Integrally-informed Management Development:
the Art of the Gentle Nudge
by Pierre A. Gauthier
An ongoing challenge for Integral Theorists remains the practical application of Integral Theory in the world around them. The ideas and models they produce and discuss amongst themselves do occasionally translate into integrally-informed policies, programs and real-life development, but often only after a painful birthing process. In my work as a management training specialist in the Public Sector, I have experienced many of the challenges of incorporating Integral Theory into my learning design and my facilitation. In this article, I will share some of what I have learned about doing so.
First off, let me explain that I do not teach Integral Theory. Not only am I neither trained nor qualified to do so, but doing so is simply outside the realm of my job description. In short, I am paid to develop managers and teach them a set of core leadership competencies. I typically have 18 to 24 new managers in a classroom for a few days. I put them through a series of learning activities and release them back into the workplace where they can drive their employees crazy with all their newfangled ideas about managing.
To make a difference, therefore, I focus, not on teaching Integral Theory, but rather on incorporating it inconspicuously into courses on topics like Values and Ethics, Performance Management, Team-Building, etc. At times, I must admit, I feel the urge to shout out: “throw away your manuals! I’ve got something REALLY amazing to share with you!” But those urges pass and I return my focus to looking for ever more creative ways to weave Integral Theory into my (shall we say) rather pedestrian courses.
It’s not that I’m convinced that Integral Theory wouldn’t appeal and apply to new managers in the Public Sector. I know it would, and it’s a model I would dearly love to teach. I find true beauty in the Integral Model. I am constantly amazed by the simplicity of some of its basic tenets: 1) All Quadrants, all Levels, all Lines, and all Types; 2) Everything has an Interior and an Exterior; and 3) Everything exists as both an individual entity and as part of a collective. It’s simple and elegant. I would truly enjoy teaching it and most of my learners would love learning about Integral Theory, but it’s just not what I’ve been hired to do.
Nevertheless, Integral Theory contributes immensely to the work that I do. Once again: I develop managers and teach them a core set of leadership competencies. So how do I apply the Integral Theory that I have learned both in my study of Wilber and company and in my training as an Integral Coach™? How do I bring my knowledge and my skills into my work of teaching fledgling managers how to motivate employees, build effective teams, and achieve results through people?As I will explain, the opportunities are many.
The way I see it, I have three major avenues for the application of Integral Theory in management training: 1) learning design; 2) examples and case studies; and 3) facilitation/coaching. All three of these support each other and merge seamlessly into an Integrally-informed program.
Integrally Informed Learning Design
In my training in Adult Education, I was taught that good learning programs are designed taking into consideration different types of learners (e.g. Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, or Kolb’s Assimilators, Accommodators, Divergers, and Convergers.) The idea is that different people apprehend their world and/or process information in different ways, and that good learning design is either tailored to match their learning style or else offers a variety of activities such that each type can benefit from the training.
This is entirely consistent with Integral Theory.
Integrally Informed Learning Design expands on the idea of tailoring learning programs to different types of learners and develops it into:
- Using all 4 Quadrants (i.e. all information presented falls into one of the 4 Quadrants, and the course content should ideally cover all 4. Also, each learner orients primarily from one of the 4 Quadrants, which should be reflected in the design)
- Levels (i.e. Each learner is at a particular level in his or her own individual development. Course content and methods should be appropriate to the average level of the class) and
- Lines (as in Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence model, each learner has their own unique profile of strengths and weaknesses. Courses should be designed to leverage the strengths and minimize the limiting aspects of the weaknesses of the group overall).
In my work with new managers, then, I design my programs keeping in mind not only the different learning styles, but also the orienting Quadrants. I use a particular form of shorthand for the Quadrants to help me in this: the Meaning/Values Dimension (UL), the Behavioral Dimension (UR), the Cultural/Interpersonal Dimension (LL) and the Systems/Program/Policies Dimension (LR). In my design, I make sure that I have something that will resonate for learners who orient from each of the four Quadrants.
Also, because the new managers I teach tend to fit a certain “profile” (due to hiring and promotion practices) I can tailor the language I use to their levels (typically Orange) and their strongest Lines (typically, the cognitive and moral lines.) This approach fits nicely with Adult Learning theories and it results in courses and training programs that are, if anything, more powerful and more transformative.
Examples and Case Studies
In addition to designing my learning activities and programs using an Integral approach, I also try to use the examples and case studies that make up the “hands on” portion of the learning activity as opportunities to speak to the 4 perspectives of AQAL and to the Levels, Lines and Types. In all of these, I try to use language that is non-technical. For example, I use the words “perspectives” or “dimension” instead of Quadrants. When I speak of levels, I’ll often colloquialize the levels to names like “the group-belonging level” (amber), the “individual achievement level” (orange), and the “global-awareness level” (green).
Here is an example of a case study that I might use in a course on motivation,which gets learners to look at a situation from all 4 Quadrants:
A manager has two employees, and over the past year or so she has noticed a drop in their performance. She talks with them individually about this drop and learns that one of them is having health problems while the other has issues with the way the company is being run. It’s the same problem, but already she has uncovered two very different causes, which would clearly require two very different solutions.
Although the explanations given by the two employees sound cut-and-dried, the manager might benefit from questioning a bit more. The manager needs to adopt an approach that goes deeper than the simple surface solution. This is the kind of questioning that is often used in a coaching conversation. Come up with a list of questions that the manager might ask her employees about a) their individual values, b) interpersonal relationships, c) individual behaviors,and d) the company’s policies and programs.
I’ll ask the learners to work in groups and come up with questions that the manager could ask from each of those four different perspectives. Then I’ll ask them to anticipate the types of answers that the questioning might reveal that would not have otherwise surfaced. I may supply the learners with examples of questions that each address each perspective, just to get them started, such as:
- What’s the most important thing for you to see addressed as we move forward? (individual values)
- Who else is affected or implicated in some way in this situation? (interpersonal relationships)
- What have you tried so far to try and improve things? (individual behavior)
- Are there any corporate programs or policies that we could try taking advantage of? (policies/programs)
(N.B. I find it better, in general, to let the learners struggle a bit and come up with their own questions.)
I might then ask the learners to brainstorm on what sorts of things might be revealed by such questioning. Clearly, each group of learners will be imaginative and use some creative license, but here is the type of response I might get:
In the case of the health issues, the employee might reveal that their health problems are due to stress, and they are on the verge of a burn-out. They might reveal that the most important thing for them to see addressed is their job security, because their spouse lost their job and they are the sole income earner right now, and they are worried about their children. They might say that they have been secretly taking work home at night to catch up but that they are simply overwhelmed by the responsibilities they have right now.
For their part, the manager might know that there is a new work-at-home program that this employee could take advantage of. The manager could convince the corporation that this is a case in which it would make a lot of sense to turn to this new program. She could argue that this employee (who might have appeared as a slacker) was actually going the extra mile to try to keep up (and should even be rewarded!) This employee is someone who, if given a bit of a break during a difficult time, could end up being extremely loyal and dedicated and hugely motivated for years to come.
In the case of the other employee (who has issues with the way the company is being managed,) the questioning might reveal that they feel the corporation is being environmentally irresponsible, but they’ve been afraid to say anything about it for fear of losing their job. They might say they are not alone in feeling his way, and that a group of colleagues complain about this all the time (but only to each other.) The manager could suggest these employees form the core of a new management committee on “going green.” The manager could sell this to senior executives as a bottom-up approach where motivated employees could feel they are having an impact. The end result could be a far more motivated workforce all around, and a marketing campaign that touts their environmental responsibility.
Without knowing it, these learners would have adopted an AQAL approach to the case study, and hopefully gained some insight into the way that problems can be approached with a view to finding the true causes and implementing solutions that address those causes in the “right” Quadrant (especially when the symptoms show up in another Quadrant, which is not unusual.)
Facilitation and Coaching
The third major way that Integral Theory can be effectively brought into a learning program is through facilitation. Facilitation is a natural opportunity to impact on learners in an integral way—it offers many moments when learners bring up difficult situations or challenges that leave them somewhat “stuck.”In other words, facilitation yields ideal coaching moments.
I am constantly on the lookout for these coaching moments and I seize them voraciously, because I happen to believe that the workplace can be and needs to be the place where we continue our development once we have finished our schooling.
I see my role as a corporate trainer as one where I pick up my learners’ development exactly where their college or high school teachers left off. The job of those teachers was not only to teach the content in the curriculum, but also (whether they realized it or not) to bring their students to a certain level of development (typically Amber-Orange in Wilber’s terms.) As a corporate trainer, my job is to take these learners from whatever level I find them (which is usually Amber-Orange, but occasionally Red-Amber or even Green) and give their development a little nudge. A gentle nudge.
I do this in the knowledge that a) they are there to learn, so there exists an ideal opening for such a nudge; b) I have the training required to make the nudge gentle yet effective; and c) it’s consistent with the goal of developing their leadership skills. This “gentle nudging” is an additional responsibility that I take on, even as I do my “regular” facilitation, in my role as their trainer. As an integrally-informed trainer, I show my learners where the doors of their further development are located, and I unlock those doors for them. As an Integral Coach™, I give them a little shove to get them to step through.In other words, they get more than they bargained for.
Why would I do this? Because I believe that when I give that one manager-in-training a little shove, I am acting in harmony with the ever-ongoing evolution of life, the unfolding of Spirit. I realize it may seem like a bit of a stretch to make this link, but to me, the evolution of one individual is not separate from the evolution of the organizations they are a part of, the society in which they live, their species, or all life on this planet.
Training is about learning, and learning is growth. Therefore, in my classroom, every single person walks in with the potential to grow (in the sense of developing new capacities.) These new capacities might well be beyond that which is the norm within their organization. If that’s the case, then I’ve helped not only the individual but also their organization’s learning, growth, and development just a tiny bit. By the same principle, though on a smaller scale, I’ll have helped the learning, growth and development of the society in which that organization exists and in which the individual lives and works.
Not only that, but when one person develops, it changes every one of the organizations or collectives in which that person lives, however imperceptibly. And because that one individual has grown, others around them will be pulled up, awakened to their slumbering potential, by this now wiser, more effective, more fully present and more compassionate family-member, colleague or friend.
My job as a coach, then, is to help each manager-trainee who enters my classroom to grow. It is also to show them how they can influence systems, programs and policies so that those, too, will evolve in a more compassionate, more inclusive, and more effective direction. Lastly, my job is to show my learners how they can most effectively coach others around them (in particular their direct employees) to follow suit. In other words, I also teach them how to give others a gentle nudge.
A New “Breed” of Leader
Using the three approaches described above (integrally-informed learning design, AQAL case studies, and facilitation/coaching,) I do my corporate training primarily for management and leadership development, but I do it in an integral way. Yes, my work is to “grow” better leaders, but for me, that means to grow Integral Leaders.
Ideally, I would take every new manager and catapult them straight into Turquoise/Tier 2/Fully Integral Leadership. However, in leadership (as in life) development is gradual, progressive, and follows a series of levels which, for better or for worse, cannot be skipped. So I take my time and work diligently at giving those gentle nudges that will propel or compel the managers in my classes to realize the level at which they currently operate, as well as the existence of a higher level.
So just what is the average level of our leaders? Based on what I have observed, I would say that most corporate leaders in both the private and public sectors are firmly entrenched at Orange, or “individual achievement.” Leaders at all of the other levels can still be found, of course. There are, for example, some corporations and institutions that still promote “Red” leaders, who rule by tyranny, but for the most part, those organizations did not survive the latter half of the 20th Century.
Some corporations and institutions promote mainly “Amber” leaders, who insist on conformity, loyalty and family values. These leaders discourage initiative and creativity, and believe that one must have been with “the company” for a few decades to have earned the right to be a leader within it. For them, you’re either “in” or you’re “out,” and once you’re in, you check your individuality at the door. Many of these leaders lost their credibility in the scandals and massive layoffs of the past 20 years. Many more will be retiring shortly, and we will likely see very few new Amber leaders rising to the top in the future.
As stated above, the most common leader today is the “Orange” leader. He or she is confident, self-assured, and determined to succeed. The Orange leader believes that we each create our own reality—we set our goals, take responsibility for them, and do whatever needs to be done to achieve success (or not.) They believe that they fully deserve every penny of their salary and have the right to spend it any way they please (which for Orange usually means big things: big houses, big cars, big boats, etc.) Their perspective is individual, and doggedly so. If they decide that the organization should “go green,” it’s typically because they see a gain in it for them, and not out of any sense of “oneness with Gaia.”
That being said, there are many strengths in the Orange leader. Orange leaders have built many of the multi-national corporate giants we see today—no mean feat, when you stop and think about it. They have also served as the role models of an entire generation of young managers, due to their outstanding accomplishments.
Orange leaders are hugely charismatic, and they can revitalize a stagnant organization overnight with their drive and ambition. On the other hand, they are also frequently narcissistic and self-serving, with a Moral Line that lags seriously behind. I believe that as a society we are starting to become painfully aware of the limitations of these types of leaders, and I expect their number to start to decline, after having peaked around the year 2000.
Then there is the new kid on the block: the “Green” leader. The Green leader looks around and asks: what impact are we (every member of this organization) having on the world? What is the net effect of the work that we do on our country, our world’s citizens, and our planet? What is the potential here for doing more than has been done before (in terms of truth, justice, beauty, knowledge, etc.)? The Green leader co-creates (with as many people as possible) a vision for the organization. Once that is done, the Green leader mobilizes the workforce to engage fully in the realization of that vision. Most importantly, she does not see herself as superior in any way to the people she “leads” —she is one of them.
The decision-making style of Green leaders is participative, inclusive, and ever respectful of diversity. These are leaders for the 21st Century. Their perspective is global. Their management style is flexible. And they possess a spectrum of skills that are best suited to the current generation of young workers. These skills include:
- emotional intelligence
- achieving work-life balance
- stress-management skills
- time-management that includes time for visioning and for engaging staff
- speaking truth to power
- securing employee engagement
- building trust; and
- appreciating the unique strengths and contributions of every employee
As a facilitator, my job is to show my learners the strengths of each type of leader, and to develop in them the flexibility to vary their own management style. There are times when “command-and-control” is called for. The same is true for participative management, management by objectives, and collaborative,non-hierarchical (or leaderless) group management.
I also explain to my learners the limitations of each style or type of leadership. I try to illustrate (without labeling them as such) the relative advantages of:
- Amber over Red
- (employees won’t just do what they’re told, they’ll do more, because they feel cared for!);
- Orange over Amber
- (employees will work harder than they would just out of a sense of duty, because they’re “pumped” by your energy and charisma!); and
- Green over Orange
- (there will finally be some trust in the team, which will allow a synergy to emerge where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, with amazing results!)
My goal is to awaken in each learner a realization of the limits of their current way (the level they are now at,) and the potential for a better way(the next level up the spiral.)
Many readers will note that I have not mentioned Tier 2 leaders. That is because their numbers are still insufficient for me to devote much time to that style of leadership in my programs. There are only a few theories about them, and just as few real-life models to point to. Consequently, my work is focused on moving Tier 1 leaders a little further up the spiral. Hopefully, that will change over the next 10 to 15 years, and I’ll find myself nudging leaders from Tier 1 to Tier 2.
Lastly, I believe that working Integral Theory into manager development programs is only one small part of the evolutionary picture for organizations. It’s not just about integral leaders; it’s about integral everyone and everything. It’s about integrally-informed policies, programs, and practices. It’s also about an Integral workplace culture. It’s about rewarding behaviors that reflect global values, responsibility and inclusion. In short, it’s about advancing the learning of the organization, so that it moves toward greater awareness of itself, its practices, and its impact. It’s also about the values of the organization, and its ability to see beyond just one fiscal year’s profits. In short, developing integrally-informed organizations extends well beyond the reach of any learning program.
So, my work as a corporate trainer (i.e. my efforts to produce more integral leaders) is only one facet of the “integral practices” of the organizations I work with. It is a necessary aspect, but it is not sufficient for organizational transformation. However, if I do my little part with heart and determination and full presence, then I stand a good chance of “lighting a fire” inside every new manager in my class—a fire that they can then bring back to their organizations and pass on to their colleagues, bosses and employees. And once that fire is lit inside them, there’s no telling how far or how fast it will spread.
There are many ways to bring Integral Theory into the workplace and gradually transform our businesses and institutions into more fully functional, effective and evolved entities, ones which will require anyone working there to rise to meet the “corporate center of gravity.”
Once this is done consistently, workplaces have the potential to evolve into incubators of individual growth, where senior leaders, trainers/coaches, and middle managers gladly work in concert (supported by policies and programs) to push, pull, nudge and inspire all of their new members to put in place practices that will take them to a higher level of awareness and effectiveness. In fact, I believe that this is already happening in certain workplaces (however most of the people involved don’t currently have the mental models and the language to describe it as I just have).
For our part, those of us who are trainers and coaches can actively participate in this evolution by designing Integrally-informed learning programs, by talking widely and freely about multiple perspectives and growth to higher levels,and of course, by working on our own evolution through Integral Life Practice.
Those of us who have had the pleasure of meeting someone who has true Presence know that we have a kind of instinctive reaction to them, along the lines of: “I don’t know what’s different about this person, but they aren’t like most of the people I know, and yet I inexplicably want to be more like them.”
We trainers and coaches have to be that person.
When we model fully-embodied presence, when we shift perspectives gracefully to meet our learners where they are, and when we show deep compassion for their suffering, we serve as the Magnetic North that aligns all of our learners in the same direction: towards becoming more fullyhuman, more fully present,and more fully all that they already are.
About the Author
Pierre A. Gauthier is a Certified Integral Coach and corporate trainer with 25 years experience in management and 5 years experience as a trainer. He is also an avid student of the integral approach and applies the approach daily in his work with managers and executives. He provides coaching and training in French and English. Pierre can be contacted at email@example.com.