Leading Comments: Integral Leadership in the Netherlands

Leading Comments / January 2008

According to the Hungarian philosopher of science Ervin Laszlo we are on a point in history of either breakthrough or breakdown. When we look at international developments, it almost seems that we are heading towards a breakdown. International tensions, global warming, beyond peak oil and a mortgage crisis feed anxiety and the pessimist mind. But as Dr. Don Beck says: “There are no prizes for predicting the rain, it is time to build the arks.” With this in mind he founded the Center for Human Emergence (CHE), an international meshwork of activists to serve this global transformation.

“CHE is designed to enable people to get directly involved, to create indigenous ownership and commitment in centers across the globe, and to integrate and align a coalition of organizations, communities and thinkers. It will utilize a synthesis of state-of-the art knowledge and technologies, to help enrich humanity for all”

The Dutch node of the Center for Human Emergence (CHE-NL) is now about two years active. I am very honored to have the opportunity to share some of the outcomes of this in this issue of the Integral Leadership Review. The Netherlands has played an important role in modern western history and might be in a stage where this small nation can be a steppingstone for another major transformation.

The ‘Golden Age’, between 1584 and 1702 was a period where the Dutch trade, science and art were at their peak and of big influence on the world. Netherlands entered a period of great wealth and power, much of it based on trade. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) became the world’s largest commercial enterprise of the 17th century. In 1609 the Amsterdam exchange bank was founded and the Amsterdam stock exchange served as the model for stock markets everywhere.

Social classes changed and became largely determined by income. Wealthy merchants bought themselves into nobility by becoming landowners and acquiring a coat of arms and a seal. Aristocrats also mixed with members from other classes, married their daughters to wealthy merchants, became traders themselves or took up public or military office to earn a salary.

Leiden and Utrecht were among the leading universities of Europe. Painters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt depicted scenes from Dutch life and Christiaan Huygens was a great scientist whose many accomplishments included discovering the rings of Saturn.

The international orientation of the Netherlands goes back much further but this flourishing period of international trade set the basis for Dutch tolerance. The importance of good foreign relations promoted tolerance towards minority views and interests.

The Protestant reformation rejected central dogmas and the fixed clerical hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Reformists stressed the importance of each person’s individual conscience in determining how to interpret the Bible. This Dutch tolerance made it easy for foreigners to travel or even immigrate (often as refugees) to the Netherlands.

The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ overlapped and succeeded the golden age. In this ‘age of reason’ people believed that systematic thinking might be applied to all areas of human activity. Reason was the primary basis of authority. Mysticism and revelation were rejected as the primary sources of knowledge and wisdom and were blamed for fomenting political instability. The Enlightenment is known for its extreme skepticism and inquiry into the nature of “knowledge.” This period and these thoughts set the basis for modern day democracy, political economy, philosophy and science.

The Enlightenment is held to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy and reason as primary values of society. Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were also influenced by Enlightenment ideas.

As a nation the Netherlands was not as influential as in the golden age. Though several Dutch people were of great influence on the development into today’s western society. Hugo de Groot laid the foundations for current international law. He also formulated the principle that the sea was international territory and all nations were free to use it for seafaring trade.

Spinoza desired to change the world with his philosophical ideals. The core of Spinoza’s ethical philosophy is that nothing is intrinsically good or bad, except to the extent that it is subjectively perceived to be by the individual. Things are only good or evil to the respect that humanity sees it desirable to apply these conceptions to matters. In the universe anything that happens comes from the essential nature of objects or of God/Nature. According to Spinoza, reality is perfection.

Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his world view (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, consistent with Einstein’s belief in an impersonal deity. Also today’s deep ecology movement is highly influenced by Spinoza.

Even these days, the Netherlands is considered as one of the most tolerant countries in the world. The prime minister called out to the nation to show VOC mentality and our economy is highly trade and knowledge oriented. But there are also tensions. Our social and economic systems are under stress as is our tolerance towards minorities. All elements are here in this small country with a highly complex sociology. There are some glimpses of a breakthrough. Something is going on in the Netherlands …. Again.

The contributions in this issue show elements of new leadership—maybe second tier—emerging. These elements are fragile and agile. Almost all point out the struggle between including the benefits of the present and transcending the emerging new. Like Spinoza the authors in this issue share the desire to contribute to a better world and are willing to take up the individual challenge this brings by being the change they want to see.

Dr. Don Beck shares his vision on the Netherlands, what is going on from an integral perspective and the possible relevance of it on a larger scale.Margot Bosman’s contribution is on how and under what circumstances this current government was formed and what perspectives the formulated policy agreement holds from an integral perspective. Leida Schuringa uses participation as an instrument for integration between different communities in the Dutch society. Her area of practice, Rotterdam, is the first city in the world that has over 51% of its population from a foreign ethnic background.

Not only government, also universities and business environments seem to prepare for a transformation. In the interview by Russ VolckmannWessel Ganzevoort, Professor in Organizational Innovation, shares his experiences as board member of KPMG Europe and his views on leadership, power and management in organizations and society. Diederick Janse describes the results of two years of experience in transforming a business unit from an integral perspective. The impact of the transformational process are astonishing and build on measurable results in terms of profit, customer satisfaction and employee benefit.

Lisette Schuitemaker and I have written an article about different styles of leadership and leadership development. It describes the path to synnervating leadership as one of the aspects of integral resilience. Helen Titchen Beeth has written a book review of Peter Merry’s book,Evolutionary Leadership. Unfortunately, this book still is available in the Dutch language only. The leadership quotes by Paul Zuiker, Herman Wijffels and Wessel Ganzevoort also give context to the Dutch practice.

All authors are involved with the Dutch node of the Center for Human EmergencePeter Merry describes the evolution of this node and shares his personal thoughts and insights as leader of this node. CHE-NL has for two executive years been the host of the international European ConFab.Douwe Dronkert has written an in depth follow up of Helen Titchen Beeth’s report of this Conference. At the ConFab practitioners from over seven different countries and three continents shared their experiences, latest insights, newest challenges and next questions. If you want to be there next year, make a note in your agenda (Sept 26-28 2008) and let us know.

Reading all this I am not only honored by the opportunity that has been given to share, but also proud of the leaders who have been doing the work and are willing to share their personal experiences and the impact it has on Dutch society. Thank you so much!