Feature Article: The Integral Model of Leadership: Integral Leadership, Part 17

Russ Volckmann

As leaders, we are frequently looking for models, methods and perspectives that give us a better handle on the challenges we face. We have a myriad of voices clamoring for our attention, urging this behavior or holding up this standard. We seek the wisdom that helps us choose.

Or do we? Often we are too busy and too challenged to do anything more than just do the best we can – a stance Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements) suggests is all we can really do. Right?

Yet the promise of a better way, a new way of learning, new content, new frameworks continues to lure us to books, articles, conferences, coaches and consultants. This eReview is dedicated to the notion that we can find support and help in learning about leadership in some fresh and innovative ways.

That work has been accumulating in the last few decades, particularly from the work of Maslow, Piaget, Graves, Kegan, Loevinger and more recently Cook-Greuter, Torbet (see the interview below), Don Beck (see the letter below) and Chris Cowan and other Gravesians, and Jenny Wade (see ILR September 2002, forthcoming). When we look at the various stage models they offer and the notion of the holon and holarchy from Wilber’s work, what we have is fundamentally a series of descriptive models.

Our challenge is to mine these models for information that will help us develop as leaders to engage the growing challenges that we and our institutions face. Growing complexity seems to demand higher levels of development. Yet, what we have so far seems to be fundamentally a typology (or a set of typologies) that helps us comprehend “reality” in a useful way. For example, we can use these models as leaders, consultants or coaches to help guide the types of questions we ask, to explore assumptions, to identify areas of alignment and lack of alignment in systems, to engage with espoused theories and theories in use, and so on.

We are still faced with the challenges of discovering a developmental process and method. The integral perspective offers a rich framework for exploring this. It offers a way to comprehend the relationship between individual assumptions and beliefs and their behaviors in relation to a system’s culture and structures/processes. This has the advantage of being able to see how attunement and engagement in work and action can be understood.

In the material offered through these articles, two additional developmental paths are offered: self-management and system evolution. The phrase “self-management” is particularly apropos. It suggests that individuals hold the responsibility and control over their development. We cannot do it to them. They must do it to themselves. At the same time we can honor the fact that not all development is conscious and intentional.

In the realm of leadership, this means that each leader must be stimulated to develop through some motivation. It is likely that this motivation will be initiated from outside. At least, in one’s relationship to one’s environment the seeds for change and development will most likely occur. This suggests that the most effective developmental path related to self-management is through learning more about oneself in relation to a relevant environment or context and through learning about oneself as a learner.

As leaders, consultants and coaches we can manipulate the environment to stimulate development, but we cannot assure that development will take place along lines or in patterns that are predictable. We cannot even consistently predict the behavior of the system successfully.

Now this idea of manipulating the environment shouldn’t seem too threatening. That is what we do in organizations all of the time. We design structures, processes, methods, opportunities and feedback systems (including reward systems) to foster certain kinds of behavior. We inject our cultures with stimulants to encourage certain kinds of values, beliefs and other elements of culture. We just can’t rely on these to foster development.

All of our actions on behalf of the collective result in the evolution of the system, including its culture. Short term results lead to long term outcomes, not necessarily ones we value. Long term strategies get derailed. And in the face of our failures we realize that life is about failure and success. It is about unlearning, learning and relearning.

I hope these comments are not “depressing” or de-motivating. They are intended to suggest that we see that much of the debate and challenge around leader and business development needs to recognize that the method or solution for today may or may not work for tomorrow. It is all an experiment, even though its implications may be profound for our roles, systems and relationships.

In the articles for subsequent issues of ILR I intend to explore methods of leader and leadership development. The focus will be on what we can cull from these methods that will be useful. Now this plan may get blown out of the water at any time by new learning and ideas. Somehow, the environment is almost always rich with options.