Leading Comments

Leading Comments / March 2012

In the following recent announcement from the International Leadership Association, Barbara Kellerman is raising questions, many of which we have been trying to address in the pages of Integral Leadership Review for years now. Read the ad and then think with me about some of the key points she is making:

The End of Leadership

Featuring Barbara Kellerman

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | 2:00 – 3:00 PM EDT Registration is free for ILA members and only $24.95 for non-members.
(See Announcements in the March 2012 ilrParticles for a link to register – Editor)

Becoming a leader has become a mantra. The explosive growth of the “leadership industry” is based on the belief that leading is a path to power and money, a medium for achievement, and a mechanism for creating change. [Italics placed by editor, ILR] But there are other, parallel, truths: that leaders of every stripe are in disrepute; that the tireless and often superficial teaching of leadership has brought us no closer to nirvana; and that followers nearly everywhere have become, on the one hand, disappointed and disillusioned and, on the other, entitled and emboldened. [bold by editor] The End of Leadership takes on this unsettling situation.

The End of Leadership tells two tales. The first is about change—about how and why leadership and followership have changed over time, especially in the last forty years. As a result of cultural evolution and technological revolution, the balance of power between leaders and followers has shifted—with leaders becoming weaker and followers stronger. The second narrative is about the leadership industry itself. In this provocative and critical volume, Barbara Kellerman raises questions about leadership as both a scholarly pursuit and a set of practical skills:

  • Does the industry do what it claims to do—grow leaders?
  • Does the research justify the undertaking? Do we adequately measure the results of our efforts?
  • Are leaders as all-important as we think?
  • What about followers? Isn’t teaching good followership as important now as teaching good leadership?

Finally, Kellerman asks: “Given the precipitous decline of leaders in the estimation of their followers, are there alternatives to the existing models—ways of teaching leadership that take into account the vicissitudes of the twenty-first century? Participants of the webinar will explore how The End of Leadership takes on all these questions and then some.”

Integral Leadership Review is an important source for these alternatives.

Since today is March 14 I have not attended this online workshop, one of the services provided by one of my favorite professional organizations, the International Leadership Association, to its members. As you can see, non-members can participate as well. I have ordered Kellerman’s book, however, for a future review in Integral Leadership Review.

I hope as you read through this you noted the uses of words like leading, leader and leadership. I have maintained for some time now that the failure, both in the academic literature and in the popular literature and usage of these terms, to distinguish among them has been a major source of confusion and stuckness in how we make sense and meaning out of the phenomena and our experience with what these terms represent. A few authors have begun to make some distinctions, most notable David V. Day and Donna Ladkin. Here are some elaborated distinctions that I have been using in some other writing:

  1. Leader – a role in a system, that is, a set of expectations held by members of a society, community or organization about desired and appropriate behaviors and qualities of individuals who temporarily occupy the role. For example, members of an organization would hold that leaders are knowledgeable or have a clear understanding of a current situation. Thus, in looking at the role of leader we would want to know what are the expectations held by the stakeholders in that role. Stakeholder is a term referring to any individual who places a value on a role—a role occupied by an individual or a collective (Mitroff). It could be argued that there are stakeholders who will be impacted by someone filling that role, but unless they place a value on that impact it is probably not useful to include them, except in a negative sense, i.e., their expectation of individuals who occupy the role is that they will not be impacted by what those individuals do.
  2. Leading—the activities of individuals temporarily occupying the role of leader. Here is where much of the popular and academic leadership literature tends to focus. When researchers and theorists talk about what a leader does, it is a description of an individual in the role of leader and the behaviors of that individual that relate to that role. For example, the suggestion that leaders articulate and hold a vision is an indication of a behavior. So is being authentic (Avolio) or being a servant (Greenleaf ). Underlying these are the perspectives and intentions that individuals bring. It may seem as if there is little difference between the role and the behaviors, because we are more likely to identify individuals as having filled the role if they exhibit the corresponding behaviors. But there is. In addition to the behaviors we can observe, there are the intentions, beliefs, assumptions, values, worldview and more that we cannot literally see. These play a critical role in how individuals behave and how they are perceived by others. Do they listen? Do they consider what they hear in how they behave? Do they see the issues clearly? Do they want they same results as the rest of us (even when such agreement may be fragile and temporary)? Can they connect through the culture to the rest of us? Are they interacting with the structures, roles, systems and processes essential for realizing aspirations in this context? Leading, like living, is a complex business.
  3. Leadership—involves the role (leader), the behaviors and worldviews—including beliefs, intentions and the like—(leading) and the context (systems and culture). But it is a context that goes beyond our notions of situation and situational management or leadership (Hersey and Blanchard 1969). It is a context that includes culture, as well as systems, processes, technologies and so on. Thus, the term leadership refers to the gestalt of bio-psycho-social (Beck and Cowan/Graves) phenomena in which many variables are played out in the service of accomplishing something, even if that is maintaining the status quo in the face of challenges.

Compare these statements with the kinds of questions that Kellerman raises. How much more nuanced might these questions be if the terms used reflected these or similar distinctions?

Ken Wilber has written and spoken about “occurrences.” So there would be partnership occurrences or learning occurrences or leadership occurrences. I like that term because it is not as abrupt as a snapshot nor as long as a movie. It is like an episode. Or close to Santa Fe Institute co-founder Murray Gell-Mann’s notion of “frozen accidents” that help link regularities and complexities in physical or human systems in their evolutions. No doubt there are some regularities in the phenomena of leadership and there are lots of complexities. How can we make sense of leadership or educate or train or develop under such circumstances?

From an integral point of view these distinctions point to the interiors of individuals, as well as their behaviors. They also point to the collective and always complex culture of the context, as well as the systems, processes, structures and artifacts that are found in the lower right quadrant of Wilber’s AQAL model. In addition they suggest the utility of our growing comprehension of adult development in relation to complexity, as well as the cognitive and worldview frameworks many of us have come to know and love. I will be writing more about this in forthcoming publications, but for now we might consider one or more ways these distinctions assist us in responding to Kellerman’s hypotheses and questions. You can tease these out for yourself, but I will offer some reflections.

Do we grow leaders? According to the distinctions I am suggesting, if leader is a role and not a person, the response to this question must relate to the world of expectations that are evolving in any given culture, team, division, company, organization, industry, nation, globe! What we are “growing” or evolving is a changing sense of the role of leader. There are as many differences among us about how we define the role as there are contexts in which to do so. Perhaps what is happening among academics and others who are concerned with the role of leader is that even within one organization the expectations for that role are diverse. The Board expects something different than the executive team members or union leaders or union members or suppliers, customers, the other company’s that relate to that role, directly or indirectly.

Politically, the changes in expectations of the role of leader are even more diverse. We can see this worldwide. There is no doubt that these changes relate to increased communication around the world as technology assaults the “boundaries to truth” so jealously guarded by those in power and with the bulk of the material wealth in the society. It is becoming increasingly difficult for elites (those in traditional leader roles) to control. This is not a new idea. More and more, however, those in leader roles are learning that you can shoot, maim, torture and otherwise dehumanize people, but you cannot control the ideas they have unleashed on the world or hide the transparency of control and domination the actions of these elites represent.

Our education and training programs that go under the labels of “leader” or “leadership” development are really not. Despite the well-intentioned (or not) hype for these programs, isn’t it about time that we recognize that what we are educating and even developing are individuals to prepare them to step into the roles that provide them with opportunities to make a difference in pursuing their intentions and aspirations, as well as the purposes they share with others? Sometimes that means being an effective team member. Sometimes, that means leading an organization for a period of time by stepping into the leader role, all the while recognizing that they can’t hang out there 24/7.

Furthermore, preparation for the role of leader in any given moment is not just about what one learns in a training room or in a Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard or MIT educational program. This is not to say that some important preparation for a leader role cannot come from such experiences. On the contrary, they can contribute to effectiveness – up to a point. I recently interviewed the CEO of a global corporation with the intention of publishing it in ILR. For a couple of reasons, I chose not to publish it (at this time). Something I learned about this particular CEO who has significant responsibility in a company that operates on every continent, save Antarctica, is that his education and training have been valuable to his rise to his exalted position, mainly to help him understand the industry and to bring to it some skills that were in short supply at various stages of his career. He didn’t read books about “leadership” or go to training programs to be a leader. It was the varied and rich experience he had building his career within this industry that was key. Hence, the most critical learning he had was from experience, observing others ­– the positive and negative aspects of their role modeling – and from mentors who had worked with him.

Thus, it is time to let go of the hubris of thinking we “grow leaders” or even can control the mix of what it takes for an individual to be effective in a leader role in any given context or system. Does this mean we should stop efforts to intentionally support individuals in their development should they have an opportunity to be effective in a leader role? Of course not! We are going to do the best we can (I hope) from preschool to the corporate training room. But by changing the ways we make sense and meaning out of the concepts related to leading, the leader role and leadership we can not only open ourselves and our systems to the kinds of approaches suggested by Kellerman’s questions, while recognizing that when we are talking about leaders and followers we are talking about roles, not the people who fill them. That frees us to refocus our energy on supporting people in being the best they can in whatever roles they choose to step into. It also frees us to focus on what it means to “manage” versus lead. For, it has bgeen argued that these are two different, albeit sometimes structurally related, organizational roles.

People need to know and understand how to manage self and others in all kinds of contexts. The skills associated with self-management and managing work with others are foundational and contribute to the development of individuals for stepping into roles that are important to the lives of individuals and systems. I hope in a future publication to show how such skills support individuals who have both formal and informal leader roles in businesses.

Well, I hope you have an opportunity to hear Kellerman or read her book. I think she has some important things to teach us. In the meanwhile, I appreciate your reading this far as I introduce you to the content of this issue of ILR. I hope some authors will forgive me for not pointing to their work, but given the length of this “Leading Comments” already and the utility of ilrParticles for providing brief introductions to their work, I will point to just a couple of things that I hope you will take note of.

First, we have a new Associate Editor for ILR and ilrParticles: Mark McCaslin. He is a resourceful, highly experienced and creative academic whom I respect very much. As the year proceeds you will see his “mark” on ILR more and more clearly. In the meanwhile, even in this issue you will find his second column for ILR, Integral North, and Part 2 of an important 3-Part series of articles, “The Human Art of Leading,” co-authored with Renee Snow. Renee also stepped in to help us out with a “Leadership Coaching Tip.” Their work is insightful and thought provoking.

We also have the first of a series of columns by Dr. Don Beck of Spiral Dynamics fame, Cracking the Master Code: The Search for a New Metaphor to Facilitate Human Emergence. Here he sets us up for what we can expect in some groundbreaking efforts he and others are engaged in around the world through a growing cadre of Spiral Wizards. The Fresh Perspective of Roberto Bonilla continues a conversation started in last August’s ILR about the use of Spiral Dynamics in the challenging political context of Mexico. Roberto is one of those Spiral Wizards. Note also that Raghu Ananthanarayan, ILR India Bureau Chief, offers an interesting look at the Spiral Dynamics framework and the work of Murray Gell-Mann of Santa Fe Institute fame.

I am particularly pleased to have some excellent reviews in this issue, including Christian Arnsperger’s (author of Full Spectrum Economics with a forward by Ken Wilber) review of Ronnie Lessem and Alexander Schieffer’s Integral Economics: Releasing the Economic Genius of Your Society, one of a series of books in their Transformation and Innovation series. Also Michael Kruse Craig has given us some insights into Core Integral’s online and CD-based Advanced Integral Course. Note Paul Roscorla’s review of John Rayment and Jonathan Smith: Misleadership: Prevalence, Causes & Consequences and William Harryman’s review of Gary Stamper’s Awakening the New Masculine: The Path of the Integral Warrior.

I hope you will take a look at Lisa Norton’s “Integral Design Thinking, Guessing the Future.” To the best of my knowledge this is the first time design thinking has been linked to integral leadership. Note the lead sentence: “Due to its ability to order, configure, synthesize, and enact consciousness at multiple scales, practice-based design, whether of a running shoe, political campaign, or a climate change adaptability strategy, is complementary to applied integral leadership.” Where else are you going to find the quality and the richness this article represents?

Lisa’s article represents the finest of what we are trying to accomplish with ILR: bridge among academia, the practice of leading, the development of individuals and organizations and nations. I have a colleague who refers to ILR as an academic publication. He is right! It is! But it is so much more – and less – than traditional academic publications. For one, it is not peer reviewed (for better or worse) as academic publications are. Also, we have a very heavy emphasis on application – using the ideas and experiences of many domains to make a generative difference in the world. Consequently, many of our authors are people from around the world who are actually trying to use the fresh approaches and integrations we represent to introduce change. And we bridge worldviews and conceptual approaches. We are not owned by or tied to any one organization or system of ideas. We value presentations that help us shift our understanding from a series of snapshots of leading moments to seeing the leadership movie as our lives, our systems and our world evolves. We appreciate what different experiences and disciplines bring to our understanding of how we can develop ourselves when we are leading, understanding the leader role(s) and the integral appreciation of leadership as it is clarified by integral and complexity theories, transdisciplinarity, adult development psychology, education and just about any other perspective that can support our addressing the challenges we face.