Q: What is the relationship between your being a chair in ethical management and your Integral Leadership program at H.E.C.?
A: It’s pretty straightforward. If we’re talking about integral development, like Ken Wilber or Bill Tolbert and many other developmental theorists, we’re talking about ethics. The behaviors, thinking patterns and emotions of people are targeted for acting ethically in society. So the connection is very direct.
I formed a group years ago called the International Forum of Management Ethics and Spirituality. We were very careful to use those three words together. Management had to do with acting in the world. Ethics had to qualify spirituality the notion of ethics being more cerebral and spirituality more transcendental. I lived in California for 10 years and I’ve seen a lot of people in the New Age Movement doing some very powerful stuff in spirituality, but without any ethical results. They wanted to achieve for themselves. I was watching that and I was saying to myself that it had to do more with narcissism than spirituality.
I tried to balance spirituality with ethics as well as with action. Those three words–management, ethics and spirituality–go together. If you remove one, things get into trouble. That’s why I like very much like Ken Wilber’s work and what you’ve been involved with, too. We’re talking about sense of self, behaviors, organizational tools and values. It’s the right time for us to do that. We are trying to balance those four things, expressed in Ken Wilber’s four quadrants.
Q: How does this interest of yours show up in the Integral Leadership Program at H.E.C.?
A: We want to document how integral leaders do it. We don’t want to document it through an intellectual model. We want to bring empirical evidence through the life of actual people who have been on this planet.
We start with the hypothesis that if integral development does indeed exist (it’s integral as much as possible) we should be able to find in history some leaders who exemplified integral awareness and communion in their lives. This is a working hypothesis. We are studying the lives and the deeds of those people and we will report on what they have done. If they did different things than we see today in leadership, then it will demonstrate empirically that, indeed, integral development leads to something different. Integral leaders do act, think, feel differently. This is our working hypothesis.…
Q: Do you have any hopes or plans for doing any kind of leadership education based on Integral Theory other than ethics?
A: Yes. This is connected to the leadography project, the Integral Leadership Project. What we do realize with all those integral leaders is that they have set up a way, a process, for helping people to develop integrally themselves. That means that for us in a business school or in corporate training, we need to invent different modalities, different processes for people to grow from one stage of consciousness to the other. Right now, frankly, we’re not doing too much of that.
In leadership today, we spent in America last year something like 50 billion dollars on corporate training. Most of the programs are behavior-oriented. So you have a bunch of behaviors that are, supposedly, “good”, you rate the individual on his or her behavior and you try to correct it. Most of the corporate leadership training today is of that kind.
That’s very dangerous, because it’s very fragmented. We then only focus on quadrant number two [UR], in Wilber’s model. It’s only one of the four things we need to do, you know? The need for doing something else is very important. Yet the danger of going into New Age and all kind of bizarre things is also very real. Therefore, there is a necessity to document the experiences of people that we can reasonably believe have achieved some kind of integral development.
Q: That leads me to a couple of questions that I hope you’ll take as an opportunity for us to explore this whole notion of leadership. I remember reading on your website that you describe leadership as a process. First, I’m curious about the way the idea of leadership is framed. One of your mentors, Warren Bennis, in 1999 at the International Leadership Association Conference made a statement that I will paraphrase as saying basically we’ve focused on the individual as leader and not attended sufficiently to the notion of leadership as a collective phenomena. Others since that time have also been saying that, including me.
This makes me wonder about the way the Integral Leadership research project is framed: it is focusing on the individual as leader, reinforcing the heroic notion of leadership at the individual level. This certainly is part of the equation, of course. But the part that I wonder about and maybe this is another whole research project, is that the nature of leadership in part must arise from the life conditions that are in the context of leadership. Wouldn’t it be interesting to take a look at different kinds of life conditions and the integral qualities of leadership that emerge? This would require us not just to look at the person who gets all the publicity, but to examine how leadership emerges from the system, from the collective, if you will, in those life conditions.
A: And this is what we’re trying to do, Russ. This is not a study about leaders. We are very clear about that. We don’t believe in heroic people, certainly not. This is a study about leadership, about the process of leadership. The process of leadership is coming from the leader and his or her context. Again, this is the reason why we’re using the Ken Wilber model. Ken’s model is looking both at the individual and the collective. It’s a wonderful opportunity to try to correct the idealization that we have given all leaders. We have focused too much on individuals. In our leadography project, we don’t want to repeat that.
So, when we’re studying Mother Teresa or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, we are studying them as individuals, but not only that. We’re also looking at the context, how these individuals are influenced by their context and how they influence this context as well. The Wilber Model is very nice for that because the leaders do experience the context and they are influenced by it. It’s a big paradox. And yet, we have to go into this paradox to try to understand what’s going on. The leadership of Gandhi could not have happened if England had not been a colonizing nation. And so the context is very important and this is not a project on trying to understand great leaders. This is a process and project to try to understand great leadership.
Q: This gives us an opportunity to talk about development in some interesting ways. As you’re well aware, the upper left hand quadrant around development has been fairly interestingly articulated in terms of lines of development. We could probably do some correlations around behavior in the upper right hand quadrant in relation to those lines of development as well. For example, if we were focused on the values of health and fitness there are corresponding behaviors related to diet and exercise. What are the concepts that you would bring to the idea of lines of development either in lower left or lower right, culture and systems?
A: It is the question I have asked Ken Wilber at the Spring 2004 Integral Leadership seminar. I think we do a very good job identifying the lines of development at the individual level. But we have very few clues of what that means for society and what that means for organizations. And I am not saying that an organization exists by itself; you know the problem of reification of collective systems. We hope to document, in our study, that if you have Integral Leadership processes with integral leaders, those people are going to use different processes at the organizational level and different processes at a spiritual level.
We’ve done a lot of work with organizational development, but we don’t have an organizational view of systemic processes. We just don’t have it. We have very little work on that. Questions like “What is a not-developed strategy?” “What is a more developed strategy?” or “What would be an integral marketing strategy?” What does that mean to have a crude human policy? An integral financial strategy? What does it mean to have a trans-rational policy in human resources and so forth? This is what I’m after.
What kind of advertisement do you do? Do you try to push some products on me and try to maximize your bottom line? Do you try to advertise another way of being in society? Do you try to raise consciousness through advertising? And it seems to me that you have also a developmental spectrum for all those different techniques. I am not saying that most techniques exist by themselves, but it seems to me that the process of Integral Leadership will have an impact on financing, marketing, product development and so forth. This is what I want to look at. This is what we will document empirically through the leadography project.
Q: We do have an example in Adizes’ work of stages of development of companies. It’s more of a life cycle model than a holarchic model. Do you have any other references or possible influences around how to think about stages of development in organizations?
A: What I’m trying to do right now with Integral Leadership is very much what Abraham Maslow tried to do with his “Theory Z”. Maslow’s Theory Z was an answer to Macgregor’s theory X and Y. Maslow said, “It’s not only X and Y, it’s also Z.” And “Z” is transpersonal and that’s the reason why Abraham Maslow created not only the Association for Humanistic Psychology, but also the Association for Transpersonal Psychology. Maslow published his Theory Z article in 1971 in the first Issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. He tried to understand what does a transpersonal view means for finance? for ethics? for management? for training? What does that mean for structuring organizations? What does it mean for the use of power? What does that mean for leadership and so forth?
This is what we’re trying to do in the leadography project. As far as I know, nobody has really pursued Maslow’s work in reference to his Theory Z. To put it in a nutshell, our project is to document, through the life of real leaders, how they use the transpersonal or integral view individually and collectively. Adizes’ model does not cover this territory.
Q: There’s a lot to be learned in this area and we do have some guides, but not very many. One of the questions that is a challenge to all of us in the area of leadership or any kind of developmental perspective has to do with the notion of levels of development. On your site you reference virtually every significant writer and thinker on stages of development in human life that I know of from Kolberg, to Kegan, to Beck & Cohen’s Spiral Dynamics, Cook-Greuter’s work based on Loevinger and so forth.
What characterizes many of these models is the notion of development in an individual lifetime. We have studies by Torbert and others who have suggested a correlation between profitability and the level of development of the CEOs of the companies they studied. We don’t have much to suggest that individuals in a lifetime really develop a great deal over multiple stages. I’m wondering what your thoughts are about that?
A: The way we start our studies is to look at the developmental life cycle of the individual leaders, including factors coming from the era, from history. Thus, we will try to document these multiples stages and how they grow from stage to stage through the entire life span of the leader.
But not only that. We will not only look at North America, in the 20th Century. We are also going to write a leadography on Plato, for example, so we will be able to say something on the developmental cycle of history itself. Studying leaders from different parts of the world–Asia, Japan, Africa, South America and so forth – we will try to find a pattern across time, cultures, religion and geography.
To come back to your question, we start with the notion of epiphanies. In his last book, Warren Bennis, with his colleague Robert Thomas, Geeks and Geezers, is using the notion of crucibles. The notion of crucibles is the same as that of epiphanies, in religious language. What we try to understand from the life of those very exceptional leaders is how many epiphanies or crucibles they have had and what effect those epiphanies have had on their lives and their stages in development. Using a developmental point of view, spanning many decades in the life of a person, we will be able to document the process or at least some of it. You cannot do this if you study a person for only one to two years. Or even if you follow a person 5 years, at best you’ll only going to document the passage from one stage to another, as you’ve suggested, and miss the multi stages process…
Q: You’ve referenced in the description of the leadography project a number of different theorists with stage models of development: Susann Cook-Greuter, Bill Torbert Robert Kegan and so on. Do you find yourself favoring any one or the other approach?
A: Not really. I think that Ken Wilber is right by saying that most of them focus on one line in particular. I tend to look for models that try to integrate several lines. For example, Kegan is integrating cognitive lines with personal lines and intrapersonal lines and I find this model richer as opposed to, for example, the line on ego development or spirituality. My reaction is more integral, I guess. But in the research project, we’re using all the main developmental models as they each cover important ground.
Q: One of the questions related to models of development that is also interesting is how one develops. Ken Wilber tends to emphasize meditation as the means. Others like Mike Jay would suggest that a self-realizing actualization process through use of a assessments and feedback and a variety of other tools could also be effective. Bill Torbert’s Action Inquiry approach would suggest that might also be a method. Do you have any thoughts about methods of development?
A: Yes, we’ll obviously be in a position to document this process, in an empirical fashion. Being able to look at the developmental process of one hundred bright individuals, across history and across traditions, will give us a good idea of what works and what does not. I can tell you that so far we have found that all these integral leaders have a spiritual practice–all of them. All of them meditate or pray or have a centering prayer practice on a regular basis. Some of them are just incredible at it. Mother Teresa used to pray—wouldn’t stop doing work—five hours per day. And corporate CEO do the same! For example, Bill George, the author of Authentic Leadership, former CEO of Medtronics, has been meditating twenty minutes per day for the last twenty years.
In the leadography study, we will document, in an empirical fashion, what Ken Wilber and others are proposing for an Integral Practice: a mix of spiritual exercises, sport, diet, yoga, reading, standard education, community service and so forth. Again, we will be in an ideal position for documenting what these one hundred leaders have practiced through the years. Will we find a pattern among those one hundred people? I do not know. So far one of the patterns that we have uncovered is that they all have a spiritual practice. As William James has proposed more than 100 years ago, what differentiates spirituality from ethics and aesthetics is the presence of a spiritual practice in which you enter in communion with the spirit.
Q: Have you had an opportunity to take these ideas, the integral framework, and use it in a business context at all?
A: Well, I am working with different companies and they’re asking questions like, “How do we train an integral vice-president?” This is a very important question, indeed, to which we do no have many answers!
Q: Does that mean your actually introducing integral concepts in your work?
Q: And would you say a little bit about how you do that?
A: We set up different training seminars. We are very careful because a lot of people are concerned about the orthodoxy often present in traditional religions. They’re very afraid of it. They’re concerned about the fuzziness of New Age. They are also very, very concerned with the fact that their organization is a collection of people coming from very different traditions. They cannot impose one tradition, even the Buddhist one. They cannot impose the Christian or the Jewish tradition: if you have a 15,000-employee organization, those people are going to come from all walks of life.
This was very well documented in the book by Ian Mitroff and Beth Denton, A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America. One of the reasons why vice-presidents and CEO’s do not integrate spirituality at work is because they are afraid that employees will feel that they are imposing something. At the present time we are missing badly a common language we could use that would be less religious, that would be more neutral, and yet rich enough.
Q: How do you meet that challenge in the work you are doing?
A: Well, we don’t have this language. Maybe Ken Wilber and what they are trying to accomplish at the Integral Institute will be able to provide a model for such a language. I understand that the Christians and the Buddhists, for example, have met over the last 100 years and tried to put together such a language, attempting to better understand their similarities and differences. Much good could come from these inter-religious dialogues.
It’s a very pressing problem because we want to speak about stuff that goes much beyond us and which is very precious for us humans, to find meaning. But each time that we try to express a transpersonal notion, often we come back to a traditional religious language, and problems start. The person is afraid that you’re going to convert him or her or, for historical reasons, the person just hates the tradition from which you are borrowing.
To answer your question, on how I’m dealing with this issue in corporate settings, I’m using examples from the integral leaders we are studying. Coming from different traditions, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc., they seem, collectively, less dangerous. Also, many people, religious or not, like these leaders. How could we hate a Nelson Mandela, a Dalai Lama, a Mother Teresa? And yet, some people, do hate them.
Let me give you some concrete examples of practices from these leaders. Out of the half million volunteers involved with Mother Teresa, 90% of them were not Christian. She was able to transcend religion and yet she – herself – used the language and concepts of the Catholic Church. It’s a big paradox and it’s very interesting for us to see that she was able to get away with it. She was able, for example, to organize a Christian Mass and invite Muslims and Jews to be there. She would say to them “I will pray in my tradition, do pray in yours, and together, we’ll offer something beautiful to God”. And because it was her, no doubt, it passed…Some people in organizations would never be able to do that. But what Mother Teresa is suggesting, perhaps, is that it is in the personal connection to the spirit, to god, to the absolute, that people can transcend their own tradition and be open to the other. Problem occurs when we stay at the level of theology and dogma.
Q: In your approach to businesses then is there anything that might give us some clues about how to do that effectively?
A: Well, again, I’m trying to use the empirical evidence gathered from these leaders and shy away from dogma. The study itself provides some interesting findings that go against the current – dogmatic – way to consider leadership itself. It’s very clear to us, for example, that leadership should not be defined as it is currently defined today. I know that we have many definitions, but one of the most accepted definitions is that a leader has followers. If the leader does not have followers, he or she is not a leader. The evidence that we uncover from our integral leaders is different. Actually, the leaders we are studying could care less if they have followers or not. They really could care less. They are followers of their higher selves. They are integral leaders because they follow something that is way beyond themselves. It’s not the other way around.
Q: This means that they have a passion for a mission?
A: Well, that is one way of saying it, but in a very abstract way. It’s not even a passion for a mission. It’s deeper than that, and more personal— it’s a presence. Have you read the last book by Peter Senge and his colleagues, Presence? It’s about presencing. This is very much what integral leaders do. They are present in an intimate and a very personal and concrete way to a reality that goes beyond themselves and this is their fuel for their leadership. I guess being “following leaders” themselves, which is a paradox; they attract many followers. But they are not dependant on these followers as a politician is dependant today on their number of votes. In some cases, integral leaders reduce their number of followers for ethical reasons.
I give you an example. Dorothy Day, leader of the Catholic Worker movement and its associated newspaper. She deliberately went against her readership by condemning in her newspaper the fact that the Catholic Church backed up the dictator Franco, during the Spanish civil war. She got blamed for it and lost three fourth of her readership.
Martin Luther King did the same thing when he expanded his black population basis to an overall critic of the Vietnam war. His has been seen, by some, as bad leadership! I do not know many CEO that would stand against their company on a crucial issue. And yet, when I’m relating this story to corporate executives, they understand the power of moral courage. They understand that leadership is not only to make sure you keep and expand your followership. Hitler was doing this…But, for me, Hitler was not a leader. He was a dictator. And, for me again, it is time to establish that difference.
Integral leaders are not about having a lot of followers. They could care less. They are about following their higher Selves. This is a way to speak about spirituality and its direct consequences.
Here is another example about what we are currently finding. Integral leaders are not too much interested about vision. They are not living in the future. They are serving life while they are in the present moment. They are more “presencing” than “visioning”. What is fascinating is that presencing is including both the past and the future, like in an eternal present. It is as if they don’t look at time in a linear fashion anymore. It is another paradox and this finding goes against the current view, much shared today, that a leader needs to propose a vision and gather people around it.
These leaders, as another example of difference, are not so much interested in efficiency. They are not striving for efficiency. Mother Teresa has been accused of not promoting policies that would reduce the number of poor in the world. Differently, she said “Look, you’re always going to have poor in the world. I’m not interested in efficiency. I’m interested in dignity. I’m trying, to respond in a dignified fashion, to their present needs.” And yet, and this is another paradox again, by doing so her organization became more efficient than many NGOs!
I guess, integral leaders are not coming at it from a utilitarian point of view. They are very different from traditional leaders because in traditional leadership we ask first about results, sometimes with the consequence that the end justifies any means.
I do not know, Russ, if all these findings will hold for all integral leaders. They are today, for us, working hypotheses. But one of the nice things they produce is that they challenge our current views of leadership and keep the dialogue going. And they offer the possibility to speak about spirituality in a different way…
Q: How can we begin to bring these notions of leadership and these ideas that are generated from looking at people like Mother Teresa and Gandhi and others into the world of business?
A: This is what we’re trying to do with the book series. We’re planning to have a series of 100 books on 100 integral leaders. Those books are going to be very available, easy to read for people and yet, go very profoundly into Integral Leadership. They are going to be written for the general public: 150 pages. These books are going to be complemented by videos, a nice web site, short cases, computerized instruments and so forth.
Why would people be interested, including in the world of business? Because this project is not based on ideology. The book series is on people who have actually walked on the planet earth and offered some resolution to the most complex problems of our world, such as apartheid, racism, peace, pollution or poverty. We will present real people who did real things. We are going to tell their beautiful story.
Ethics is not done by code of ethics as we are trying to do today in corporations. Ethics is first of all transmitted by stories, stories of actual people, stories of transcendent beings. This is the point that Robert Coles, at Harvard, tried to make for many years. Gandhi said it well. He said “I could care less about policies. It’s not the policies that change the world; it is our actions. My life will be my message, not my policies.” It’s very different in Corporate America today, of course. We’re very concerned about policies and the – so believed – “right” strategy.
Q: They spend a lot of time on policy.
A: And it is partial. That is not what Mother Teresa did. That is not what Gandhi did. They are also people of stories. As Howard Gardner proposes, leaders are living their own stories, and, in the case of integral leaders, their story goes beyond themselves.
Q: There is a growing body of people around the world who are trying to think about and look at Integral Leadership. How would you like to form a relationship with them?
A: Well, we could publish leadographies together! Or they can help with the logistics of the project. We need tasks to be done, money, access, etc. We have 100 books to produce. This means that we need 100 authors! I’m providing the contracts with the editors, in English, French and Spanish; a coordinator who can answer many questions; a nice website where a lot of resources are on-line, such as the methodology, the editorial considerations, etc.; an electronic Forum where the people writing a leadography can exchange from different countries around the world. So far about 20 leadographies are in the making with authors from the U.S, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Columbia, Egypt. The idea is to connect all those people, write the stuff together, learn from each other, and publish that. The contacts of these people are on the web: they are graduate students, professors, executives, consultants.
I’m also very interested to talk with people who know well the life of these integral leaders so we can have a good dialogue on them, their particularities, their differences and similarities. Right now, we are publishing books on individuals leaders, one by one. After that, we are going to publish books that are going to look at several leaders, trying to find different patterns. I am writing the first one on seven integral leaders. As the project grows, the second edition of that book will be done on 25 leaders, then 50, etc., up to 100.
Q: The people who might have an interest in learning more about your projects will be able to get that on the Internet. Are you actually interested in hearing from people who would like to do one of these leadership studies?
A: I’d love to. I am looking for 100 researchers in the world, each to publish one or more of the leadographies and other people who can help with the logistics. We can talk about the project, find a leader to study, well-known or not well known, decide of the best way we could do it and proceed. I give myself 10 years to finish this project.
Q: It is extraordinary to hear of a project with that kind of time frame these days.
A: It will take that and it will take a lot of dedication, seriousness and scientific dialogue about this project to be able to pull it through. A lot of people leading today are trying to find different ways of doing so. The Gandhi and the Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King are concrete examples of what we are talking about. We need to document their lives and better understand what kind of organizations they created, tools they used, values they encourage, etc.. We also need to better understand the mechanisms through which they became integral so we can orient differently our training and mentoring in leadership.
Q: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about you wish I had?
A: No. We had the kind of dialogue we need to have for this project. We need to ask tough questions like the ones you asked: for example, is this a study about leaders or leadership? or where to begin? Quadrant 1 or 3? At this point, we have a lot of questions and a few answers. I like Gandhi’s subtitle for his autobiography: “The Story of my Experiments with Truth”. It is very much the spirit in which I am proceeding.
Q: I get a relationship between what you’re doing and process theory. The Alfred North Whitehead related process theory that really what we’re tapping into increasingly is a perspective on becoming and not a perspective on what is.
A: You say it beautifully, Russ! I’m fully convinced that Alfred North Whitehead’s book, Process and Reality, published in 1927, was saying exactly the same thing that we try to say through this project. He was an integral leader himself, an intellectual leader! Do you know that Chester Bernard’s book in 1937, The Functions of the Executive, was an attempt to apply Whitehead’s philosophy in business?
Q: Isn’t it amazing that that piece of work has stood up the test of time so well?
A: But most people did not get it…Barnard finished his book by saying something like “I believe that human development, at the individual level, and organizational development, at the collective level, are dependant realities.” I’m quoting him by memory. He said further that “Their balance cannot be answered by science. It is a question for philosophy and religion.”
Q: And that feeds right into your focus on ethics.
A: Yes, and when he said that in 1937, we didn’t get it.
Q: And look at what we’ve created.
A: And we have created something that is very dysfunctional today.
Q: I’ve noticed that you make a reference to a quote from Abraham Lincoln. He defines leadership as a growth process.
A: Lincoln and Jefferson are maybe the two American Presidents that are very interesting to look at as integral leaders. Because it is very political of course, we are very careful about who we are going to choose and include in the study. But it seems to me after talking to a lot of people that Lincoln and Jefferson would be good examples.
They were very special and so it is indeed reassuring to see that we can have in the world people like Lincoln, Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt from America, Gandhi from India, Mandela from South Africa. On another hand, John Gardner has observed than when the Constitution of America was drafted, the country had about 3 million people and six world leaders: Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton. Today, with a population of 290 millions, we should have about 600 of these leaders.
Q: Where are they?
A: Yes, this is the question Gardner asked! What did we do with Integral Leadership? I sense that we have a part of us that is threatened by it? Remember the remark made by Abraham Maslow, about being afraid of one’s potential? We have to be able to address this phenomenon or we’ll stay in the trouble that we are today. We are electing people and give great power to people who are definitely less than what they can become. And this is becoming problematic not only in America, of course, but also in France, Canada, England, etc.
Q: Thierry, I appreciate the time you’re taking to talk with me today and I am absolutely delighted with the direction of your work. I hope many people will tap into what you’re doing and that you get the resources and support that you need to make this project successful. What is the newsletter that you’re editing?
A: It’s for a division of the Academy of Management. It’s an interest group that we have started three years ago, called Management, Spirituality and Religion. I am the editor of its newsletter. The group was started 3 years ago and now we have about 550 members all over the world! It’s very nice and very encouraging.
Q: Is there anything that’s emerged from that group that you would recommend that our readers try and read?
A: Oh yes! The newsletter is posted on the internet. A lot of very good research is conducted on this topic today. In the newsletter, we have also published three interviews with Ken Wilber. I list the link on my website.
Q: Thank you, Thierry.
A. Bye-bye, Russ. And thank you for the nice work you’re doing with the Integral Leadership Review!
To read the complete interview click here.