Feature Article: Integral Scenarios for Leadership Development: Scenarios and Leadership Development — 4th in a Series

Russ Volckmann

Russ VolckmannSo what is all of this about scenarios? For those who are tracking this series of articles the question of what has this got to do with Integral Leadership must have occurred by now. Well, I think it has a lot to do with how the individual develops and prepares for leadership roles. This involves our shifting from thinking about leadership development as something we do to individuals to something individuals engage in with the systems in which their leader actions might emerge.

In this post-industrial age of the idea, keeping focused on old managerial notions of leadership is just not going to cut it any more, at least not in complex organizations facing high levels of ambiguity. And as we look around at what is happening in this world of natural and intentional disaster, complexity and ambiguity are here to stay. No, they will be increasing. And we are being challenged to prepare ourselves for that, individually and as human systems, organizations and institutions.

A distinction that I have found to be useful is that leader development is about individual development and leadership development is about collective and individual development. I maintain that this is an integrally informed perspective. The leader and her development can be better understood using a holonic developmental framework than other, more flatland approaches. Organization development can be similarly understood. The organization exists in a cultural and metasystemic context. Leadership development can be understood as involving the development of individuals and of systems. Each are elements in the emergence of leadership in the face of complexity and ambiguity—in the challenge to create real change.

The use of scenarios as a tool for leadership development offers a strategy for scaffolding learning for individuals that may position them to recognize and access stage perspectives different from their own under some conditions. It is different from the use of case studies, situations generally drawn from past experience in which we try to imagine the future, although the past and future are rarely the same. Scenarios are about future possibilities, about the unexpected, situations that may or may not ever occur. Says Keith Bellamy, “Scenarios are about preparing to face the future by Imagineering the future.” The value of having leaders use scenarios for development is that it prepares them for engaging with what is not expected or for what cannot be guided by the past.

Henry Mintzberg recently penned an article (that will be published early next year) about a visit to Ghana. It is a wonderful article in many respects. In it he suggests that the focus on leadership development is misplaced, particularly programs brought in from the outside in developing countries, but his comments have relevance for our considerations. He states, “The more we try to develop leaders, the more we seem to get hubris.” As an alternative he suggests,

• Fostering leadership within organizations through the promotion of thoughtful self-reliance–this can be done by creating the conditions in the organization that offer people challenges where they can learn.
• Developing people as human beings, not as leaders. Here he advocates a focus on thoughtfulness, self-respect and human values.
• Developing effective management practices that are intrinsic to leadership. Rather than separate leadership from management, treat these as two aspects of the same role.

I think Mintzberg is right on in all but the last point. It can be argued that great leadership only rarely emerges from great managers. Trying to merge the two roles is at the heart of many of the problems in the leadership literature to date. Leadership Development is providing the context in which people can continue to develop integrally as adults and that organizations can create the contexts for such development. One of the approaches that is challenging is scenario thinking, particularly if the approach is integrally informed. This is not a novel idea. The introduction of scenario thinking for leadership development has been used in many places, for example Occidental Petroleum according to Patrick Powaser—although I have not yet been able to confirm as yet that this is being done for leadership development, as opposed to management development. That distinction remains important in my thinking.

In this issue I wish to outline in a bit more detail how scenarios can be used in individual leader development with an integral approach. In doing so I wish to honor the influences of Keith Bellamy and of Kees van der Heijden and his associates at the Graduate School of Business , University of Strathclyde in England.

Kees van der Heijden, et al, have provided masterful descriptions of the scenario process in organizations. They provide a map that indicates the pre-work that is required, the process for developing scenarios and the use of stakeholder analysis and a systems check methodology to provide a scenario set that can be used for strategic sensing and action planning. These correspond to Keith Bellamy’s model of Emanation, Creation, Formation and Implementation (leave it to Keith to tell it like it is!). Keith would suggest that the van der Heijden approach focuses on management, rather than leadership. While his stages are the same, the model he promotes is far more dynamic and can, where appropriate, be done in a couple of years, months, days or even hours. A key point that Keith makes and I want to be sure is clear in this presentation is that the output of the scenario process, for example, a plan, does not have the importance as the direct impact on individuals and their thinking.

How can these frameworks be used to guide the application of scenarios in leader development programs—and ultimately to the notion of leadership development in organizations? Here the focus is on the former in this brief suggestion about how we might go about that.

The first objective is to develop individual capacity for scenario thinking. It is the experience of working with scenarios and the thinking associated with it that prepares individuals to be more effective under conditions of ambiguity and uncertainty. Perhaps it is not unlike the visioning process for champion athletes. Through visualizing these athletes train themselves to perform at their highest capability. The visualizing of the performance in advance prepares them to be more effective when the time for actual performance is before them. On the other hand, even the athlete is dealing with somewhat stable and predictable conditions for their performance. Maybe a better example would be the use of scenarios and simulations in disaster planning. While in recent years it appears that such preparation has been wanting in some respects, the ability to mobilze thousands of people and tons of resources to address a disaster the scope of Katrina is still an impressive undertaking, one that is full of ambiguity and complexity.

The second objective in an integral approach to scenarios is to scaffold learning by individuals that will support their recognition of significant factors displayed by them under conditions of complexity. The idea of scaffolding offers the possibility that individuals may accelerate their own development through learning and experience. Immediately the idea of vertical development comes to mind. I think it can also be about horizontal (or diagonal a la Graves) development.

Scaffolding enables an individual to recognize the diverse perspectives, values, worldviews and corresponding behaviors that represent key factors in the situation, even when those perspectives, etc. might be so very different from their own. This supports their capacity to anticipate responses of others. Individuals can learn how to recognize perspectives and actions, even of others who may be demonstrating a different level of development along one line or another. This is not unlike the ability of a sports coach being able to recognize the skills of a player, even when the coach does not possess those skills. An orange executive would be able to better understand and even appreciate the green perspective. The blue executive might be able to understand what would be required to achieve a yellow solution to a red challenge.

Admittedly, the value of scaffolding in relation to comprehending and appreciating different developmental levels is offered as a hypothesis. But isn’t it an interesting possibility? It does not say that the orange executive will be able to function at green or that the blue leader can function at yellow. But it does suggest that each can learn to recognize the contexts that require the perspectives and capability of other levels than their own. Much of developmental psychology and integral theory challenges this. I can imagine Don Beck deleting this article at this point. But I do suspect that individuals can learn to comprehend how higher and lower levels of development might respond or how they might frame an issues, even if it is unlikely the individuals can completely adopt such a perspective.

Those of us who have been studying these subjects for a period of time begin to see some development on the intellectual line, if not the other lines. I have no pretensions of being second tier, despite an occasional piece of feedback to the contrary (must be a state experience!). I am firmly centered in green and subject to all of the risks of that level. But something is shifting as I am learning more about the level, how I be and do at this level and the implications. Through the scenario and reflection process such development may be possible.

The third objective is to support individuals in organizations to see what is going on in a way that supports effectiveness, even when the situation is new and unlike any she ever faced before! The project manager will be able to see the human factors in relation to technology. The sales executive will be able to understand that his challenge is to find how his product fits with the culture and the worldview of his prospects. And under conditions demanding the exercise of leadership, individuals will be able to rise to the occasion, collaborate and compete more effectively.

Michel Bauwens called my attention to the following from a paper by Michael Resnick:

“Constructionism (Papert, 1993) is both a theory of learning and a strategy for education. Constructionism is based on two types of ‘construction.’ First, it asserts that learning is an active process, in which people actively construct knowledge from their experiences in the world. People don’t get ideas; they make them. (This idea is based on the constructivist theories of Jean Piaget.) To this, constructionism adds the idea that people construct new knowledge with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in constructing personally-meaningful products. They might be constructing sand castles, poems, LEGO machines?…or computer programs…What’s important is that they are actively engaged in creating something that is meaningful to themselves or to others around them.”

And that is what the scenario process in leader development is about. Individuals are learning through constructing personally meaningful products: the scenario stories and the meaning gleaned from the stories and the process. The purpose of the scenario process is not that these products have meaning beyond that. Scenarios, the experience of scenarios, not any particular product, is what is important and meaningful. Keith Bellamy states,

“Story telling is such an important factor in that it creates the point where you transform from the meaningless to the meaningful with respect to the wider community in which you are operating. It is the transition from the un-manifest to the manifest in order to change the interiors of both individuals and the collective. It also defines the actions that need to be taken in the RH quadrants.”

These are products of meaning, not plans or schedules. These are products of fresh ways of seeing and thinking, not problem solutions or decisions. And as these products emerge from a team process they are accomplished in relationship, a critical development and learning variable. This is, I believe, what Mintzberg had in mind.

Van der Heijden and his colleagues use scenarios in a quite elaborate organizational process. This may have merit when the focus is on the experience and not the products. When using scenarios for leadership development that is the focus: the experience. Executive graduate programs offered in various universities, for example Notre Dame, or by other leadership institutes might be settings where scenarios could be used for leader development.

The initial task is to find the context(s) that will shape the scenario development process. When we consider scenarios for leader development these scenarios need to provide opportunities for alternative strategies for leader action. But the contexts in stranger groups are varied. Each scenario process could be carried out by a team with a focus on an issue related to the business or organizational context the participants represent.

So, the initial set up sounds complex. It can be generic; it can be focused. But at that point the rest of the process would involve a facilitator who would support

(1) Data gathering about the context,
(2) Generating up to four scenarios from that information based on existing methodologies,
(3) Creating the scenario storylines, and
(4) Conducting stakeholder analyses and checking for systems integrity.

At this point, the development process would focus on examining what had happened during the process and, particularly, the storylines and analyses. The facilitator would use an integrally informed model of quadrants, lines and stages to explore for how these had been considered in the scenario development and analysis process.

The reflection or analytic part of this process would be augmented by ongoing facilitator support. It would focus on lines, stages and quadrants. It would provide participants with the opportunity to reflect on their own orientations to these and to consider those of other participants and stakeholders in the scenario stories. Briefly, such an exploration would look at questions such as these:

• What leader strengths would be required in the scenarios in the intellectual, emotional, relational, and physical lines, for example? The spiritual line could be examined in terms of ethical requirements.
• What leader behaviors would be important? What are the implications of these behaviors for different levels of development? How might they be interpreted by various levels of development? Are there additional or other behaviors that would be required to address the needs of various levels of development?
• What would be important about how the leader frames the culture of the organization or situation?
• What would the systems, processes and technologies be that the leader would want to use? How might these be different for different levels of development?
• How have the lines been considered in relation to stakeholders?
• What might be the assumptions, beliefs of leaders and stakeholders at various levels of development? Kegan’s, Wade’s, or Cook-Greuter’s might be applied here.

Undertaking the development of such an approach may be challenging, but well worth it for those who are able to invest the time required to engage in extended programs of leader and leadership development. And it would certainly be in keeping with Henry Mintzberg’s challenge to rethink leadership development by fostering reflection on management practices and human values and providing a learning challenge.

Remember: the use of scenarios suggested here is not about problem solving. It is about developing the capacities of individuals to perceive, comprehend and engage effectively with events and conditions as they unfold in a world of ambiguity and complexity.

In the next issue I hope to talk explore how tabletop simulations might be used in conjunction with scenarios. ‘Til then!

Bellamy, Keith (2005), private communication.
Bauwens, Miche, (2005), P/I: Plualities/Integration, Issue 83.
Resnick, Michael (2005),
van der Heijden, Kees, et al, The Sixth Sense (2002) and Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversations, 2nd Edition (2005).