Feature Article: Integral Scenarios and Leadership Development

Russ Volckmann

Russ VolckmannWe are used to role-plays in leadership development. They are often useful methods for individuals to observe group dynamics and their own behavior in relation to that of others. What could be more full of potential for an integral perspective than that? I would like to suggest that scenario explorations offer even more potential.

In scenarios we do not construct an imaginary organization, an imaginary world or an imaginary role. We work with as much as we can of current reality to look at what happens under postulated conditions. What happens to the oil industry if the price of oil falls? What happens to European economic performance if the Russians join the EEU? And so forth. We can also look at things like the impact of technology change and market change. These and many more can be the scenarios that would be useful in leadership development.

It is the dynamics of agentic-communal that create the conditions from which ladership emerges, no? Well, this is partly true. It is the interplay of internal and external in those arenas that set up a complex set of interactions. Individual values in a complex culture, individual behavior in relation to complex systems are part of it. So is the relationship between intention and behavior (moderated by biology), as is the interplay between culture and systems.

Industry and organizations have sought guidance for managing these and other, more specific, organizational methods by looking at best practices drawn from other companies and organizations that have recently demonstrated some success. Many companies have developed another set of best practices, called key competencies, for leader behavior.

The dilemma with any “best practices” approach is that they are identified in a particular time, place and context. Change these variables and often the best practices no longer are. On the other hand, it is useful to learn from experience and to learn to be able to identify the critical variables in context for making choices in the NOW about supporting the development of leadership and individual leadership practices in any given condition.

Much advice is about if you do this then you will get that. The shift needs to be made to process and practice.

And then, I wonder, what is the difference between an athlete practicing and practicing to prepare the body for the eventualities of the game and the potential leader practicing and practicing to prepare for the eventualities of business/life? Scenarios with integral analysis and reflection provide that. Scenarios aren’t about predicting what will work, it is about tuning and practicing so that when leadership is required people are better prepared to bring effective leadership to the fore.

Now I don’t know if that works or not. I just think that it has at least as good a chance at success as what we are already doing in leadership development. And when we couple scenarios with an integral perspective it increases the potential a whole bunch. Multiple lines of development-that was a useful focus of the Integral Organizational Leadership workshop in Colorado in September. The presenters keyed us into designing an integral, multi-line practice. That is where I think the potential for leadership development may be. The use of scenarios is an aspect of that.

We have an opportunity to explore the use of scenarios from an integral perspective. This involves the design of scenarios to include the potential for AQAL to show up, the mechanisms for capturing the responses to the scenarios, and the analysis/reflection/feedback process to view behaviors/choices through an integral lens that supports the development of potential leaders-not by making them second tier, but by using the scenario process as a scaffolding experience to support learning and preparation.

Rather than doing this in a one-shot workshop, this method could be made a part of an ongoing developmental process in an internal training and development program in companies or as the heart of a leadership development institute that brings together a group of executives for a yearlong process. Both could include coaching and developmental homework between scenarios and training sessions.

The scenarios need not be complex. Life conditions already familiar are complex enough as a setting for a scenario. The scenario unfolds as the result of postulating an event or a series of events that could happen, that are feasible. They can be highly likely or quite remote. In either case the practice can occur.

To use an integral approach to supporting development through explorations of these scenarios it would be necessary to capture the individual’s response to the event in the case of leader training. This could be done in an audio recording, a video recording, developing a transcript (for example as might be used in subject-object interviews) or written responses to questions (as in the Leadership Development Profile.

Questions might include

  • What is important to you? UL
  • What course of action will you follow? UR
  • What aspects of the culture need to be engaged? LL
  • What systems need to be in place? LR

Then, a four quadrant multiple line analysis could be conducted with the support of a trained facilitator. This might include attention to developmental levels as in spiral dynamics or Torbert’s levels for individual and organizational development.

So here is an idea. I would be very interested to hear from people who have experimented with scenarios and considered an integral approach.

> Russ Volckmann