Dialogue: Integral Leadership, Wendelin Kupers and Russ Volckmann, Part II

Dialogue / October 2009

Wendelin KupersRuss VolckmannIn Part I we explored the situation of how integral is being accepted into the world of academia, some of the factors that deter such acceptance, a bit about Wendelin’s current work, the role of pragmatism and the challenges to integration in the workplace. Thus, integral approaches have a very high potential in leader development. Wendelin opened the subject of habits and their relationship to innovation and creativity.

Russ: Okay, let’s look at distinctions. For starters, I have been concerned for some time with the complete muddle I find the literature on leadership to be. If a bit overstated, what I would call attention to is the lack of clarity in the use of terms like leader, leading and leadership.

Wendelin: There are reasons for that rampant confusion, as leadership is a multi-faceted complex phenomenon that can be approached and interpreted differently depending on various positions, perspectives, interests or emphasis etc. The lack of clarity and a more inclusive orientation is also due to many non-integral interpretations and practices dominating the field of research and business.

Russ: Granted. And there are efforts underway to address this, including work on Integral Leadership. For example, there are some attempts at some differentiation of such terms, most notably in the work of David V. Day (2008). While, there is additional work being done on drawing attention to followers or collaborators or stakeholders, I would contend that the confusion in the literature (and usage) of these terms in the literature on leadership (both academic and practice-related) is rampant. In working with graduate students I find that when I call attention to this there is a quick response of recognition of a dilemma we face in trying to do research or work with these disparate concepts and applications. I have talked with some graduate students who were considering moving away from the study of leadership because of the state of the field.

In a forthcoming chapter in a book being edited by Richard Couto and being published by Sage, I offer the following distinctions:

  1. Leader—a role in a system, that is, a set of expectations held by members of a society, community or organizations 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. As Joseph Rost (1992) noted, no one is in a leader role 24/7.
  2. Leading—the activities of individuals temporarily occupying the role of leader. Here is where much of the popular 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 being a leader. For example, the suggestion that leaders articulate and hold a vision is an indication of a behavior. So is being authentic or being a servant. Underlying these are the perspectives and intentions that individuals bring. If it seems that there is a close relationship between the role and the behaviors that is the case since we are more likely to identify individuals as having filled the role if they exhibit the corresponding behaviors.
  3. Leadership—(and here is where a more integrative view emerges) involves the role (leader), the behaviors and worldviews—including beliefs, intentions and the like—(leading) and the context. But it is a context that goes beyond our notions of situation. It is a context that includes culture, as well as systems, processes, technologies and so on.

Wendelin: I do look forward to read the entire chapter in that announced book (which title will be used and when will it be published where?)

All your three points are crucial of course. But let me add right from the start, we need to consider also explicitly and implicitly ‘Followin’ and ‘Followers’. So let me ask you: What about the status of followers (as collaborators also of leadership!) and followership in relation to your three distinctions? For me leaders can be (and as integral beings they are) followers and both can travel on the “ship” called leader-followership!

I’m glad that you emphasized leading (as a verb) in your conceptualization! Indeed, we need to understand the process-related dimensions and activities involved in what leaders (and followers) do and leadership is as a practice. Imagine describing what leaders’ do and leadership does without using nouns! Actually this is an interesting experiment and exercise not only for students!

You focus correctly, but perhaps too much on “roles” for my (role-critical) taste. Yes, leadership as being part of an extended understanding of context, but even more, what I call “Inter-Leadership” is emerging out of and develops further through relationships and relational processes. If we understand con-text (literately ‘contextere’ ) as ‘joining together’ and as an embodied “-text” than this even more than situations, cultures, systems, processes, technologies and so on.

Russ:These distinctions are useful in that while falling short of a definition (we have plenty of those) it sharpens the language we use and may lead to a more coherent definition one day. However, it is not definition that I seek at this time. I am far more interested in understanding Integral Leadership from two points of view that represent two of the ways the term, integral, is used:

  1. Integral as a stage of development, and
  2. Integral as a theory that includes stage models of development (to date mostly adult development, but eventually developmental models that include collective stages, e.g. of culture and systems.

Wendelin: Same for me! I’m more interested in an integral understanding, also in relation to both stages (and lines!!!!) of individual and collective development, as well as corresponding theories and studies! These stages of development of leadership—rendered through what is processed by transcending, but also including, embracing and enfolding—they mark the actual or potential level perceived and enacted in Integral Leadership practice. Interestingly there are some stage-based models in wisdom research that explain the emergence of wise action through the lifespan of basic components of human functioning and overall growth. That is why I am interested in wisdom research and will co-convene a stream on wisdom in organisation and leadership at a big academic conference next year (EGOS 2010 Lisbon www.egosnet.org/).

Although both states and lines develop over time through increasing complex levels of maturity, education and skill, there are also lagging stages and lines of development that represent specific areas of weaknesses or non-strengths of leaders respectively followers or leadership or followership processes. It would be interestingto investigate these under-developed capacities and how they may be a limiting factor for the effectiveness or success of (more integral) leaders/followers and leadership/followership processes. Holonistically, of course both stages and lines of development are to be applied also for collective spheres like groups or entire organizations related to leadership and followership as a process. I agree with you that we need developmental models particularly for collective stages, which in turn requiresmore inter- and transdisciplinary research! Particularly, Mark Edward’s integral cycle and various lenses could be of particular relevance for a more adequate approach of developmental dimensions!

Russ: Of course all stakeholders need to be included in an integral understanding of leadership, very much including followers. In addition, I think it would be most helpful to differentiate followers and other stakeholders. For example, the intentions of various stakeholders or followers might guide us. They may see an intensely shared purpose and become collaborators or see a path of least resistance and be passive followers. Others may see an opportunity to leverage the leading individual’s efforts to achieve quite different goals, even conflicting goals and so on.

If we are looking at the intentions and activities of an individual who is leading, then we can leverage the idea of holons and the differentiation of individual and collective holons to develop a model (inspired in a dialogue with Mark Edwardshttp://www.integralleadershipreview.com/archives/2008-10/2008-10-edwards-volckmann.php) that
looks like this:

Integral Leadership map

Perhaps by thinking about individual stakeholders, including various classes of followers, we would be introducing a second person perspective to our understanding of leadership. There would be an additional holon representing and individual stakeholder. Of course, to represent this graphically in the mapping approach suggested here might get pretty messy. I welcome your response and suggestions.

And, by the way, Clint Fuhs has done a service to the field in offering his assessment of several books on leadership through an AQAL lens (Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Spring 2008, 3,1). I see this article as pointing the way toward how we can begin to examine the literature in the field of leadership studies (both academic and popular) and begin to formulate an integral understanding that brings together the value added of disparate approaches.

I have been trying to encourage PhD students to begin the task of mapping leadership theories (whether using AQAL or an individual-collective holon model) so that we can begin to realize some of the benefits of a meta-theoretical approach to the field. I am also aware that you have been a leader in academic leadership journals in offering an integral approach. I wonder if you might help us set the stage for our conversation by summarizing where you are in relating integral theory to the study of leadership. I see this as being very important as we begin to examine how we think about leading, leader and leadership.

Wendelin:I have read Clint Fuhs’s inspiring article with much interest! As valuable such meta-mapping of popular leadership approaches are, we need to be more critical and not use only AQAL as a lens-instrument! Let me illustrate this by referring to Fuhs’s uncritical usage ofCovey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Being involved in research on habits and habituation, I see the tremendous significance of them. This entails not only their significance for transforming existing habits of leadership, or at least a process of building upon them for a more integral practice, but also the problematic side of conserving habits.

In his self-help texts Covey propagates an epiphany-inducing technology to generate a discipline of effectiveness producing de-saturated, financialized and expressivist, selves (and belaboured selfhoods) while being supportive of conservative, universalist and late capitalist modes of being, as demonstrated convincingly in Cullen (2009) critical analysis. By the way, Cullen’s study manifests an excellent example of a really critical reading of a pop-book!

It might be that Covey’s book features one of the most balanced treatments of the four worlds of leadership of any book in Fuh’s study (confusingly the same is stated for Goleman); but this should not lead to an uncritical acceptance. Rightly, Fuhs is criticizing Covey’s work in terms of a need added quadratic ‘explicitness’, and a better communicable (meta-)theoretical basis. But for me the question in Fuh’s brave undertaking is: In how far is the demonstration of “a solid understanding of the pieces” of an integral map already integral or proto-integral, or not-yet integral or what? Can implicitly covering the fundamental aspects of reality arising within based on experience in personal and professional growth technologies be sufficient to qualify an approach as integral? Similar critical questions emerge also related to the other chosen studies. Is “Contributing a piece to an Integral map without saying it is the entire Integral map …certainly commendable’? (Fuhs 2008, p. 148.). In fact it would be interesting to hear the author commenting on this investigation.

I missed some even more critical interpretation of the (methodologically problematic) ‘Cumulative Quadrant Distribution’ of the chosen eight popular leadership books. What does it tell us that these popular leadership books put forth collective and objective realities as more important or more fundamental than other aspects of a leader’s (sic!) territory in addition to the given interpretations in the conclusion like measurable observability and attributable responsibility? What is gained besides confirming the need for a more integral perspective?

All of this is not pointing towards a horizontally and vertically expanded “unified territory” (Fuhs 2008, 156). A real integrative expansion would need not only including emerging integral leaders, but also followers who may authentically enact or co-create together! Furthermore: why do the more explicitly balanced books (not reviewed in the primary study) only have a negligible impact on a popular or academic view of leadership at this time? How can all of us contribute to make those balanced proto-integral approaches more known and help to realize them theoretically as well as practically?

Hopefully the announced promising map (on which Clint Fuhs is working) will be one, not only for the Integral Leader, but for a truly integral Leader- (and Follower-)Ship. I should have mentioned it before: Of course I do highly appreciate this endeavor and very much look forward to read more of this!

Yes, there are many important benefits of a meta-theoretical approach to the field of leadership! This is and becomes true, particularly when we realize that meta-theory is not only AQAL-oriented meta-mapping, but opening up important and self-critical reflection also on the map and mapping itself!

As you once stated as a hope (in a forward for a IR article on meta-theory), which I do share, by providing a meta-theoretical perspective, we can reduce the unintended consequences that lead to the destruction of the planet, its societies and its people. Actually, that is also why I am involved in a conference and a centre on integral sustainable and responsible development at my University here in New Zealand later this year.

Russ: Another interesting critique of Covey and other books, such as those addressed by Fuhs, is Chris Argyris’ Flawed Advice and the Management Trap. I have published an article reflecting on this in Leadership Review (http://www.leadershipreview.org/2006summer/).

My valuing of Fuhs’ efforts is that this is the first example I have seen of an examination of literature in the field from an integral perspective. Certainly, a lot can be said about the use of the AQAL model (is it sufficiently nuanced for this time of analysis?), but I do think using the framework as a lens (I think my holon map is more nuanced) is an important step if we are to broaden the umbrella of Integral Leadership to integrate the work of the wide variety of theoretical offerings and crusades in the field, popular and academic.

In the meanwhile, how about the approach you are using?

Wendelin: Where am I in relating integral theory to the study of leadership?

Well, I have summarised my present position in that co-authored article on Inter-Leadership, where we also discussed the theoretical and methodological implications of an integral understanding and future perspectives! There is a somewhat urgent need in leadership research to become more relational and holonical to approach the dynamics involved as well as empirical and practical:

Thus, integral means integrating theory and the empirical world, as theory without data is empty, and without the constant test of practice is liable to be dogmatic, and formulaic or just plain wrong. Similarly data and practice without theory that is critical reflection, is blind or falls into a mere action-driven practice or over-activism. With Mintzberg: ‘Theory is insightful when it surprises, when it allows us to see profoundly, imaginatively, unconventionally into phenomena we thought we understood.’ (2005, p. 10).

As stated in the end of the article on inter-leadership:

Reaching across previously separate realms an Integral Leadership orientation is an open invitation helping to find new ways to view problems, ask questions, conduct research, construct new theories and create innovative solutions, and thereby moving and enacting a deeper, richer and infinitely more subtly interconnected conceptualization and understanding of what leadership entails as a theoretical and practical affair.

Consequently, it would be enriching to see more research on reasons and difficulty to design and implement more integral and sustainable leader-&-followership practices, covering all personal, interpersonal socio-cultural and systemic interrelations and tensions in organizations, which are always also part of politics and power issues. Strategically I see the potential of diagnostic, prognostic and interpretative qualities and evaluative advantages of an integral approach as important for facilitating its implementation and creative un-foldment particularly in such challenging times as ours, which is in urgent need for a more sustainable course for the ‘ships’ of leading and following with a integrally organized household of its embodied institution.

Russ: I couldn’t agree more. I have been particularly gratified to see more integrally informed dissertations coming out of places like Fielding Graduate Institute, California Institute of Integral Studies, Antioch University and elsewhere. I also applaud the effort at John F. Kennedy University to provide a $5000 award for doing integral research.

I am a bit confused about something that you may offer some insights. I understand Wilber’s treatment of perspectives. This seems to be the approach that JFK is promoting, summarized (and I hope I have this right) as research that includes first, second and third person perspectives.

On the other hand, there is the AQAL model, such as used by Fuhs, and that seems to be an important framework for designing integral research, particularly as elaborated in Wilber’s approach to Integral Methodological Pluralism. I wonder what your take on this is.

Wendelin: Yes, the relation between perspectives and AQAL is an important issue, indeed. My take on this is to take a critical perspective!

AQAL is a suggested map, a construct that helps to see (!) and communicate about the world and its phenomena. With its pragmatic correlates like IMP, IOS and ILP it can be helpful as other constructs can be to inspire and guide (meta-)theoretically, methodologically as well as practically. Nothing less and nothing more, but all in-between!

While quadrivium uses any one of the quadrants as a perspective, quadrivia, refers to four ways of using the quadrants of AQAL as perspectives for any occasion or phenomena. Additionally looking at this four-folded use from the inside and outside generates the eight perspectives of IMP.

But the AQAL perspective is only one among other possible “meta-views”. Mark Edwards (2009) has convincingly shown how a broader ecological holarchy allows using more and different lenses, and also considering a meso-level and mediation. As you know Mark’ s highly sophisticated extension of the integral framework proposes more than twenty different lenses and a flexible combination of them for disclosing and interpreting various aspect of organizational realities and complex phenomena, particularly related to change and transformation.

Writing on my contribution for a conference on sustainability, I realized again the significance of an extended ecological perspective as outlined by Mark. This orientation avoids bipolarizing and favors different possible gradations, and multiple and mediatory levels including both a meso-level to situate the important transformative role of groups and ecological levels beyond the organizational boundary to integrate inter-organizational, industry-level, environmental, societal and global levels.

Through my own research on relational dimensions, I realized the urgent need to develop a post-dichotomous orientation, which sees bi-polarization as a construct within the continua of streams of interrelational be(com)ing. Ultimately it is a post-dichotomous and post-formal way of interpreting and being that allow us to view the recursive and interdependent nature of apparent oppositions, dilemmas and paradoxes, particularly of phenomena in leadership and organization. Additionally this enables situating them in a comprehensive context and its complex interplay, which may lead towards ‘wisdom in action’.

Therefore, I see as one main problem with the conventional AQAL scheme—though being parsimonious— that it is not complex and flexible nor specific and relational enough for approaching interrelated phenomena and events. These relational events require subsets of adequate perspectives and seeing the “in-between”. This is relevant for example with regard to investigating those mediators in your model between individual holon of leaders (followers?!) and collective holon of organization.

Philosophically, perspectivism is an old known topic in the skeptic traditions from the pre-Socratics, to Leibniz and Nietzsche and up to recent postmodern thinking. The challenging problem of all perspectivism is of course relativism. Given the idea of perspectivism that there is no truth outside of a perspective, then how can anyone make any claims at all which are valid outside (personal) perspectives?

We can create a potentially more valuable perspective for ourselves if we are allowed to expand perspectives, in this sense some perspectives are or can become more valuable than others! But of course this again depends on interpretation! Even if we compiled all the perspectives in the world on a particular subject, these perspectives mean nothing until they are interpreted by someone looking at them out of his or her own confined perspective. Perspectives we take are more and less influenced by the culture of which we are part. For example my taking of perspectives is different in the anglo-New-Zealandian life-world and socio-cultural context I am living in at present compared to my Central European heritage or the time I lived in India.

Importantly, perspectives are really taken not only abstractly! Taking perspectives only as potential viewpoints do not reflect that a perspective is actually occupied, which is important both for considering phenomenological understanding and developing a post-metaphysical perspective!

From a phenomenological view, perspectives are all very important! Even more, there is no non-perspectival perception. We always perceive in horizons! As discussed in my article on phenomenology and integral theory, actually, Wilber is using the very phenomenological term “being-in-the-world” for qualifying the major perspectives (I, We, It, Its) and the native or primordial perspectives (zones) as the inside and outside of interiors and exteriors in singular and plural. However, with advanced phenomenological reasoning, in particular with Merleau-Ponty‘s radicalized proto-integral phenomenology and relational ontology more is possible. Integral theorizing can then deeper and more comprehensively and self-critically consider theembodied relationality and relativity of its (AQAL-) perspectivism. Importantly, for Merleau-Ponty the phenomenological space is an indigenous perspective that is embodied, embedded, enacted, and enfolded in other spaces, which for Wilber makes a rather questionable “sum total” of what is represented as the AQAL matrix.

But how are perceptions related to perspectives? Perceptions are always already situated in a relational nexus, thus housing (in) an indigenous perspective. For Wilber integral post-meta-physics replaces perception with perspectives. This replacement is possible as according to him there is no pre-given world awaiting perception. Rather there are only mutually disclosing perspectives awaiting a meaning constructing enactment that only exist relative to a sentient being, i.e. relative to the subject that is doing the perceiving and through the kosmic address. Specifically these subjects perceive corresponding to language systems consisting of signifiers that have specific referents, accessible only if those who perceive have developed to the level that contains the correct signifier.

However, embodied perceptions remain important as a pre-reflexive way in and medium for manifested work of embodied consciousness. Therefore, instead of merely replacing perception with perspectives (Wilber 2006, p. 58) it seems important to recognize that both are mutually interdependent.

Multidimensional, sensory, polymorphic and cultural perception, entrenched in historico-linguistic contexts and perspectives both are enacted as well as to take perspectives requires perceiving them. In addition to emphasizing that all perspectives are embedded in bodies and in cultures (Wilber 2006, p. 59), a phenomenological approach integrates embodied perception with a perspectivism, that is perspectives are co-constituted and on-goingly co-created in a sensuous perceptional way, hence ‘make sense’ (Küpers, 2009).

Let me just close with some critical remarks concerning the integral framework. The richness of the explanatory qualities and potential for generating new knowledge of the integral framework needs to be seen against the danger of getting lost in the relative poor world of overwhelmed, over-inclusive abstraction, impoverished of the life-worldly grounding and analysis of the operative dynamics of the phenomenal world. This conflict is more then the problem of integrating the absolute and the relative, but it is abouty the self-critical use and potential misuse of meta-theory, like that of AQAL, as a theoretical practice and its evaluation (Edwards, 2008).

Without developing and using self-critical formal schemes assessed in a community of researchers and being reasonably selective with regard to taking specific perspectives meta-theorizing, theorizing and empirical research will no work methodologically and not be not recognized in the existing scientific discourse. Knowing about theoretical and empirical relevance and prioritizing what is best in terms of explaining and interpreting phenomena—including theories and perspectives on a meta-theoretical level—helps to cultivate a much needed reflexivity. Thisreflectivity not only grounds the meta-theory project and its methodological pathways in relation to certain extant theories and empirical findings, but uses appropriate and discourse-specific lenses.

For example, for doing research on phenomena and theories related to organization and leadership we need to use what Mark Edwards calls the ‘Governance/Organizing holarchy lens’. This perspective refers to the important holarchy of management, leading and following, decision-making, and control, but also self-organization, etc. Combined with developmental and ecological holarchies this perspective on governance is highly relevant for any understanding of conventional, but even more for new forms of leader- and followership, or what I call ‘Inter-Leadership’. Through a governance perspective we can understand how leaders and followers, leading and following (and both together), are structurally located and are moving or transcending the top-down/bottom up and matrix of power and empowerment.

Is the AQAL Framework and its perceiving users open for incorporation of more and different perspectives, and considering relationships between them?

How can we develop a more adequate integral leader-followership perspective, which uses what AQAL offers among other approaches?

What do you think about my comments here?

Looking forward (which is also a perspective) to receive, thus perceive your responses!


Argyris, C. (2000). Flawed Advice and the Management Trap. New York: Oxford University Press.

Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press.

Cullen, J. G. (2009). “How to Sell Your Soul and Still Get into Heaven: Steven Covey’s Epiphany-Inducing Technology of Effective Selfhood,”Human Relations, 62 1231-1254.

Edwards, M. (2008), “Where Is the Method to Our Integral Madness? An outline for an integral meta-studies”, Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 3, 2, pp. 165-194

Edwards, M. (2009). Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory. London: Routledge.

Fuhs, C. (2009). “Towards a Vision of Integral Leadership: A Quadrivial Analysis of Eight Leadership Books.” Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Spring, Vol. 3, No. 1.

Küpers, W. (2009). “The Sense-Making of the Senses, Perspectives on Embodied Aesthesis & Aesthetics in Organising,” Aesthesis: International Journal of Art and Aesthetics in Management and Organizational Life, Vol. 2. II, pp. -33-53

Küpers, W. & Weibler, J. (2008), “Inter-Leadership: Why and How to Think Leader—and Followership Developing Theory about the Development of Theory.” Leadership, Vol 4(4): 443–47

Volckmann, R. (2006). “Making Leadership Actionable: What We Are Learning and How We Can Use It ,“ Leadership Review. Claremont: Claremont McKenna College.

Wilber, K. (2006). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World, Boston: Shambhala.