Feature Article: The Integral Model of Leadership: The Cultural Imperative Integral Leadership – Part 20

Feature Articles / November 2002

In an earlier edition of Integral Leadership Review (Volume 11, No. 3 – March, 2002), I discussed the notion of attunement, the dynamics of the relationship between the individual leader’s values, beliefs, assumptions and intentions in relation to those held by the collective, that is, within the culture. Since that time interesting work has been done on the use of Ken Wilber’s notion of lines in individual consciousness and development. These are cognitive, emotional, somatic, relational, spiritual, and integrating. As Steve March points out, “Moral and values systems might make the list as well.”

The application of developmental models has helped us see that there is a messy, organic process that individuals go through in their development. For example, the spiral within (Ken Wilber, Susann Cook-Greuter and Don Beck) applied to lines suggests the possibility that the individual can be at different developmental levels at any given point in time along any of the lines. As Leo Burke points out (see the interview below) this makes intuitive sense to executives and others studying leadership.

And what of developmental levels and lines within cultures? What are the lines within cultures and how can their development be understood? In answering these questions we enter a world of even greater complexity, even greater messiness. For in the world of culture we have the combined values, beliefs, assumptions and intentions held by individuals. These are not just a taxonomy or a list, but a product of the mix of the factors, that is, how they play off each other.

Thinking about models of Integral Leadership is taking at least two forms. First, the leader is viewed as holding a position in the upper left and upper right quadrants of intention and behavior. The lower left and lower right quadrants are deemed to be the culture and systems, respectively, of the organization or system of which the leader is a part. There is nothing wrong or inaccurate about this approach, as far as I can see. However, it does beg the question of leadership as a holon, leadership as a holarchy.

It has been argued that leadership is an activity, not a conscious entity in and of itself and thereby does not qualify to be treated as a holon or holarchy. Yet, the holarchy is used to describe galaxies, planets, tribes and nation states. While these may contain elements of distributed consciousness (Wilber) within their lower left quadrants that is a tough, perhaps metaphysical, case that needs to be made. I would suggest that a leadership system has as much distributed consciousness as a tribe, which by the way would be a higher level holon because it includes multiple systems in addition to a leadership system.

The second approach, that represented by the articles in this series, is to consider leadership (organizational or business) as the context. The individual leader is still represented by the upper quadrants as in the first approach. However, the lower left and right quadrants represent the “leadership culture” and the “leadership system” of the larger organization or business. And, by the way, there is no apparent reason not to apply either approach to community leadership.

This does raise the question of what is the difference between a leadership system and an organization as a system. Tentatively, the leadership system is on a par with the communications system, the decision making system, the innovation system. These are all slices of the organization as a system. Is this a helpful approach? Only to the degree that it supports our efforts at differentiating the notion of leadership and reintegrating it with our thinking related to other subsystems.

This second approach leads to some confusion in our thinking about leadership. As long as we persist in thinking of leadership = leader, the first approach makes sense. However, if we think of leadership as a phenomenon deserving to be studied through a holonic and integral perspective, we need to consider the culture of leadership and the systems of leadership in any larger context.

When we focus on leadership as a phenomenon we can ask a different set of questions. For example, what are the lines relevant to a leadership culture within a larger system? Developmental approaches suggest at least two lines: cognitive models about the individual as a leader and values about relationships in leadership. We might cast around for some others such as assumptions about leadership and assumptions about followership.

Another strategy might be to draw upon a balanced scorecard approach and consider the lines to be those that are (1) internal to the leadership system, (2) relationship centered, (3) perspective on the material world, and (4) orientation to learning and development.

Are there functional equivalents to cognitive, emotional, somatic, relational, spiritual, and integrating? Culturally, cognitive may be about the dynamic mix of models of leadership, ideas about hat it is and is not to be a leader and about how leadership plays a role in the culture. Emotional may be about attitudes toward leadership. Somatic may be about beliefs of how leadership is structured and situated within the large system. Relational brings in ideas about how leadership interfaces with the rest of the system. Spiritual is connected to values, morality and beliefs about what is good or even about just what is. “There is no concept more familiar to us than that of spiritual energy, yet there is none that is more opaque scientifically.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

And integrating? I suppose this is about the dynamics of related meaning. Perhaps it is related to the Buddhist idea of Dependent Arising.

Dependent rising is about causation and that everything that exists has both a cause and a condition(s) for its existence. As a consequence, everything has a dependent existence, does not exist independently in any absolute sense. Thus the integrating aspect of culture might relate to how all of these variables fit together in cause and condition.

And how to guide the individual leader in a collective leadership environment marked by complexity and change? From a process point of view, it suggests that holding conversations about values, beliefs and assumptions related to leadership would contribute greatly to development in any context. And we can use some of the guidance of Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner about the dilemmas that leaders face in global businesses. Each situation provides an opportunity to discover how to hold these dilemmas. Each situation has an opportunity to discover more about connections. Each situation provides an opportunity for learning and discovery. This involves all quadrants, all levels. It is relevant to culture. In the world of business, and one might argue equally for community and the planet, the political and ecological crisis is severe enough that such learning and discovery becomes a cultural imperative.

> Russ Volckmann