Feature Article: Leadership System Change: It’s an Evolutionary Process – Integral Leadership, Part 15

Russ Volckmann

If you have been following this series of articles, you know that I have laid out an Integral Leadership model – of sorts. The “of sorts” is about the fact that it is one potential way of thinking about Integral Leadership. It is an approach that looks at leadership from the point of view of the people who are “in the system.” Particularly, it is a model that is descriptive, not prescriptive. Well, mostly not prescriptive.

If there is a prescriptive dimension to this model it is that development is valuable. This means that learning, discovering building and integrating over time are valuable activities for human beings and for organizations. It is not prescriptive in the sense that it posits what is good or bad practice beyond this developmental thrust.

As individuals we grow and develop through stages that seem clearly defined through childhood and early youth. As we pass through these periods of our lives the stages of development become more and more ambiguous. Argyris fed our aspirations with the prospect of self-actualization.

Graves work on what has become Spiral Dynamics offers a different perspective, one that suggests growing levels of awareness that are not only about ourselves, but the contextual perspective we bring to our lives. This idea has been captured to suggest a path to ever-enhanced consciousness. And consciousness has to do with self-awareness and our capacity to integrate ourselves into ever-widening, ever-deepening perceptions of reality.

Kegan, Loevinger and the work of Susann Cook-Greuter and Bill Torbert, among others, have applied these stage models, as well. This will be the subject of the interview with Bill Torbert in the next issue of Integral Leadership Review. There we will, in part, explore the system stage model that he has developed in parallel to stages of personal development.

Now there is a lot of research to support the notion of stages of development for people. These suggest that there are changes in individual behaviors, perspectives and awareness/consciousness. These might include capacity for reflection or effectiveness in interacting with the human environment. These models of individual development have identified individual learning and development in ways that are very appealing to values held by many people involved in development and related professions. They appeal to people like me.

An important developmental challenge, however, is in working with client systems and leaders of business and organizations. The key values they hold will form the touchstone of their development. These values may be anchored in religion, spirituality or what we learned at our mothers’ knees. Developmental models are helpful in educating people about possibilities. Their developmental paths, however, must be built from within.

Aside from Adizes work on the life cycles of corporations I am not familiar with other stage models of organizations. Torbert et al have offered the following stages:

  1. Conception: Dreams about creating a new organization.
  2. Investments: Spiritual, social network, and financial investments.
  3. Incorporation: Products or services actually rendered.
  4. Experiments: Alternative strategies and structures tested.
  5. Systematic Productivity: Single structure/strategy institutionalized.
  6. Collaborative Inquiry: Self-amending structure match dream/mission.
  7. Foundational Community of Inquiry: Structure fails, spirit sustains.
  8. Liberating Disciplines: Widens members’ awareness of incongruities among mission/strategy/operations/outcomes and skill at generating organizational learning.

Such a model may usefully serve as a guide to development.

In the integral approach I have been suggesting in these articles, rather than propose a set of criteria or standards for development, as stage models suggest, I have proposed a process model of development. The proposal is this: That in order to develop, leadership systems must have individuals engaged in self-management practices, attunement with the leadership culture, and engagement with other individuals. The boundary spanning dynamics of these activities will promote leadership system evolution.

The leadership system is an organic, messy, quantum phenomenon that is unpredictable. It lives and evolves in an unpredictable environment. Consequently, our approach to leadership development in an organization requires a process approach.

Process Approach

In this process, individual leader self-management is in the context of

  1. The relationship between espoused theory (implicit) and theory in use (explicit),
  2. The relationship between one’s own values and those of the culture, and
  3. The experience and feedback of engaging with other leaders.

Leadership System evolution occurs as a result of these other three dynamics. It is a self-organizing process that can be influenced only when the other three processes are active.

Once again, this system evolution takes place on a foundation of business objectives. It occurs in the arena of leadership purpose, the use of leadership resources, inspired leadership teamwork and a vital leadership enterprise. The proposal here is that leadership system evolution can be facilitated or stymied on each of these levels. Further there is a holarchy/hierarchy of relationships among these levels. Strength at higher levels is built on strength at lower levels.

> Russ Volckmann