Feature Article: Attunement Revisited – Integral Leadership, Part 13

Russ Volckmann

In the last issue I presented the notion of attunement as a process in which an individual executive leader attended to the relationship between their own values, beliefs and assumptions and those of other executive leaders. This discussion could equally apply to the relationship between a CEO and the rest of the company, a team leader and other members of the team or to a middle level manager and the members of his organization. It could apply to any constellation of people in a leadership situation.

In the last few years, Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars have extended the formers work in Radical Man (where he outlines what is still a powerful model of psycho-social development and an approach that continues to influence his work today), Maps of the Mind (perhaps Hampden-Turner’s most well known work in which he explores left and right brain views of various theories and models), Sane Asylum (about his experiences with the Delancy Street Foundation) and more recently Charting the Corporate Mind, Creating Corporate Culture and Riding the Waves of Culture in exploring values, diversity and leadership in global businesses. Their most recent work, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, is a fascinating treatise that outlines the leadership challenges and responses of 21 leaders in global businesses from Richard Branson at Virgin to Kiriyenko and the Russian oil industry to Jim Morgan at Applied Materials. The scope and credentials of this study are significant and unique in the literature on business leadership in the world today.

While the stories of how these leaders recognized and responded to significant leadership challenges are well worth reading for the wealth of insight they provide, I focus on this work because it suggests a way to begin to understand the relationship between individual values, beliefs and assumptions and those of a leadership (team, organization) culture.

When a leader is in harmony with other leaders at the level of their own values and the leadership culture, the most important things to guard against is probably some form of blind spot or group think (collective blind spots). It is when there are differences due to a form of diversity that many individual and collective dilemmas will surface. Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars summarize these at the global level as seven major dimensions of difference which trans-cultural competence must deal with effectively. Briefly, these are:

1. universalism
(rule making)
2. individualism
(self-interest and personal fulfillment)
(group interest and social concern)
3. specificity
(preference for “hard” precise standards)
(preference for pervasive “soft” processes)
4. neutral
(emotions inhibited)
(emotions expressed)
5. achievement
(status through success)
(status ascribed to person’s potential-age, family, education, etc.)
6. inner-directed
(control and direction from within)
(control and direction from outside)
7. sequential
(time as a dance with passing increments)
(time as a race with circular iterations)

They have identified 100 leadership dilemmas and focus on 21 in the book. What is important about all of this is not the taxonomy, but the concept of reconciliation. First, leaders must recognize the values dilemma. Then they must respect it or be caught in a trap of difference. Finally, reconciliation is essential to an attunement process.

How to achieve reconciliation? Through virtuous circles and by avoiding vicious circles. Here is where this methodology or model is reminiscent of Hampden-Turner’s model of psychosocial development. This model is used to describe the process of individual and social development through interaction. It is also used to describe anomic interactions leading to individual and social alienation or anomie. Virtuous circles are developmental while vicious circles are anomic. Reconciliation occurs through virtuous circles and fails in vicious circles.

This is all relevant to leadership because, according to their strongly supportive research, trans-cultural leadership is about creating virtuous circles and limiting vicious circles among competing variables. While their examples are very much drawn from international business, particularly situations that are cross national and cross cultural, their approach may apply equally well to understanding the role of leadership in business of all sorts. It may be that the differences are more subtle or about mental models. The approach should work equally well.

An example may be in order. A state hospital for the developmentally disabled is located in a rural community somewhat removed from the main paths of commerce in a certain western state. Historically, local families have staffed the hospital and much of its administration. In recent years, however, more and more personnel have been brought in from the “outside.” This has stirred resentment on the part of local families because they had come to view the hospital as their guarantee of employment and that was being threatened. The administration sought to bring in better educated, better trained experts than could be found locally. Thus we have a conflict of the 5th type: achievement vs. ascription. Locals favored ascription while the new administration (from outside) favored achievement.

This dynamic of construction and deconstruction, of virtuous and vicious circles, is what attunement is about: individual participation with the harmonious and dissonant chords of culture. It is at the playing edge of consciousness and awareness. Leadership, individually and collectively rests on this play.

> Russ Volckmann