Feature Article: Scenarios: Emanation and Learning Challenge

Russ Volckmann

Russ Volckmann

This is the second in a short series of articles that recommends the use of scenarios in leadership development. Further, it suggests that an integral approach to learning from scenarios adds a level of richness that better prepares potential leaders for future events. That is the purpose of leadership development and of the use of scenarios: to develop leadership potential.

In the last issue I suggested the use of scenarios for leadership development through the phase of emanation. I considered the role of the consultant/trainer/coach (CTC) as scenarioist in the design of scenarios. The scenario has been designed or chosen by the client and the support of the CTC. The choice of the scenario is guided by the identification of potential events that would exercise the integral aspects of leadership. It is used to generate potential action and implications (emanation). I briefly presented the idea that the CTC then works with the individual client or a group to reflect on what has been learned. And now it is time for ‘formalizing” the learning process to this point.

Keep in mind that when we talk about “integral,” we are talking about two things. First, integral refers to the use of integral theory and models to guide learning and development. Second, integral refers to a stage of development. In these articles I am interested in the former and hold the latter as a place to learn about for its lessons on leadership and strategy and potentially a place to be or to access, sometimes.

This is the phase that takes the experience of analysis and furthers the crystallization of learning on the part of individuals and on the part of teams involved in the generative process described in the last issue. The challenge is to focus in on, describe and generate learning from what has happened in the process so far. While it is possible to integrate the identification of learning into the scenario process during the generative phase by alternating generation with focus on learning, it is useful to treat it as a separate process within this phase.

Keith Bellamy notes,

“Whilst in emanation, the laws of reality are suspended. As a consequence, the scenarios that have been developed at this stage will, should they ever ‘leak out’ of the development team, appear totally crazy and could be seriously career limiting for all involved. This is exactly as it should be at this stage…There is great leadership development potential from ‘playin’ for a while in this state as it forces the scenario development team to explore places that would otherwise be blocked to them in the ‘real world.’ This provides them with insights and understanding that will allow them to be effective ‘prophets’ and ‘ambassadors’ for the scenarios as they pass through the lower levels.”

The next article in this series will address the dissemination challenge in the third phase of the use of scenarios. The point to be taken here is that the learning process using scenarios be understood as an exercise in the explorations of possibilities such that individuals and teams have an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of discovery. The less inhibited this process, the greater potential for that stretch including the quadrant, level and stream dimensions of the integral model.

Suppose that a client is working with the scenario of a merger, using this scenario to explore and develop his (or a team’s) leadership and to identify leadership opportunities throughout the company. How can an integral approach support that learning?

To begin with we would support processing the analysis through the lens of the quadrants. We would want to look at

  • What were the assumptions, beliefs and values that shaped the client’s response?
  • What were the actions that stemmed from these?
  • What were the cultural factors that influenced the response? and
  • What were the interactions with systems, processes and technology that related to the client’s actions?

By asking questions such as these we can use the model of the holon to guide learning. The client has the opportunity to get insights into choices made and opportunities missed. By the way, if we chose an alternative view of the holon, e.g., Mark Edwards’ holonics, we might ask different questions. But for now, let’s continue with the approach that we have begun.

What about stages or levels of development? Here we can use any one of the stage models: Torbert/Cook-Greuter, Kegan or Graves/Spiral Dynamics®. An expert CTC could walk the client through an analysis of choices in relation to levels of development and the possibilities from the perspectives of other levels.

The goal here is not to determine which choice is right, but to enable the client to develop the capacity to think about situations with these frameworks. This is an important reminder that using scenarios is not about making a decision or planning what to do in the future. Rather, it is to provide the client with an opportunity to develop capability, to become familiar with ranges of options through an integral lens. This is where the idea of scaffolding comes in. This process would support leveraging capability and access to the different perspectives of the different stages. While this does not guarantee a higher stage response in the crunch of the moment, it will open up possibilities.

Probably what is most important to leadership development is to focus on horizontal development that is, focus on existing strengths and how they can be leveraged. Then examine the implications for the client and those stakeholders with whom he will likely be interacting. What are the levels in Graves’ framework that are likely to show up in the scenario? Will the client or other stakeholders be in survival mode? Who would be seeking to promote their own power and control? What rules might be invoked? What aspirations are held? How does community show up? Are there opportunities or capacities for including consideration of all levels in the strategic options that are identified?

Then it would be important to reflect this back on the clients, the individuals engaged in their own development. What levels are difficult for this individual to see or understand? What level is there a gut level reaction against? What skills does the individual possess that supports engaging different levels? What is the impact of the client’s responses to the expectations/values/worldviews of the capacity to find high potential strategies?

The use of scenarios for leadership development offers a high potential for self-discovery and learning. This can be leveraged in future situations demanding effective leadership and strategy. It offers the individual and the team an opportunity to broaden the scope of their own strategic thinking, recognition of their own responses to strategies, and the development of methods for engaging stakeholders.

If we add a focus on the notion of leadership, we can also use this approach to explore opportunities for individual and collective leadership. This would include preparations for co-leadership and he capacity to recognize how leadership can be generated throughout the organization over time to meet the requirements of different situations.

There is a next step to this process: creation. Here the client takes the learning and designs a process that moves learning into the organization, either in the context of the leadership development program with a team of fellow participants or through processes in the real organization. The next article in this series will address that.

Have you used scenarios in relation to leadership development? Please contact

> Russ Volckmann