do these “unwritten rules” align with the values you describe?
  • Give an example of resonance or dissonance between the unwritten rules and organizational values.
  • How can you achieve alignment in the organization that you’re involved with between the different core values systems you see and the vision you describe?
  • What are you noticing about the differences among the people you work with in terms of their need for personal development?
  • How does the organizational culture you’re involved in interact with the different cultures in the local communities around it?
  • What are the stories that people tell in your organization about its history? Who are the heroes?

From Meaning-Making to Strategy and Design

The fundamental purpose of leadership is to enable the people in the system to achieve their own goals or some higher purpose – in other words, to deliver what people need, want, or never imagined, while also looking after the needs of the system as a whole. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a greater diversity of people, needs, and goals on planet earth than ever before. Despite advanced instruments and programs for cultural assessment and inter-cultural understanding, rigorous testing for personalities and competencies, and a multitude of other approaches, identifying effective leaders is getting harder. Even with our best efforts, many leadership development initiatives are preparing leaders for the organizations of yesterday rather than tomorrow. How can we move from this diagnosis of the challenges facing leadership at the dawn of the 21st century to a more effective way forward? Below are some of the questions that address the issues in the lower right quadrant:

  • What are the major trends you are noticing that impact you and the organization you are part of or close to?
  • If you were to helicopter over the organization and look at it from a detached viewpoint, what would you observe about it in terms of effectiveness?
  • Are there any blockages in or around the organization that prevent it from moving forward?
  • What kind of “players” and stakeholders does your organization interact with?
  • How much operational autonomy do the units of the organization have and to what extent do they make key decisions themselves?
  • How is your organization designed as a business? Is there one single design or a variety?
  • Are your organization’s business and management processes geared to tight control or do they allow initiatives to evolve entrepreneurially?
  • Would you characterize your organization’s decision processes as mainly rational or intuitive?
  • How do you measure organizational performance?
  • How far into the future is your organization thinking and planning?
  • As part of your planning process, does your leadership team consider alternative scenarios? If so, how do they do this?
  • How is new knowledge generated and applied in your organization? Is it driven top-down, bottom-up, or in some other way?

Spiral Models of Leadership

Over the past few centuries, leadership models and development have evolved through seven distinct phases, as shown in Table 1 below. This evolutionary process occurs because of the leaders’ ability to encompass a broader temporal, spatial, moral horizon accompanied by greater degree of empowerment, compassion, mutuality and wisdom in and around the leaders and the system they lead in (March 2001).

Each of these leadership modes is appropriate for specific kinds of life conditions where both the leader and the followers share overlapping values that enable them to resonate with each other. The leaders’ power comes from both their ability to identify with their followers and their issues, as well as the degree to which the leaders’ values, personality, and style align and resonate with those they are leading.

Leader Mode Contemporary examples
Chief (Purple) Tribal chieftain, family patriarch, corporate founder, head of a family business
Achiever (Red) Head of a fiefdom, gang leader, team captain/coach, opportunist leader, mafia head, celebrity “personality”
Authority (Blue) Religious leader, bureaucratic government official, professional, leader of a traditional institution
General, CEO, political party leader, entrepreneur
Community builder
Environmental activist leader, president of a company with a social purpose
Visionary leader who sees beyond the organization in its current state and sees possibilities that haven’t been envisioned before
Evolved leader who realizes that his/her role is that of a conduit for all; takes their organization or system to the next level of evolution by focusing on serving stakeholders

Table 1 Evolving Styles of Leadership (Beck and Cowan, 1996)

As we move ever more rapidly into the future, we’re finding a major shift in the kinds of leaders that are emerging. In the place of chiefs, achievers, and authorities we’re finding more strategists, community builders, visionaries, and servants. This mirrors the shift in values of the baby boomers from modernists to cultural creatives. It also reflects generations x and y, who are now shaping the kind of leadership they want and expect as they move into leadership positions themselves.

Based on the work of Clair Graves, the first six value systems comprise what Beck and Cowan (1996) call the “first tier,” because they involve incremental increases in complexity. After the sixth stage, a major re-organization of the brain/mind appears to occur, leading to a much more complex series of developmental stages that are capable of rising above the first tier, yet they are not attached to any specific value system. Beck and Cowan call this the “second tier” and identified individuals in their research who were beginning to operate at this level. This work was developed and advanced by the Don Beck. We will explore the first tier, then move on to establish just what second tier leadership is all about based on Beck’s work.

Leading in the First Tier

At the base of all value systems lies our physical survival mode (BEIGE), which ensured that we lived to tell the tale of being hunter-gatherers and were able to evolve into the more stable tribes that emerged as agriculture spread around the world. In this mode our thinking is automatic, and we structure ourselves into loose bands. The fulfilment of our basic needs such as food, shelter, sex, and safety tend to predominate in this mode of being.

Once our basic survival needs are covered and we are experiencing physical health, our dominant mode shifts to affiliating to a tribe or group, whether based on kinship or some other tribal affiliation. In this mode (PURPLE), we focus on our relationships in the tribe, whether it be a sports team or a native American Indian village. At its roots, purple is tribal animistic, magical, close to the earth, and cyclic in outlook. This leads to tribal groupings that focus on rituals to appease ancestral spirits. Blood bonds are strong.

Management of PURPLE demands respect for clan rules and allegiances and respect to the clan “leaders.” Rewarding someone too visibly can break the group bond with negative consequences. Change must be embodied in rituals, traditions, and symbols (guardian angels and voodoo-like curses, blood oaths, lucky charms, superstitions, athletic team bonding).

The values driving our decision-making are likely to be based on what is acceptable or “cool” within the tribe and what will enhance our affiliations. We will show allegiance to the corporate tribe, the union, or team and will carry out rituals according to the tribe’s particular customs and beliefs. The primary driver in this mode of being is the need to belong. We could call this mode of being the “Affiliator.” Perhaps 10% of the world population spend most of their time in this vMeme, wielding a limited amount (1%) of power.

Tribal affiliations work so long as the group of people we are dealing with can remember each other by face or name. When a group exceeds 150 people, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a relationship or an acquaintance with all of the tribe members, and a different form of organization becomes necessary. Once we feel our basic needs are covered and we have learned how to belong to a tribe of some kind, we awake to the possibility of being exactly what we are and doing what we want regardless of others.  In this mode we break free from the constraints others impose and fully enjoy ourselves in the moment without guilt or remorse (RED).
In its blocked or arrested forms, Red can be exploitative, rough, and harsh. Rugged authoritarianism can find its expression in slavery, virtual slavery, and the exploitation of unskilled labor. A Top Boss and series of proxies usually run a Red organizations, with a strict division of have’s and have not’s, much as in feudal times. Many red leaders assume that people are lazy and must be forced to work. True leaders must suppress natural human tendencies. This version of red is currently evident in street life and inner city gangs, who find motivation in “heroes” and conquest. Approximately 20% of the world population spend most of their time in this vMeme, wielding only 5% of power.

Red leaders can range from the head of a fiefdom,  a gang leader, a sports team captain or coach to an opportunist business leader, a mafia head, or even a celebrity “personality.” They understand that red respects power and will see any sign of kindness or forgiveness as “weakness.” It is similar to how the hard-line Islamic and Taliban radicals exploited blue/green liberal western democratic freedoms to perpetrate their terrorist network and activities, viewing such advanced systems as “weak” rather than fair, open and compassionate.

If the achiever operates using primarily physical and economic power, then the next level on the spiral (BLUE) operates according to sets of rules that are accepted throughout the system. For example, the church and clergy gave rise to a different form of power that relied on a common belief system and conformance to a particular set of rules. In organizational terms, the bureaucracies and corpocracies, which operate at the heart of our governments and corporations, require individuals who operate in them to internally buy into their code of conduct and values. Such rule-based forms of power operate primarily through the use of persuasive and rule-making power, with physical and economic forms of power only as backup.

Blue leaders range from religious leaders and bureaucratic government officials to professionals and leaders of traditional institutions. They know that Blue is authoritarian and loyal to truth, which is defined by social grouping. Purposeful and patriotic, blue leaders require followers to obey authority, feel guilty when not conforming to group norms, and to try to serve the greater good through self-sacrifice. Blue works very well in industrial economies. Discipline is strict but usually fair and often public (flogging in Singapore is tolerated, for example, due to the predominance of a blue leadership style.) The organizational structure is pyramidal, represented by institutions and figures such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, Billy Graham, Puritan Americans, Confucian China, and Islamic fundamentalists. The bulk of the world’s people is now operating out of blue, representing some 40% of world population and 30% of the power.

Once the life conditions come into being through the operation of the affiliators, power achievers, administrators, and professionals, a new mode of being becomes possible – the strategist, who is concerned primarily with trade-offs and will work across the different value systems of the other ways of being to optimize the performance of the larger system. The matrix organizational structure that evolved after the second world war, where management by objectives rules, was the first formal manifestation of a structure that required people to think like strategists organizationally. Equally, the rise of market research, business strategy, finance, and advertising during this period required a set of norms that focused on making trade-offs between different objectives. The strategist (ORANGE) is different to the power achiever in that they use persuasive means to influence others rather than pure physical or economic force.

Acting in your own self-interest by playing the game to win is one of the key ways in which the modern capitalist system operates. The belief that societies prosper through strategy, technology, and competitive edge encourages its believers to manipulate resources to create and spread the good life. Self-reliance and risk-taking mean that those who dare ultimately deserve their success and that progress is inherent in the scheme of things. In this worldview, it is every man and woman for themselves, a world that would be familiar to JR Ewing and the cast of Dallas. On the positive side, it’s the Inc. 500 entrepreneur that has pulled himself or herself up to financial success through determination and independence.

Orange is the place where the entrepreneurial ethic and a personal success orientation are most powerful, with each person rationally calculating what is to their personal advantage. Orange leaders comprise people from many walks of life, including military generals, CEOs, political party leaders, and entrepreneurs. Orange is probably the dominant vMeme in America today. Its main concerns are autonomy and manipulation of the environment, which usually results in free market economy and multi-party democracy. Orange stereotypes would include Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism, Ayn Rand, Wall Street, Rodeo Drive, the cosmetics industry, the dotcom boom, Dallas, trophy hunting, Hong Kong, GQ, and Mediterranean yachts. About 30% of the world population are now in orange wielding a disproportionately high 50% of power as they occupy major business and political offices.

Of course there are limits to how many people can play this game before it self-destructs. One good look at the environmental destruction wrought in places like Hong Kong, China’s other Special Economic Zones (especially Shenzen and Guangzhou), and the rainforests in the Amazon and large parts of South East Asia is enough to persuade even the most hardened capitalist that things can and should be done differently. The explosion of the environmental movement in the late 1980s has led to the emergence of a new global value system based around a communitarian mode of being. In this way of being (GREEN), there is a desire to share the resources and opportunities on the planet more equally, along with an emphasis on harmony, spirituality, and human development.

The golden rule (“he who has the gold makes the rules”), which applies in the achiever and strategist approaches to life, is now tempered by the need to reach decisions through processes of consensus and reconciliation. In the place of cold hard rationality, this level of the spiral has greater sensitivity and concern for others’ feelings, which is why it is called “communitarian,” centered around the core values of sensitivity and humanism.

In this green way of life, you’ll find echoes of the music of John Lennon, the work of pop star Sting, and the values according to which The Body Shop and Ben and Gerry’s used to run their ice cream company before it was sold to Unilever. This is also the realm of the cultural creatives, Rogerian counseling, Esalen, GreenPeace, Jacques Costeau, Jimmy Carter, Doctors without Borders, ACLU, animal rights, and deep ecology. The early signs of this movement surfaced in the late 1960s globally, coming to the attention of those in power via the student riots and popular music of the time. The flower power generation gave birth to hippies, free love, and a sense that material success is not everything. Once the achievers and strategists have acquired fancy homes, expensive cars, country club memberships, and all the other trappings of wealth, they often begin to ask the question: “Is this all there is?”
Concern about the inequality of wealth and the levels of pollution caused by the industrial age encourages those who have “made it” to become more empathetic and to try to find success and prosperity for those around them. Humanity now softens entrepreneurship as the problems of inclusion loom large. The focus with green is community and personal growth, equality, and attention to environmental concerns.

Green leaders need to become facilitators and less autocratic. As hierarchies blur in the move towards egalitarianism, there is a resulting tendency towards inefficiency and stagnation, which leaders need to be alert to. Green can become so bogged down and ineffectual at times that leaders need to get people to inject some of the go-getter individualism of orange back into the system.

Perhaps 10% of the global population are now centred around the green mode of being, including the “cultural creatives,” and they are now in increasing positions of influence, perhaps wielding 15% of the power, especially in Northern Europe and on the East and West coasts of North America.

Leaders can be self-actualized at any level of the spiral, though the “ideal” leader profile will vary for each level. It is also important to remember that the levels in the first tier are like a rainbow in which different colors will light up in the leader and followers depending upon life conditions.

Toward Integral 2nd Tier (Resonant) Leadership and Change

So how can we develop the strategists, community builders, visionaries, and servant leaders required for the complex life conditions we find in 21st century organizations, institutions and societies? Think of someone you admire as a great leader. Consider the impact of a variety of leaders, ranging from Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Yitzhak Rabin, the Dalai Lama, Anwar Sadat, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Martin Luther King, Igor Stravinsky Martha Graham, Mahatma Gandhi, General Colin Powell, or thousands of others one could mention. Although there are many different definitions and models of leadership, all these heroes of the last century have been deeply authentic people who have transcended their own life situations to inspire others and change the world in some profound way.

All these leaders also have one other essential quality: they resonate with people from all walks of life in many different ways. This resonance or way of striking a chord with a significant population of people is an essential dimension of leadership.

Second tier leadership operates out of a number of core organizing principles:

  • Recognition of different yet equally valuable levels of development: Resonant leadership does not seek to place one man or woman above another.  Resonant leaders recognize that each individual operates out of a center of gravity that embraces one or more levels of development, and that the concerns and issues for each level of development are different and equally important. This requires resonant leaders to co-evolve processes and outcomes that enable the different levels of development to resonate with each other and provide developmental pathways for all stakeholders and the whole system they are dealing with.
  • Distribution of power and intelligence: Resonant leadership distributes power and intelligence throughout a human system such that the leaders and the led, the governors and the governed, connect with each other in a rich field of interactions where resonance and dissonance, alignment and conflict, progress and regress, are transparent to all involved. This removes the temptation most leaders face to manipulate and separate in order to control.
  • Detachment in order to transcend specific developmental and cultural issues: Resonant leaders enable themselves and those around them to detach from specific interests and outcomes at different levels of development in order to transcend the limitations such attachments impose on the whole system, to find a better solution for everyone.
  • Co-develop a good-enough vision: Instead of micro-managing, resonant leaders spend time setting general directions. They focus on the desirable outcomes and leave the process of getting there to those responsible, thus applying the values that work at the level of the system they are operating at. This frees system members to self-organize and adapt to meet the unique challenges of the situations they encounter in their own creative way, while respecting the different value systems inherent in the spiral and the basic ingredients of the vision.
  • Set minimum specifications using a few simple rules: Organizations perform most effectively when leaders enable employees/members to create an organizational and operational environment they deem most efficient from their own perspective, at their own level of development. Leaders use a limited set of simple specifications to provide a general framework within which employees/members can interact freely, limited only by the “good enough vision” already agreed.
  • Create spaces for spiral creativity by relinquishing control and generating trust: By relinquishing some of their control through the generation of trust in their informal networks, leaders can rely on a more flexible and creative way of interacting with their colleagues. It is very difficult for creativity and innovation to emerge in an organization without self-direction. In turn, self-organization cannot happen until an informal network, suffused with sufficient trust in its own capabilities, begins to generate experiments “outside the box.” And the informal network will not support such experiments until leaders let go of some control and support learning and the mistakes that learning requires.
  • Encourage diversity and re-combination: The most robust systems in nature are the most diverse, and diversity comes about through both an openness of borders in a system as well as the re-combination of elements already within the system to create new entities that have never existed before. In the creative spaces leaders encourage as they let go of some control, re-combination of diverse elements in a rich soup of ingredients ensures that an organization will always be generating innovative new ideas and ways of doing things.

Leading Transitions in Value Systems – Applying Spiral Methods

Leadership of complex global institutions, programs, processes, corporations, and systems requires an integral approach. Integral, second tier leaders and a community of “second-tier” advisors and change agents would have to evolve themselves through the resonance of their own personal integrating structures with their work and interaction with others at all levels. In other words, as Mahatma Gandhi put it, they would need to become the change they seek in the world.

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