Leading Comments: Some British Contributions to Integral Leadership

Nicholas Shannon

Nick Shannon

Nick Shannon

This issue of the Integral Leadership Review is brought to you from Great Britain. Although the names Great Britain and the United Kingdom (UK) are used interchangeably, technically the term Great Britain refers to the island occupied by England, Scotland and Wales, but does not include Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. Britain’s position as an island on the edge of Europe and its close relations with the U.S.A. define it politically and set it apart from its continental neighbours such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Despite a remarkably relaxed immigration policy in recent years, the island mentality of Britain’s population remains strong.

The great dilemma for political leadership in the UK is the extent to which our country participates in the European Union, a project with origins going back to an economic community established in 1958, which was ratified by treaty at Maastricht in 1993 and that now consists of 27 member states, 17 of which share a common currency, the Euro. The EU, with a GDP amounting to 26% of the world economy, is the largest economy in the world and therefore the USA’s strongest competitor. It is hard to think of a greater integral project than this attempt to bind together so many countries with very different geographies, histories and cultures in an increasingly close political and economic union. A project, which was started with the belief that only a strong shared economic interest would prevent a repeat of the first and second world wars, is viewed with deep ambivalence from the UK.

Today the EU is in deep trouble.  A Greek debt default followed by potential debt defaults by other, much larger states and near zero growth for years to come face it at the start of 2012. Endless wrangling between French and German politicians and a veto (to avoid damaging the UK’s financial industry) by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, on the latest attempt at an agreement have created the impression of a deeply divided European leadership.  And what has become abundantly clear is that no-one yet has a solution to the debt crisis nor can anyone predict how events will play out over the forthcoming years during which the EU countries will most likely continue to lose ground to the BRIC economies and to the USA.

It is tempting to think that Europe’s leaders are simply not up to the job of seeing through the integration of the EU. That national self-interest and the desire of politicians to appeal to their electorate and sponsors will prevent the kind of co-operation necessary to stave off the collapse of the Euro. At best it might seem as though Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron are playing out multiple rounds of a “prisoner’s dilemma” game where co-operation will only be achieved through extensive efforts to build communication and trust.

Given what we “know” about leaders and leadership, why should we assume that anyone might be capable of a task on the scale of integrating the economies of 27 different nations?  We in the UK may lean towards being critical of our leaders and to blame the current crisis on a “lack of leadership”, but we might also reflect on the enormity of the job that they face and why it is that we consider that they should be capable of solving current problems to everyone’s satisfaction.

It has been said that society gets the leaders it deserves. And the deaths this year of Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, and Kim Jong-il show us that even the most despotic of leaders have their followers.  But perhaps society also gets the best leaders it can create. Perhaps what is still needed is to understand better the process of developing leaders and the complex relationships between how leaders behave and the context in which they find themselves, be that historical, political, social, economic, technological, or ecological.

In this issue, we explore some of the ways in which leaders relate intellectually, emotionally and physically to various aspects of their environment. We have two articles on the embodied aspects of leadership. Firstly Donna Ladkin highlights the role that bodies play in the enactment of leadership. She argues that the qualitative experience of leadership is generated through the body as well as the mind, and explains Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “flesh” – which itself defines the physical relationship between a leader and a follower. Moving from theory to practice, John Tuite provides a personal account of his development as a leader in UK secondary school education and the role of martial arts training in integrating mind, body and spirit to enable more powerful leadership. His is a deeply inspiring article.

With a more cognitive and affective focus, Simon Western elaborates on different discourses of leadership over the last century, culminating in what he terms “eco-leadership”. Eco-leaders shape their leadership by examining the environment around them, seeing it as an integrated and yet fluid whole. Their view of the organization is as an “inter-connected living network, filled with humans, nature, buildings and technologies that require constant change and adaption”. Simon introduces and outlines a new model for coaching leaders, the Analytic-Network Coaching© process.

Scott Lichtenstein continues the affective theme by describing his research into the relationship between leaders’ and followers’ values, and how this impacts business strategy. His work, which follows a traditional scientifically empirical paradigm, applies Maslow’s model of needs to categorise managers’ values into three; Inner-directed, Outer-directed, and Sustenance-driven.  Those readers who are more familiar with Beck and Cowan’s levels of consciousness model as a means to conceptualise values may find this article of great interest by way of contrast.

Nick Ross introduces ideas about the development of leadership capability from the perspective of better integration in the mind across four mental “states” – the transactional, the self-reflective, the transcendent, and the transformational.   He focuses us on the “inner” work that must be done to develop the mind and the practices by which this can be facilitated.  His paper is a reminder that work in the fields of cognitive science, cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience to understand the relationships between brain states and cognitive processes in the mind is in its infancy but growing at rate that may soon yield important findings and implications for those of us in the leadership development industry.

Andrew Munro introduces an often forgotten aspect of the cognitive aspect of leadership – the leader’s relationship to time. He argues that leadership style and action is closely related to the way that leaders conceive past, present and future events. A pre-occupation with historical precedent (for example) at the expense of a more balanced view of the connection between past, present and future, can cause leaders to resist much needed change. Equally, a view that focuses exclusively on an imaginary vision without being grounded in present or past, may be little more than the personal fantasy product of an inflated ego. Successful leaders learn to connect and integrate past, present and future.

We include what is, perhaps, the most ”integrally” inspired article by Maretha Prinsloo, whose company Cognadev Ltd. operates in the UK. Prinsloo writes on the assessment of leadership potential. Her knowledge and expertise in this area is second to none, and she has developed a suite of psychometric tools that together attempt to integrate and measure aspects of leadership based on theories put forward by Jung, Mindell, Graves, Jaques and her own work on cognitive processing. Despite the massive literature on leadership and the burgeoning leadership development industry, reliable methods for assessing leadership capability and potential remain a holy grail. Those who follow the old adage; “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” will benefit by giving Prinsloo’s work a close study.

Our first interview in this issue features the British philosopher and educationalist, Professor Anthony Grayling whose vision for a new privately run and owned university specialising in teaching the humanities has aroused excitement and controversy in the UK this year. Grayling speaks compellingly about the value of close, personal interaction between teacher and pupil and the need for challenge and support in equipping students for leadership careers.   Time will tell whether Grayling’s venture will be successful in turning out a new generation of leaders in the UK, however Grayling reminds us that intellectual and emotional leadership resources need to be developed and nurtured, and it is the duty of our educational establishments to provide the environment where that can happen.

Our second interview is with James, O’Dea (pronounced o-dee), an Irish/British ex-pat who was the Director of Amnesty international in Washington, D.C. and President of the Institute for Noetic Sciences in Marin County, California, among his many activities. Notably, O’Dea is an international peace advocate who has turned from a philosophy of punishment to one of healing. His familiarity with Ken Wilber’s offerings and the integral approach has been important to him as he applies his spirituality to what we may consider a bodhisattva approach to generative work in the world.

Finally, our leadership cartoon in this issue presents a view on how the UK is, or is not, setting a lead in resolving the current crisis in the EU. Our leadership quotes reflect the, perhaps contrasting, views of two of the greatest British political leaders, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.  It is worth noting that neither Churchill nor Thatcher were enthusiastic about the UK having a stronger relationship with Europe. Churchill’s close ties with Roosevelt originated the UK’s “special relationship” with the USA, whilst Thatcher’s vigorous opposition to the UK’s participation in the single European currency ultimately resulted in her forced resignation as prime minister and party leader.

Here then are multiple perspectives on the nature of leaders, leadership and leader development from the UK, with the caveat that it is only with the benefit of hindsight (and perhaps not even then) that we can judge what truly “great” leadership really looks like.

Note: Founder of the London Integral Circle, and former ILR columnist, Matthew Kalman Mezey has co-authored a new report titled ‘Beyond the Big Society – Psychological Foundations of Active Citizenship’, for the UK based civic innovation charity, the RSA. The report draws particularly on the developmental model of Prof. Robert Kegan, but also mentions Ken Wilber’s approach, along with much else.
You can read the report here:
Matthew would greatly appreciate feedback from ILR readers on the report. What would you have included? E-mail: