The Integral North – Integral Leadership: Boundaries, Theories, Practices and Intersections

Mark McCaslin

Mark L. McCaslin

Mark McCaslin

Mark McCaslin

Being involved, as I am, with the Integral Leadership Review, I am often questioned about its purposes and intentions as well as its meaning. These questions set me to considering not only the scope of Integral Leadership but also its place and purpose within the wide domain of leadership studies. I believe it would be fair to say that the Integral Leadership Review is a unique publication within this domain. It is a publication that spans and/or connects the boundaries of good leadership theory and good leadership practice. It is a publication at work at the intersections of disciplines and therefore quite capable of illuminating opportunities to advance collective transformations and possibilities within and between communities of practice. This work, this publication, is transdisciplinary in its intention. Moving within this transdisciplinary intention we also find the opportunities to reveal and develop the potentials of individuals at work in these communities of practice.  Given these purposes and intentions I believe we will discover together that our collect work is at that apex of putting wisdom to work in the world. In this composition I am going to orientate you to the richness of this intersection of potential. I am going to largely attempt to locate this intersection between the world of good theory and the world of good practice. What the boundaries may be along this upward way have yet to be fully discovered. Perhaps we will learn more about these boundaries together.

What is nature of Integral Leadership?

What does it purpose?

Who are we within this purpose?

These are interesting questions to consider as we begin the exploration into the nature and reality of Integral Leadership. Much of the confusion that has been created concerning the nature of leadership is contained within our basic prejudices concerning its meaning. We have allowed the term to take on many meanings and to be synonymous with too many other terms. When we say “leadership” do we really mean management, authority, or administration; or are we referring to an individual as a leader, manager, administrator, boss; or is our meaning more towards a mentor, guide, or counselor; or are we referring more specifically to the actions of leaders which we loosely define as leading for good or ill?  Perhaps the only way to avoid the terminology trap is to examine the purpose of Integral Leadership; a purpose that naturally flows from the intersections theory and practice.

If I were to ask you; “What is Leadership?” I would be asking a perfectly logical and yet nonsensical question. Logical because when we are asked to describe what leadership is and what it isn’t, we almost immediately look to find individuals of our past who we remember to hold our mutable ideal of a leader. From there we begin to quite naturally classify leadership as a set of behaviors, traits, and actions. Leadership, leader, and leading begin to become inseparable through this process – leadership becomes personified and/or objectified. This, regrettably, is precisely how we defeat the further reaches of leadership – we demote it from its potential integral reality. With this reduced perception of leadership, prejudicially anchored within our subjective consciousness, we begin to value the position and the actions more than the farther reaches held by an integral veracity. The result of this subjective response demonstrates how we might innocently miss the real purpose of leadership from the integral perspective.

Integral Leadership is, again, unique among other forms and functions of leadership found within the wide domain of leadership studies. In many ways integral leadership attempts to form a container in which all other forms of leading and leadership theories might coexist. Integral Leadership positions itself at the intersections of potential and therefore seeks the ability to use multiple approaches, multiple lenses, and to fashion the theoretical aims of leadership studies towards the achievement of the opportunities  made possible along the upward way of these multiple considerations.

Joseph Rost, author of Leadership for the 21st-Century once stated that the nature of leadership studies will itself be transformed. What we might then consider as the pivotal purpose of Integral Leadership is that it is a transformative force within the field. By connecting and constructing amongst the relational aspects of theory and practice Integral Ieadership goes to work for the transformative world of potential and possibilities.

The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole. The key is to identify how this transformation occurs. We begin by shifting our attention from the problems of the community to the possibility of the community. We also need to acknowledge that our wisdom about individual transformation is not enough when it comes to community transformation. So, one purpose here is to bring together our knowledge about the nature of collective transformation. A key insight in this pursuit is to accept the importance of social capital to the life of the community. This begins the effort to create a future distinct from the past.

~ Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

What is the Nature of Integral Leadership?

In my opinion Integral Leadership is an ontology. Breaking this word down we would discover that “ontos” means “being” or “to be” or “to be born” or “real” or “the nature of reality”. I begin with the notion of ontology as a way to frame Integral Leadership because leadership in this frame concerns itself first and foremost with the nature of reality. It concerns itself with what might already exist but has yet to be fully seen because it has yet to be treated integrally. The reality at play at the intersections of potential are how do we as Integral Leadership scholars and practitioners engage the good theories and good practices across multiple disciplines, cultures, and spiritualties towards creating exceptional communities of practice? This is our integral reality, this is our purpose.

The dissipating clouds do not create the moon. They simply reveal it.

~ Unknown

The above stated approach would stand in direct opposition to articulating Integral Leadership as a truth or as some form of a static approach. I do not wish to refer to Integral Leadership as some ultimate truth or something that is most beautiful for the field of leadership studies. To do so would only put us into a defensive posture and force us towards articulating a definition that will, in the end, confine our ability to relate to all other good practices and good theories. We see ourselves as bridge builders and all good theories and all good practices as planks for spanning theoretical divides and for connecting and sharing good practices.

When it comes to theory and practice, this integral space the space where disciplines might intersect we are constantly seeking ways in which to put these tested theories and best practices to work in the world. Yet that surface intention alone is not enough to build a transdisciplinary perspective of leadership. We must also seek to reach into the depths of these theories and seek ways to put them into practice. Additionally we must reflect at the heart of practice and seek ways in which these practices might begin to inform or to create good theory. Theory and practice therefore form a continuum within this integral space. It is as Leonardo da Vinci said, “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he might cast”.

Integral Leadership, then, could be considered as a dynamic or as a flow around any organization or community. Said more plainly, around any human engagement in which leadership is tasked, I suspect there are multiple ways of illuminating the elements of that integral space. We could speak to it from an AQAL approach; we could simply look at it as the interactions of the subjective, intersubjective, interobjective, and objective purposes; perhaps we might to simply use I, we, us, and ours.

It would seem that when we begin to position the nature of Integral Leadership at the intersection of good theory and good practice the conversation begins with “I” and how “I” value something of beauty (good theory and/or good practice) which inspires me to share with you whereupon “we” discover collectively the reality of this beauty shared and seek measures to put it to work in our world for “us” and thereby create a product from that value/beauty found that makes “our” world better for all. I – we – us – ours.

And, through it all we must take care to not fall in love with our discoveries and thereby arrest our further or future search. We must be constantly awake to new stories and to new ways of engaging this integral space. We must constantly be asking ourselves what are we doing well and true today that may well be the source of our undoing tomorrow. We must pay attention to the stories that surround our world now and tomorrow.

What Does Integral Leadership Purpose?

This is the real question and the one that places our purposes in action in the world. There are two important words we must discuss as we begin to engage these purposes—leadership and integral.

In my studies into the art and science of leadership I have come across over 200 different, but related, definitions of leadership. I suspect there are many more depending on the situation within the community or organization. Joseph Rost once complained that it seemed to be permissible for leadership scholars to not risk a definition of leadership. While I would concur with his sentiment, in the integral case, it may be worth discussing why defining leadership may be counterproductive.

Let’s consider the word integral. Looking at the definitions we might come to see that integral would mean something that is necessary to make complete; that integral could mean forming a whole or something that is undivided. When we combine these two words; Integral Leadership, we are intentionally seeking leadership from this integral space.  Within that space we begin understand that defining such a space unnecessarily results in confining its integral purpose. It is important at this stage that we begin to understand Integral Leadership as a creative space, a relational space, a spiritual space, and a space where potentials meet and actualize.

Therefore, we begin to see leadership, leading, and leader as elements of the space. They tend to work together in a very purposeful way. Leadership in this integral space might be considered something that is illuminating the interrelationships occurring within the space. And the leader within the space would be more about integral modeling then what might have been traditionally designated. Leading therefore results in potentiating integral actions.

Integral Leadership illuminates the interrelationships occurring within this intersectional space – this transdisciplinary space thereby inviting the leader, or potentiator, to begin modeling how to engage or relate within this space in order to achieve our mutual or collective purposes. And, finally, leading then becomes much more about integral actions than some personal label of leader.

Integral Leadership is always seeking completeness and equilibrium. Therefore empowering disciplines to connect cross-functionally can be a very transformative force for the individual and the community of practice, leading to any number of outcomes to include a growing spiritual awareness or perhaps something more in line with consciousness development. Integral Leadership has no need to hide from the notion of spiritual or spirituality. It views spirituality as a central part of development. There are spiritual ramifications operating within this integral space. As a result, the metatheory surrounding Integral Leadership and integral development is connected to spirituality as well as the functional stages of development.

Working from or within this integral space then requires a shifting of paradigms. It is important to note that we are not simply interacting with the subjective or with the objective. These constructs co-exist within the integral space and the Integral Leader must become aware of and develop the skills to transactively engage across this dichotomy. To move transactively effectively dissolves the polarity between the subjective and the objective. Transactivity typically concerns the revelation of something hidden rather than the correspondence between subjective thinking/feeling and the objective truth/theory; the clouds dissipate. At the Integral Leadership Review we learn to move transactively.

As a way of an illustration, consider application, theory, and personal growth and transformation as three elements to be held within this integral space. It is possible to examine each of these from a separatist perspective. We can look at the pragmatics of application and we can begin to form an understanding of those practicalities. We can embrace theory given to us by objective science. And, finally, we can embrace the notion of personal growth and transformation. So at any one time we have the practical elements of pragmatism setting unconnected to objective theory setting unconnected to the subjective natures of personal growth and transformation. Each of these areas offers something to the nature of leadership. Integral Leadership purposes itself with building bridges that closes the distance between the practical, the theoretical, and the personal.

How do we locate the field of Integral Leadership? Our answer must be that Integral Leadership is about good theory relating to good practices embracing exceptional human development at the intersections of potential amplified by way of a Transdisciplinary, Transcultural, Transspiritual approach. This begs the integral question:

Who Are We within This Purpose?

What does, should, leadership purpose under the best of conditions with the highest intentions? At the Integral Leadership Review we want to explore, from within this integral space, just what the best conditions are now and in the future as it is doubtful that they will ever be static. We want to understand what are the highest intentions of leadership studies, now and in the future. It is not necessary for us to define, to refine, to confine the nature of leadership. To do so is an act of violence against its nature. We want to illuminate, build understanding and bridges to span the disciplines to create a transdisciplinary approach toward solving the real problems facing the world now and in the future. While this may not be the full answer it is the lace to begin.

Integral Leadership Review seeks to make a substantial difference in creating self-sustaining and generative people, systems and Earth through an integrative, developmental and transdisciplinary approach to leadership.

 About the Author

Mark McCaslin, PhD, is a professor at Sofia University (formerly Institute for Transpersonal Psychology) and is the Editor of Integral Leadership Review.