Integral Consulting with Michael McElhenie

October 2012 / Fresh Perspective

Russ Volckmann

Michael McElhenie

Russ Volckmann

Russ: Welcome Michael. It’s a great pleasure to have a chance to talk with you. I first learned about your work with the formation of ILiA – the Integral Leadership in Action group – many years ago. And you were one of the very first contributors of articles to Integral Leadership Review in your report about the  United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Africa, Cambodia and the Caribbean. Weren’t you based in Philadelphia and part of a consulting group?

Michael: At the time I was working for Teleos Leadership Institute with my dear friends Annie McKee and Frances Johnston. I’ve lived in Dallas since 1986, yet you wouldn’t know that looking at the work I’ve done. I came here for graduate school and Dallas has been a home base, although when I did my long stint of international work, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time here.

Russ: That’s quite a long time to be doing a lot of international travelling. Tell us a little bit about what you were doing.

Michael: Part of it was what I wrote in that article several years back around the work we were doing in relationship to UNDP, and what came to be called Leadership for Results. Leadership for Results is a program made up of people from all sectors of society who come together, learn together and develop together to derive better, bigger, more powerful solutions to HIV/AIDS and other serious issues. HIV was one of the first issues that this particular program chose to address. Subsequent to that, Leadership for Results has taken on water, food, women’s empowerment, and other health-related issues. They’ve tackled a number of different issues within the framework or brand called Leadership for Results.

So that was a big part of my work and travel; going around the world – mostly to sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and South America. I was working with leaders in these countries to derive better solutions to these very, very pressing issues of the day. It was an incredible development experience for me and everyone involved. I learned so much about working with diverse groups and creating conditions for people to learn and grow together, despite the fact that these groups were very, very under-resourced.

More recently, the vast majority of my travelling about the globe has been related to very large, multi-national clients in industries like consumer products, banking, energy and pharmaceuticals. I work with a variety of very large companies around the world. The oil and gas industry has been a focus of mine – particularly over the past several years as they struggle to deal with the complexity of a shifting marketplace and harder to access reservoirs. My most recent experiences have dealt with improving how people engage one another within the internal matrix of the organization and with key strategic partners and vendors. In many ways, I hold the work that I do as consciousness development, essentially helping people and teams become more aware of themselves – in our familiar four-quadrant way – and the complexities of their social and technological environment.

Russ: How long were you supporting the UNDP program?

Michael: Well, that kicked in around 2002 and 2003 when we started with the design process and it continued on for four or five years after that. Now our intention in those programs was never to be doing it continually for the rest of our consulting lives. Rather, the intent was always around building capacity. So we would do the work the first year with a number of people participating who wanted to take over the work – by learning from us and peering behind the curtain. Thereafter in a region or country, we would focus strictly on them and build their capacity to support the development of their region/country and derive internal solutions. We were working to develop their competencies to the able to lead groups. After that, we would work with them on a couple of programs and then they were free to go, expand their efforts, seek additional funding and build capacities beyond themselves.

During those years, we at Teleos Leadership Institute developed many, many different learning strategies. We developed thousands of people all over the globe to be able to do the kind of work that was necessary to bring multiple constituencies together to grow together and resolve these huge issues. We always had the intention of working ourselves out of a job.

Russ: It also was an opportunity for you to work with people like Annie McKee. Is that right?

Michael: Annie and I go pretty far back. She was my boss at the Hay Group, and I worked there from 1999 to 2001. She worked out of the Philadelphia office, which was part of same set of emotional intelligence offerings that Dan Goleman brought over to Hay. Annie was brought on to lead those offerings. Along with her and Francis Johnston, we became dear friends, confidants and helped to challenge and develop each other. About that time, Annie started writing with Dan Goleman and became the high priestess, if you will, of executive coaching regarding emotional intelligence. In the aftermath of 9/11, subsequent layoffs and consulting world chaos, we formed Teleos Leadership Institute. It was primarily formed to be able to carry forth the Leadership for Results work that we knew would be so near and dear to our hearts.

Annie, Fran and I continue to work together to this day. One of my favorite things to do with Annie, Fran and the Teleos organization is to develop new and emerging talent. We have an International Coaching Federation-approved course that is doing really, really well; it’s an incredibly deep dive into how to coach people around the competencies of emotional intelligence.

Coaching people in the area of emotional intelligence is a real challenge and requires unique training and competencies. They are amongst the most challenging because EI competencies are the heart of the matter – the heart of the emotional and relational worlds of people. We’re developing coaches to be able to develop emotional intelligence in leaders, certainly, but also in people in all sectors of the society. For those familiar with the integral conveyor belt concept, we see EI as a fundamental on-ramp to intensive, integrally-informed personal development.

Russ: You may not know this, but I was certified in the Hay Group’s Emotional Competency Inventory – probably around 2003, somewhere back then.

Michael: Fantastic, did you go to Boston to do that Russ?

Russ: No, actually I went to Denver. It was the first time that they did it in Denver. And I got a great bargain in the process. I continued to use this in my work with executive coaching after that. I still think it’s one of the most fruitful tools for working with clients. I don’t see that or other assessment tools as things that tell us the truth about ourselves, but they give us feedback that allows us to look at questions like, how does it fit for us, how does it not fit for us and so on. It is a great stimulus to reflection and learning, if it is handled that way.

Michael: Oh, absolutely! And I’ve got to give the Hay Group considerable credit. They are a very, very important organization in terms of bringing to the business world consulting and tools that are very, very thoroughly researched. I have a great deal of respect for what they bring.

Russ: You’re not still officially affiliated with Hay are you?

Michael: No. I have made many friends within Hay and still have many colleagues there. The way I work, Russ, is that I have a lot of relationships. I work under other peoples’ brands and they work under my brand. I have a very, very extensive network of people that I love to work with, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to work within a variety of contexts.

Russ: It sounds like you’re still doing some of that work with Teleos right?

Michael: Certainly.

Russ: Are there other organizations that you’re affiliated with or are you doing many of your projects independently? What does that look like?

Michael: Well Russ, you got an hour?

Russ: It’s that complex?

Michael: It would take a really long time to list all the organizations that I affiliate with. Let me mention a few of them. Sean Hargens started an organization called MetaIntegral, and I am working as part of the growing team of people that you know – people who have contributed to the Integral Leadership Review, in fact. I think they are some of the best and brightest on the planet in terms of applying integral theory to organizational and leadership development work – people like Barrett Brown, Dean Anderson and Diane Hamilton. These are amazing human beings that Sean has brought together.

Sean has been a core influencer in regard to the application of integral theory. A couple of years back he started on this idea of MetaIntegral and has grown the concept, found funding, and we’ve done some initial projects. Barrett, for example, has been down in South America working with an organization there and we have a number of projects lined up that will be flowering underneath the MetaIntegral banner.

And I work with the Stagen organization, which was founded by Rand Stagen and Brett Thomas. Brett, of course, is a dear friend of ours. It is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. They serve the market of emerging, midmarket companies and do things that I find no other consulting organization does in 2:1 consulting space. 2:1 means second tier folks bringing solutions to first tier companies and leaders. Stagen is a remarkable organization that helps to scale midsize companies to become more impactful and successful in their marketplaces. In addition to that, Stagen has their Integral Leadership Program, which I believe is the best program for reaching into first tier leadership and helping them to develop in integrally informed and accelerated ways.

I work with Henry Evans at Dynamic Results to bring highly progressive leadership assessments to market, and I also work under my own brand, which is called Metatropia. I am truly blessed. Russ, by being able to work with amazing people on unique, challenging projects of all sorts and sizes. You know better than most that the integral crowd is a really remarkable group because their insights, because their capacity to see aspects of the individual and collective dimensions of social and organizational reality – bringing clarity to things that others cannot see nor make sense of.  I consider myself deeply blessed to work with many amazing and dear friends. I should also say that working with the integral crowd is not always easy; there is often an unparalleled intensity, too, and sometimes the work and relationships get highly charged. Yet, in the end, we all come away owning what is ours and growing in the crucibles that we form together.

Russ: You mentioned Stagen. I sometimes think Integral Leadership Review is one of their broadest advertisers. In the last issue we interviewed Scott Canard, MD, who went through their leadership program and has continued his interest in the work with Stagen. And I’ve had some just amazing feedback about that interview, including from Ken Wilber of all people. So you know it’s great that that work is going on. As for MetaIntegral, you know we interviewed Barrett Brown just a couple of issues back and he was talking a bit about MetaIntegral. We’ve got to interview Sean Hargens one of these days.

Many of our subscribers are consultants or coaches or want to be consultants and coaches. And it’s pretty clear that at least for the last decade or so the integral piece has been an important element in your development as a consultant and a coach. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Michael: It is not generally my nature to start with the negative, but I will here. I was just reflecting earlier this morning on a number of mistakes I’ve made over the past nine months. I was reflecting in particular on one of these errors I made – where I saw an internal team problem but didn’t take the uncomfortable step of making it known to my colleagues. Now, I have to dig out from the additional mess that my inaction created – from me not being as courageous and as assertive as I could have been. So yes, integral awareness is an absolute gift, but now it doesn’t feel like a gift. It feels like a boot that I’m kicking myself with.

It’s great to have the cognitive capacity to see integral reality, but you know what? It doesn’t necessarily make you any better – by just having that cognitive capacity. It is not nearly enough to make you an integral practitioner. There are times in my life, in my consulting life and my coaching life, where integral awareness is followed by integral action. At these times, I’m effective and able to bring considerable value to my client. There are other times when I have the awareness, but I don’t follow through with well-devised, integral action. I regret those times.

Let me speak about the developmental aspects of integral. I started my academic working life as a developmental psycho-biologist. I was looking at the development of the adult brain, particularly the development of cognitive and emotional capacities. Thus, I’ve always been a developmentalist. I learned that humans were always developing and could always develop throughout the entire lifespan. People are not written in stone. The things we create are always progressing and evolving. I do think that it happens so slowly that we fail to recognize it – something like trying to see a minute hand move on a clock. But in reality, evolution is always happening. Within continual evolution, I find that the greatest service I can bring to humanity is the capacity to track the course – track the course of where we’ve been and where we are going. We spend too much time on short-term outcomes, and I am here to help people appreciate the larger, unfolding story of evolution.

However, as integral practitioners, we can easily overwhelm people with the entire spiral of development. What I’ve learned at Stagen is that the most important thing to highlight for people and organizations is their next level. What’s next for them? What’s trying to emerge? What does the current struggle show them about what’s trying to emerge? As integral practitioners, that’s the greatest value we have to bring – that next level awareness.

Russ: How do you approach surfacing what’s trying to emerge?

Michael: The most important thing to do is collect data – together. Help people explore their reality in new ways. They are seeing symptoms pretty often. You’re helping them make sense of the complexity around them. You’re helping them not only make sense of what’s out there, but you’re helping them reflect upon the lenses, the templates and the mindsets that they’re using to view and to make sense of reality. I like the work of Byron Katie and bring her ways of questioning to my work, too. How do you know that’s true? Can you know absolutely that that is true? How do you react when you believe that that is true? What would your organization look like without that thought or belief?

I ask these questions a lot. Simply by asking these questions, I can get people to see the limitations of the templates by which they look at reality. I can get people to recognize the assumptions that they are using to be able to make sense of something and their own hesitancy towards moving their attention to another aspect of their reality. So I feel like my job is simply – let me speak to it metaphorically: I feel like I am a man with a flashlight. I am walking in their organizational darkroom. I’m moving the flashlight around the room showing them, pointing at people, teams and things and saying, “Hey do you see that?” I’m also changing the aperture on the flashlight; I’m helping to widen the beam so that they can see more. At the same time I am looking at what’s out there, I am also getting them to reflect on themselves. One of the most important questions I ask of individuals is, “Why is that important to you? Why do you care about that?”

Russ: That’s the number one coaching question.

Michael: Yes. And it’s a really, really powerful coaching question, because it gets into their motivations. Our motivations often will lead us to look at some things more attentively than others. We human beings have a validation bias. We tend to look for data that validates our already preconceived notion of why things are the way they are and why people are the way they are. We validate our perspectives and nobody likes to be told that their view of the world is partial or sometimes that it is just half right and half wrong, because it’s painful. It is painful and that’s why the validation bias exists. It helps us feel good about the sense we’re making of things.

However, with someone who can stand shoulder to shoulder with me, and where we have developed trust in our relationship, then I can help point out some things that don’t feel so good to admit to. We integralists can provide a subtle little shift in perspective that leads a person to show up differently in dealing with their world. That’s a big part of the value we bring.

Russ:  I agree.

I was an OD consultant for 22 years. Many years ago I went to a party in Oakland, California, that was going to be primarily OD people. Before the part, I went in to San Francisco and had a button made up and passed it around at the party to everybody. The button said “Have you had your ODgasm today?” The kind of experience you have where all of a sudden – whether it’s an individual or a team or some kind of a larger change process where something really clicks, where it really comes together and new possibilities open up – that is almost like having an ODgasm, if you will. They are the kinds of successes that those of us in consulting really thrive on. Too often in change processes the feedback takes a long time before you know the impact you have had.

You mentioned earlier about failure. We both know that we can learn a lot from our failures. Are there patterns that you see in the failures that you’ve reflected on that would be useful for us to think about?

Michael: Let me speak about a developmental trajectory here rather than a failure per se. I’ve never failed to see this developmental trajectory to arise in the development of a coach or consultant. It’s always present. The fact that it’s always present, knowing that it’s always present, really helps those of us who are trying to develop consulting talent up to the highest levels.

Young consultants are often armored with tools, techniques and models. I certainly was. When I was new to integral, I saw all sorts of cool things that people were doing – cool models, cool maps. My immediate urges were to find places to use this stuff: “Oh boy, I am going to work with the new tools in my kit bag!” Right? Oh my God I was naïve. Reflecting on the early part of our conversation, it doesn’t matter how much integral consciousness people have. If they are relatively new to the consulting or coaching world, they will still make this same mistake. They assume that the tools, techniques and models are “the thing.”

Russ: It was probably in 1982 when Bob Tannenbaum – who was at UCLA and one of the grand old men in the field of organization development  – was the keynote speaker at the OD network in Portland, Oregon. In his keynote, he pointed exactly to what you’re taking about: OD consultants had become dependent on all these tools. Actually, in that era there were wars going on about who owned what tools, copyright issues and all kinds of things like that, because everybody was after the latest tool. Bob looked around the room and counted as many eyes as he could and he said directly to the whole audience, you are the most important tool you bring to your work. And I think that’s what you’re taking about.

Michael: Oh, absolutely, absolutely! That’s absolutely true! And just to add onto that – Wow! – we’re not only the tool, but we also have the capacity to recognize where clients and client systems are at. We do that in collaboration with those clients. Because we do those things in collaboration with the clients, that’s the primary reason why we have to hold whatever we have in our kit bags, including our selves as the tool, lightly. We’ve got to recognize that client systems and client issues are so complex and the environment in which those issues are embedded are also complex that simple solutions – while we they are elegant – are not likely to result in sustainable change.

That’s why I really, really deeply appreciate what you were saying about us being the tool. If we are the tool, we are something that exists over time. We also exist in all four quadrants, right? We are tetra-arising just like our client systems are tetra-arising. Essentially, that means that when we apply a tool, we have to recognize the larger implications of the application of that tool on all four quadrants. For example, if you bring an assessment tool that measures individual competencies and you measure an individual and their competencies against some kind of framework, often times these frameworks, these models, are created in relationship to what the company is trying to get people to do. By giving them feedback, you start developing an individual based upon their competency assessment.

A danger is to focus overly much on just the upper right quadrant (i.e., competencies) and fail to recognize the left side – what do they care about, what do they want to develop? Then we need to recognize whether culturally it’s even appropriate in this context to be able to exercise this competency. If it is a really appropriate competency, how do you exercise it? How do you negotiate the conditions under which this competency is displayed in this organization? Then, if you want the competency to be able to sustain itself, what kind of tools, processes, systems and rules do you need in place to be able to sustain it? I often think we get so enamored with some type of tool that we forget about recognizing the implications in all four quadrants.

What we call wisdom is this slowing down and this recognition of unintended consequences and the four quadrant implications of things. I reflect back on my own grandmother. Whenever I came up to her excited about something she was always asking me just to slow down and think about the implications. God bless her! You know she really, really did help to create some integral awareness in her own way. That capacity to slow down and to recognize a larger implication of anything we do is an integral practice. Whether it’s the implementation of a tool or the simply pointing to something that other people don’t see in the room, it has implications. That’s a really important thing for us to think about.

Russ: The issue of unintended consequences has been very significant for us as individuals, as well as for communities in the world. Whether it ranges from the impact of flood control dams on the environment or whether it has to do with the choices of technologies we use and the impact they have on the whole world. I was just looking at something today about the evolving technology, including going into more use of robots, is destroying many, many, kinds of jobs. And it is not generating the number of jobs to replace those.

Our economic situation has clearly been challenged; our institutions have clearly been challenged. It becomes necessary to rethink where we’re going in terms of what it is we are creating in our organizations, in our communities, in our world.

You as a consultant, with the breadth of activity you’re involved in, must see this all the time. You must see the potential, the challenges, the unintended consequences. My sense is that integral provides us with a framework that you just talked about. It helps us at least diminish the number of unintended consequences. I’m wondering if you’re seeing some signs of hope in the face of all these challenges in the world through the integral insight you bring.

Michael: Oh yes, absolutely. I was just reflecting on an example of what you are speaking of. Both sides of the equation really. I have been consulting to food companies for at least 15 years. With one company, I’ve seen acquisition after acquisition, merger after merger. That’s been their organizational reality for any large organization over the past 20 years. Probably as long as I’ve been a consultant, I’ve seen that reality.

I have been part of an acquisition team. I’ve been increasingly annoyed at this organization’s process for doing the due diligence process, which is the process by which the acquiring organization would go in and look at the organization to be acquired and find out what they are getting. I was sensitive to it, probably because of my emotional intelligence background. While the due diligence process made the acquiring company feel really, really good – it didn’t matter if they thought they were getting a bargain or not you still felt really good – because they were exercising their talent. Big companies are scrubbing the books and looking at both human and nonhuman capital to find out what’s really of value and what’s not. They’re really good at that.

Almost every single exercise of doing due diligence in acquiring a company is an exercise of validation. They know they’re good at it. They find out all sorts of good things. It helps them to structure the deal and figure out how to integrate this company, if it is acquired, into the larger enterprise. Most of those integrations happen – they’re not always successful, but they happen.

So one day I just asked some questions. We’ve been through this really thorough due diligence process and the order of things is that the accountants are always first in. They are the first ones to go into the organization and look at the books. What they are there to do is find out where the mistakes are – what is wrong with how the company to be acquired has been doing its books. They look for errors and oversights; they look for little prizes that are sitting in the organization – like surprise capital or mysterious revenue. For the individuals who are working in the accounting group in the to be acquired organization, it feels like a horrible process. They are being scrutinized and scrubbed every which way. And they hate it. Every single step of the process, they know they’re being criticized. So they start sandbagging and holding back information and really making the acquiring organization dig – quite inefficiently – for everything.

Now, due diligence is a necessary thing. But I asked a question, “Why does the accounting-led process have to happen first?” Of course the answer was: That’s the way it’s always done. Coming out of a process about five years prior with David Cooperrider (co-creator of Appreciate Inquiry at Case Western University), I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I’ve seen different processes work better than this in terms of how it makes the acquired company feel. Why can’t we do something that leads our potential new business to feel more appreciated? What would happen if we created more positive moods in these accounting groups? What level of cooperation would we get if we showed them how much we value them? Why can’t we do a validating process first? Wouldn’t it make the company and the individuals in the organization much more willing to lay everything out if they feel like you really value what they are and what they bring?”

I remember that moment. People in the room were looking at me like I was out of my head. But interesting enough, the leader of this group, the VP of Finance, looked at me and said, “That’s an intriguing idea, Michael. We do have to dig for information more than I like. What if we could get people to feel better about opening the whole organization to scrutiny? What will we have to do to do that?” And so we began asking around about what we would have we have to do to do just that. The people in the room considered that Michael might be right – still crazy, but potentially right. Maybe if we went in there with a more appreciative process; let’s look at what’s working really well. The process might work better? Let’s go in there asking the question: What can you teach us? You’re a really, really successful company. You’re really good at making ice-cream or you’re really good at making spaghetti sauce. You’re really good at marketing these things. Your merchandizing capacity is incredible. You do all those things really, really well. We want to learn from you. What kind of environment will that create between our organization’s due diligence team and their accounting department, marketing department, etc.? We just lived these questions for a while. Then the VP of Finance said several months later, “ I want to experiment with this. We can do it the same ways as before, I know, but I want to experiment with this approach. Let’s try it out!”

It just so happened they were acquiring a small little ice cream company and they said let’s use this approach for this company. I’ll tell you, Russ, it changed how this organization did due diligence from then on. Thank God it ceased to be my recommendation or my idea. The people in the team owned it, and they started doing these things so much better. Not completely different, but so much better – leading with appreciation. The organization felt so good about that acquisition, their company being acquired, that the people in there who were experts and did things incredibly well were then utilized across the entire global operation.

And, the due diligence team never went back to the old way. They’ve done some hybrid models when they felt like hey there is something we really have to push through here because if we don’t we might get into legal trouble, they have done some parallel process. But overwhelmingly this organization is taking an appreciative leading approach. This doesn’t mean you don’t do the criticism. Don’t get me wrong. You’ve got to scrub the books. There are going to be times when people are going to feel exposed and vulnerable. However, if you lead with a more appreciative approach, that process is much, much easier to swallow for everybody.

Also, I did a series of interviews with the individuals on the due diligence team. They had executed three processes in this way. I asked, “How do you feel about this new process? What does it do for you?” These folks felt like they enjoyed these processes much better. They were getting more positive reception from the people on the other side of the process. It’s amazing that this simple shift in consciousness brought so much good to people. I don’t think a lot of what we bring to clients is that complicated. But I do think it requires a certain shift to be able to get them to recognize a different possibility.

Russ: That’s a great story. Cooperrider and others who have been using appreciative inquiry have had some really valuable contributions in organization development and change. I hadn’t heard the story before of its application to acquisition. That’s great.

I’m going to step back just for a moment to reflect again on you. You represent, say, the top 10% of successful consultants in the world. Probably only 1% or less of those people have been influenced by integral and the especially the level of involvement of integral that you have engaged in over the years. How has integral contributed to your being as successful as you are? What about integral has done that, if anything?

Michael: You know I think the most important thing is that it has helped me recognize where I have to go. I was just in a conversation yesterday with our friend Barrett Brown. One of the things I said to Barrett is that I’m going to spend a little bit more time with Dean Anderson. In that conversation with Barrett, I said that I feel as if I’m really good at the intuitive parts of the development and change process. I am really good, for example, in being able to go into an organization, have a number of conversations, walk around and get the smell of the place, as Edgar Schein once said. I can walk around and get a good intuitive feel about what the culture is like and what behaviors we are most likely to see. And it doesn’t take very long for me to understand where the organization is, for example, in their business model – what are they struggling with. Are they a big E organization – very entrepreneurial, but they haven’t developed much really good administrative process and that’s causing a lot of chaos. Those things come to me really naturally. And what integral has brought to me is a really deep trust of my intuition – this recognition that there is a lot of data coming from lots of sources and I just need to open myself up to it.

Still, I find myself now swinging the pendulum too far in the direction of intuition. I alluded to the conversation with Barrett Brown and that’s what I came to. I’m over relying up on this capacity. I’m not recognizing that there are some good, strong right side practices that I need to open myself up to. For example, with regards to my change management work, I don’t have as much discipline in that process as I would like. In reflecting on that conversation, I recognized that Dean Anderson is really good about disciplined processes in regard to change management. And, I want to work with and learn from him. I’ve been able to nurture some capacities through integral and with many people in the integral community. Yet, what is clear to me is, because of integral awareness, how much more I have to learn. I have a tremendous amount to learn. I can give you another example of that.

I find I’m pretty good at picking up on other people’s emotions. Integral has nurtured that capacity, particularly through my work with Allison Conte. She’s a strong intuitive – very tuned to the emotional world around her. She picks up on signals faster than anybody I know. She’s really masterful at it. I really learn a lot from her. Through that learning process I came to recognize that I’m really good at working with other people’s emotions, and I relatively suck at recognizing my own. The more attention I am paying to other things out there, the less I am paying attention to this stuff that’s happening inside me. I recognize, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got a lot of work to do and being able to simultaneously pick up on what’s out there, what’s in me, what’s objective, what’s intuitive?”

The integral world, as Ken says, doesn’t make your life any easier. It just raises the bar. Because integral raises the bar and we care about the planet and people that we serve, it puts a lot of pressure on us. I feel a lot is on my shoulders to continually get better. It is so important that we have the community we have around us – that is so generous with what they know and what they can do. They are so generous in being able to shape developmental spaces for us. But I don’t think I would want to be anywhere else, not because of what I’ve been able to do nor because of the success that I’ve had up to this point. It’s because of how much more I have to do, and I feel there’s no better place for me in the world to do it.

Russ: Okay, it’s like Susann Cook-Greuter has said – just because you go to higher stages of development doesn’t mean you are going to be happier.

Michael: That’s right.

Russ: We just recognized our challenges more. By developing ourselves we begin to recognize the resources that are out there as well. Whether or not we are willing to take the risks and take advantage of those resources is another question.

Michael: That’s right, yes. That’s absolutely right! I was reflecting on something that our integral jester Stuart Davis (integrally-informed rock star) had said about his early career. He was down and out for a little while. He had made a number of deep dives into substance abuse and such. In that process of being that down and out, he recognized how much growth he had left to do. I think that periodically happens to us. We get to experience some deep downs that wake us up. But, because of where we are at, the people around us, all this vibrant integral consciousness, and we know there is that ladder out of the darkness; we know where it is.

Russ:  Yours is a voice of hope.

Michael: We know there’s maybe another wrong coming and another wrong after it. Life is not without its challenges. To use Robert Kegan’s language, we are in over our heads. I certainly feel that if I’m not regularly putting myself in over my head in dealing with complex systems, I not working in the right ways, on the right problems. Take the situation with the oil and gas client I’m working with. They’ve had their challenges, of course, as every large company has. When they were having their challenges and before I was diving in with two feet, I said to myself, “Oh my god, they are in over their heads. What a better place for me to get in over my head.” We will not grow in a space where gravity isn’t. We grow in the direction of the pressure. That certainly rings true to me.

Russ: It’s interesting because it was certainly the biggest life crisis I ever had that was responsible for my making shifts and moves in my life that brought me to Integral and led me down the path what brings me to my work today. So those crises and challenges are just as important as those failures that we talked about earlier, if not more important for how we evolve our lives. I’m wondering, Michael, is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you wish I had?

Michael: One thing I do want to reflect on is just the challenge I think you presented to me a couple of times and one that I feel really passionate about stepping into. That is, really starting to capture the learning and to start writing more. I just want to say I remain excited about that and I know we are using this conversation as a launching pad to do so. I just want to say how excited I am to do that – not because I think it’s going to be easy, but because it’s going to be hard. I think it’s a challenge. It’s one that I have been dancing around and dancing away from for far too long.  So, I appreciate your staying with me and recognizing my passion for doing it.

Russ: You are more than welcome. What that brings up for me is that a lot of the work I’ve been doing has not been just about building the capacities, the strengths and the knowledge of people already in the Integral movement. I am creating multiple tributaries that bring people into integral and provide an arena for some exchanges and potential integrations that can occur that will strengthen both those who are coming in from other streams, as well as those who are already into integral. Be it the emotional intelligence piece, or be it transdisciplinarity or complexity theory, or even the evolving field of leadership, there are pieces of what we need from all of these sources. A good example is Donna Ladkin’s work with phenomenology and leadership. It is so integral, so resonant with integral, yet not well known in the integral community. So I’m looking for how you can leverage your learning and work to try and touch those who aren’t there yet. And I see that as an exciting possibility.

Michael: When I think, for example, of emotional intelligence, I think of my dear friend Frances Johnston. Absolutely amazing woman! Her recent challenges with breast cancer exemplify for me this incredible emotional capacity that is rare on the planet – very rare on the planet. Fran has incredible emotional intelligence competencies and she is one heck of an EI coach.

One of the things that we in the integral community too often focus on is cognitive development. One of the things that I do think you are speaking to, and I think it’s so darn important, is that we need to focus more upon the other, sometimes harder-to-develop capacities. When I see us falling short, meaning those of us in the integral community, I see us falling short in appreciating the relational and emotional capacities that are so critical to increasing the likelihood of higher states of consciousness on this planet.

A lot of integral people say that if we just get close to those people in power, we are going to be able to influence the system. Yeah, great idea! Do you know what kind of capacities you need to have to be able to get that close? Political skills are an incredible territory of capacities that we could nurture. Does anybody want to? We have got to start with that, if we are going to get where we want. Let’s put the question out and throw the gauntlet on the ground and ask people if they want to pick it up. I guarantee there are going to be people in the Integral community who say, “Yeah I want to do that. I can do that.” I will support them, introduce them to Fran, and get them on the road to building incredible levels of relational and emotional competencies.

Russ: Michael, thank you so much for taking the time. I have learned a lot from this conversation and I hope others will too.

Michael: Thanks sir, it’s been a real good time.