Dialogue: Integral Theory into Integral Action: Part 8

Dialogue / January 2008

Mark Edwards

Russ VolckmannIn the Part 7 of this dialogue, Mark pointed out the importance of including an ecological lens along with a developmental lensin redressing the imbalanced focus on developmental to the exclusion of ecological in much of the theory related to integral development.So far in our discussion we have identified several lenses that can be used in examining leadership,that broader lenses can be used with flexibility,identified how more nuanced analyses are possible,touched on the integrally neglected issue of power, and the importance of collaborative approaches in building metatheory.

Russ presented a brief discussion of each of the following as a way of suggesting how the continuing dialogue might unfold:

  • Quadrants (which actually includes elements or lenses – individual-collective and interior-exterior)
  • Levels (developmental Holarchy lens)
  • Lines (the streams lens)
  • States (states of consciousness lens)
  • types (types or styles lens)
  • Perspectives (perspectival lens)
  • The drives of agency-communion (agency – communion lens)
  • The transformation-translation lens
  • Relational exchange and the form of development (transition process lens).

To reopen the dialogue,

Mark: You’ve asked some incredibly stimulating questions here Russ. And with each question my mind spins off into some possible direction for responding in this dialogue between us. As you’ve noted, and as it is usually the case with me, my instinct is to consider our conversation and the questions that you have put forward from a visual orientation. So, I would like to take up your comment about how we might view these lenses and their relationships.

Before doing that however I would like to briefly clarify one point. In developing this idea of many different lenses and interpretive frameworks I am not simply affirming a pluralist position that, while recognizing the diversity of perspectives, does not move on to find any relationship between them. Of course, if I merely identify all these different perspectives as valid interpretive frameworks that exist independently, that can each be deconstructed according to principles of situation and historical context and which provide local insights into reality rather than universal truths, then I would be proposing a thoroughly post-modern way of viewing the plurality of theories that exist in any field of study. But I am doing much more than this.

Meta-theorising is much more than a simple eclectic listing of various interpretive lenses. First, meta-theorising lenses draw connections between theories and paradigms and thereby presents a possibility for bringing viewpoints together rather than merely acknowledging their separate legitimacy. Second, meta-theorising shows the internal and external relationships of these lenses and therefore can be very specific about how one lens can be combined with another and what might be the advantages or disadvantages in doing so. Third, meta-theorising moves beyond the recognition of plurality and consciously develops meta-paradigmatic positions.

Where postmodernism often falls into the trap of building metatheory unconsciously, integral meta-theorising does this with awareness and in so doing recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of developing overarching models. In saying that it is not possible to develop valid and useful narratives, postmodernism is itself making universalist claims. (And it is not only Wilber who draws attention to this “performative contradiction”). Unfortunately, postmodernists usually develop these metatheoretical positions unconsciously. As Willis Overton, George Ritzer and others have have shown (Overton, 2007; Ritzer, 2001), meta-theorising is, in fact, an inescapable, everyday part of doing any sort of conceptual analysis. Finally, metatheory building moves beyond the relativist position because it can be used to adjudicate on the strengths and weaknesses of other theory and metatheory. Paul Colomy (1991) has shown how metatheory can be applied as an evaluative tool to consider strengths and weaknesses in the lenses, frameworks and conceptual models that are adopted and used by particular theories. Metatheory should not be confused then with a simple pluralist approach to acknowledging the variety of interpretive approaches to a topic. In other words metatheory can provide direction to knowledge, it can be used to set a course between better and worse ways of doing and being. Between balanced and imbalanced forms of theory. This takes us directly to the actual form of the lenses that I have been discussing here.

In my analysis of theories of organizational transformation I found a significant number of lenses that could not be reduced to one another and which together provide, I believe, a comprehensive pool of conceptual tools for building metatheory in many different areas of social science. I used extant theories of organisational change and Wilber’s AQAL framework as resources for this process. This pool of lenses is only a starting point and might be extended or further analysed depending on the findings of other metatheoretical research. The Table 8-1 summarises these lenses and you will see that all of the lenses we have been discussing, as well as several others, are included there.

You’ll also notice that each of these categories of lenses has a particular pattern or form of expression. We have the holarchical, bipolar, cyclical, relational, standpoint and multiparadigm lens categories providing a total of 24 explanatory lenses. Investigating the relationships within and between these lenses is in itself a special branch of metatheorising. (It might be called “The morphology of metatheory”). For example, there are various forms of confusion and conflation that exist between particular categories of lenses and I see these being committed over and over again. Holarchical lenses are often reduced to bipolar ones. Phases in the transition process lens are often confused with those of the developmental holarchy. Developmentalistis typically leave out relational lenses and post-modernists do the opposite. There are many ways in which these lens categories are conflated, confused and mixed or simply neglected. Showing that these lenses can be placed within morphological categories it might help to understand how some of these confusions can occur.

These lens categories tap into some basic relationships that exist in the human experience of reality. Consequently, they show up within every attempt to understand, explain, or get some handle on the complexity that exists within and around us and between us and through us. I see them as coming out of some kind of morphological fault line in the Kosmos, windows that we create and which we are drawn to look through, proclivities that we innately possess as sentient beings who act and imagine.

In any complex field such as leadership or organizational transformation we use these lenses and their combinations as footholds for our explanations and our theories and our ways of coping & meaning making. The categories of lenses interestingly can be associated with core questions that can be asked of any event – the “what”, “why”, “how”, “who” and “when” questions that themselves might be seen as basic categories of meaning making. There are powerful attractors here between reasoning and seeing, between visioning and questioning, between the way we untangle reality and complexity and the shape of the tools we use for that untangling. Do we untangle complexity by saying it all stems from one thing or that it can be ordered into a series of developments or that it emerges out of the interaction of things, or that it is the result of a process or a structure, or that it depends on the mediation of consciousness through language, or on the balance in internal and external economic realities. All these explanations can be metaphorically related to shape and to the morphogenetic patterns that underlie our perceptual and sociolinguistic assumptions. Anyone who has experienced the power of sign language will understand what I am talking about here.

So I guess, Russ, that I am offering here a way to describe the whole meta-theoretical system that I have been unwrapping with you in some sort of primitive psychosocial space. I see this language expressed in the questions and answers that we offer for the explanation of any complex event be that physical, chemical, biological, psychological, social or spiritual. Metatheory provides a pathway into how we can draw on the explorations that other people other groups and other communities have offered to topics like leadership and these lenses and their relationships are some that I have found to be of particular importance in the scientific literature. I rely heavily on Wilber’s non-exclusion principle and on approaches such as appreciative inquiry and positive scholarship in doing that. This is just a start and I can already see that there are weaknesses in what I have done here but I think that this is an extremely rich way to proceed in our journey.

This has all been at a very abstract level so please excuse me for venturing (once again) into the realms of the abstract. I haven’t really touched on any of the wonderful questions that you have asked. But then metatheory is concerned with theory and not with first-order concepts or with empirical data, or with operational events—it’s focus is on the core elements of theories, models, frameworks, etc. Maybe we could proceed like this. I would like you to propose a concrete leadership-related issue that is at the forefront of your mind. Describe that issue. Ask some key questions about that issue. Provide some directions for investigating that issue. Then let’s use that issue to unwrap an integral metatheorical approach to it.

Table 8-1: Categories of Conceptual Lenses for Organisational Transformation

Categories of Conceptual Lenses
ev1Holarchy category: Lenses expressed as holarchical structures, the “what” of transformation

  • developmental holarchy: transformational levels, stages of discontinuous change
  • ecological holarchy: spatial levels multilevel, micro-meso-macro, organisational levels
  • governance/organising holarchy: levels of decision-making, power relations, management
  • deep structure: the pattern of persistent features that define levels

Holarchical lenses take the shape of unfolding moments, structures, capacities, complexities. One thing opening to another in an inclusive embrace. The form is one of ongoing unfolding/enfolding.

ev2Bipolar category: Lenses expressed as dualities and polarities, the “why” of transformation

  • interior-exterior: contrasting poles of for example subjective-objective
  • transformation-translation: radical change-incremental change
  • internal-external: the inside and outside of organisational boundaries
  • agency-communion: autonomous-relational, task-relationships
  • health-pathology: balanced-unbalanced, whole-fragmented

Bipolar lenses take the shape of dualities, complementarities, and binary dimensions. One thing opposes, complements, coincides with or defines the other. The form is one of bounded duality.

ev3Cyclical process category: Lenses expressed as cyclical processes, the “how” of transformation

  • evolutionary selection: emergence through variation, selection, retention cycles
  • system dynamics: bifurcation points, feedback processes, cyclical dynamics
  • learning: single, double, triple loop learning; integral cycle of learning
  • inclusive emergence: transcend-and-include cycles
  • transition process: transition cycles, change processes

Cyclical lenses take the shape of iterative process, repeating cycles, that contain many phases. One phase leads to another with there being no end to the process. The form is one of circularity.

ev4Relational category: Lenses expressed as relational processes, the “how” of transformation

  • mediation: social mediation through artefact-in-use
  • alignment: concordance between two structures, processes or entities
  • relational exchange: exchanges that occur between two structures or processes

Relational lenses take the shape of exchange between “things”, something passing between two or more entities, as in communication, giving and taking, consumption/production. The form is one of interaction.

ev5Standpoint category: Lenses expressed as perspectival standpoints, the “who” of transformation

  • stakeholder: viewpoints of employees, managers, customers, communities
  • states of consciousness: condition of subjective awareness of stakeholders
  • personal perspective: first, second and third person perspectives – singular &plural
  • postmodern: hidden standpoints, hegemonic versus peripheral viewpoints

Standpoint lenses take the shape of multiple viewpoints, many points of consciousness, multiperspectivalism and decentering. The form is multicentredness – there are many points to stand on and view from.

ev6Multiparadigm category: Lenses expressed in multiple forms, can consider the “what”, “why”, “how” and “who” of transformation

  • spirituality: a transpersonal level of development, a particular line of development, a process, etc
  • organisational streams: domains of organisational life, e.g. people, structures, cultures, systems
  • types: non-developmental typologies of key organisational entities

Lenses in the multiparadigm category are shape shifters. They take multiple forms and can be expressed through
many voices. The form is one of variation and change.

Russ: I want to start with a question about Table 8-1. Where is the helix? It seems to me that the helix holds great potential in that it includes what is circular, but seems to embrace virtually all of the forms you have suggested. First it is developmental (and anomic). Developmentally, the helix represents movement and process through levels and can be used to include the bi-polar, for example, the polarity of development vs. anomie. Can it be used to represent the polarities of holonic categories such as the ones we have been discussing? Well, it can, for one, by using a double-helix, an interactive pair that “feed” each other. It is circular in that it is about the processes that lead from one element to another. For example, how does cognitive development influence emotional development or visa versa? What is the relationship between meaning making and action? How do the steps along the circle influence those to follow?

The double helix idea deals directly with the relational. I would suggest one modification here. I prefer the work embrace virtually all of the forms. It seems to me that the continuous adjustment process that goes on in these relationships is more like tuning a string instrument in the context of continually changing climate change—sunny and warm to cold and damp and then to somewhere in between. Each element being adjusted to the other includes some lag in time. As in the case when sailing to a destination, most of the time we are not pointed at the “endpoint,” but continuously making adjustments to stay on course.

Figure 8.1: The DNA Helix

Figure 8.1: The DNA Helix
Source: http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/VL/GG/dna2.html

The standpoint seems to me to be something of a different animal, although I agree it must be included. Are we looking at change from within one of the helices or from outside? Are we focused on the behavioral, the “space in between,” or the spiritual? Then the issue is how can we understand the dynamics of those factors in the developmental and anomic processes. Using the helix might offer some insight here, particularly when we can consider the places in the processes where the helices overlap, engage, influence each other. The standpoint relates to who is looking at the helix from what direction: inside, outside, left or right helix.

Figure 8.1 shows an elaborate DNA helix. It is a double helix, two strands spiraling together. And if we examine the portion of the figure with the letters, what we find is elements of interaction that correspond to some of the approaches in Table 8.1, for example the relational in the center which even suggest bipolarity and the cyclical that is also developmental and, depending on the direction one is moving, anomic.

It thus seems to me that the helix is a prime candidate for metatheory. This does not address the question you put to me about a specific application to leadership. One way to proceed is, of course, looking at a leadership occurrence. Another would be to take a look at various theoretical approaches that have been offered thus far in the study of leadership and see how this modeling helps us understand how they contribute to a metatheory. The problem with the former is that it may be somewhat ideographic with difficulties around transferability to other leadership occurrences. The problem with the latter is that it is a horrific undertaking that I have hoped some ambitious PhD student (or group of them) might undertake (no pun intended). Before I proceed, however, I would like to know your response to what I am suggesting about the helix.

Mark: Russ you ask “Where is the helix?” and you say that the helix seems to “embrace virtually all of the forms” of lenses that I have outlined. In short, you are right – only that the helix/spiral is a combination of these lenses rather than another category. For example, the helix is essentially a combination of a holarchical lens and a binary lens. Table 8.1 is not a catalogue of forms of theories. It’s meant to show the generative (metatheoretical) lenses that, in isolation or in combination, can be used to construct theory. Table 8.1 shows the bare bones and not the elegant forms that can result from incorporating the bones in different ways (to produce such complex forms as, for example, the double helix).

Naturally your query about spirals and helixes brings up the issue of Beck and Cowan’s “Spiral Dynamics” and Graves ECLET (Emergent, Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory) and there are several theories of transformation that adopt the Gravesian/SD approach to organisations (see, for example, van Marrewijk, 2005). The definitive lens for these and many other models of transformation is that of vertical, stage-based development, i.e. the developmental holarchy lens. Now, the Gravesian/SD models include lenses other than this holarchical one of stages. For example, these models include a bipolar lens—a pendulum—that swings between individuals and collectivist expressions at alternate Levels/vMemes. This is essentially why Beck and Cowan refer to their model in terms of a spiral—in that it combines holarchy with bipolarity.

My research tried to find the core lenses that produce particular models. I didn’t try to depict every model in terms of some morphology. The categories in table 8.1 are not categories of theories. They are categories of the lenses from which theories are derived. Most models of change are, in fact, incredibly simple. They are often based not on one lens but on certain facets of just one lens (e.g. the top-down model of transformational leadership). They can easily be described in bipolar or cyclical terms. Other models do combine several lenses and, in this regard, models such as those of Torbert (2004), Porras and Silvers (1991), Tushman and O’Reilly (1996) Lemak (Lemak, Henderson & Wenger, 2004) are very complex and include multiple lenses in various relationships. So, my research on theories of transformation tried to find the core explanatory lenses that theorists used to conceptualise radical change and not the form of the theories themselves. That’s what Table 8.1 is about—the basic components of theories and not their potential combinations. Table 8.1, the list of lenses and their morphological categories, provides, what might be regarded as, the basic generative tools from which we can build up any theory of transformation (at least any theory that was present in my very extensive sample). By this I mean that we can combine several of the lenses listed in table 8.1 to develop spirals, grids, cycles, networks, typologies and other forms of theoretical frameworks.

With these provisos in mind, I completely agree with your comments on the importance of the spiral/helix form in explanations of change.

Russ: If we agree that the double helix is important. Would it be fruitful for us to proceed from there. Agreed, that there are multiple frameworks that can be combined in different ways. And I would guess that the efficacy of any particular combination needs to be tested against the integrative promise of eliminating or at least minimizing blind spots in our mapping and understanding of phenomena, events, occurrences. Many leadership theories focus on one or two of the cells in our matrices. Few of them attend to levels of development. The link between culture and systems and the phenomenon of leadership in a system over time is rarely attended to. In the case of building metatheory related to leadership, then, if we begin with the double helix we have a high propensity for minimizing such blind spots. How will we transition from a fifteen cell matrix to a double helix perspective?

Don Beck often talks about the spiral within. I think this is one place where there is not a great deal of clarity in the ways people are using Spiral Dynamics. But if we can consider the spiral within for individual holons, which include a double helix, relationship holons, which include a somewhat different double helix, and collective holons with still another double helix, perhaps we can make useful progress. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn, keeping in mind this is an excursion of sorts—perhaps heading to one of those places where angels fear to tread.

Below, I reintroduce Figure 7.2, now as 8.2, to remind us of the cells in the fifteen-cell matrix we discussed in the last exchange of our dialogue. I will be referring to this as I proceed to elaborate on the use of the double helix.

If we look at the first person micro cell we find we are engaged with agentic and communal vision and action. The four cells of this holon engage each other over time—within the individual. If I understand your approach, this means that each individual carries a vision for themselves and for their context and take action in relation to themselves and in relation to their context. Without time there is no feedback loop. When we introduce time there are feedback dynamics within the individual in relation to all four cells. Developmentally (and anomically) we can understand changes over time.

For the individual engaged in a leading role in an organization this would mean that in order to understand how they perform in that role, it would be necessary to consider their intentions, beliefs and worldview, how those shape and form their own learning process through feedback mechanisms between their actions intended to produce the changes they desire and how effective those actions are for their learning, as well as looking at how they understand the culture (aggregated intentions, beliefs and worldviews) and the systems (structures, processes, technologies, artefacts), which are defined by the individual based on what their worldview allows them to perceive. Those dynamics will impact their developmental or anomic experiences and interpretations of self, that is how confident they are in their effectiveness and discovery of what they have to learn.

Comprehending all of this can be accomplished from three perspectives. The first is that identified in the paragraph above. That is the first person perspective. It is self understanding self over time. This is a helictical process. It is multi-directional. For example, If I were to see the efficacy of my worldview in helping me learn more about self and context and see my actions as being resonant with the culture and supported by the system, then I would have greater confidence in myself in that context. As long as nothing seemed to change I could proceed with confidence, developmentally. However, if I experienced some sense of failure on my part, the opposite would happen. My confidence would be eroded and I would be in a downward spiral of anomie.

In addition there is a relationship helix. Actually, there would be several. To begin with let’s look at the first person meso. At this point we have left the individual holon and shifted to a collective holon—from the individual’s perspective. The distinction is that this is not about the individual, but about the individual as part of a relationship. For the sake of this discussion, let’s treat this collective as a team of five people. The holon would be composed of these cells: UL would be the aggregated intentions, worldviews and beliefs of the five members of the team; UR would be the actions taken on behalf of the team. LL would be the aggregated understanding of the organizational culture; LR would be the team actions in relation to organizational systems. The feedback loops, again, as seen by the individual member, would generate a sense of efficacy or defeat leading, in turn to the aggregated development of teamwork or the anomic collective sense of failure and corresponding degeneration.

All of this can be examined through the eyes of the individual member, through the eyes of other individual members and/or through third party observation. There are corresponding methodologies for implementing these perspectives in examining the team. As for our five member team, there could be five separate helictical views of the team and numerous third party views from other teams, from suppliers of resources to the team, from authority figures (technical and managerial) who have accountability for the performance of the team, from those who use team products to accomplish their responsibility, from regulators of action involving the team and so on.

At each of the next collective levels we would have analyses corresponding to the meso. At the three macro levels we are dealing with collectives of increasing size and complexity. But the same principles would apply as in the case of the meso level.

In Figure 8.2 there are also the important symbols labelled “W”. These can indicate the exchanges among quadrants of holons, as well as among holons. Within holons I have referred to these processes as feedback loops that generate something in each cell of the matrix. For the individual, what is generated in UL is a re-examination of intentions, worldview and beliefs. In UR is a re-examination of the actions themselves for supporting learning. In LL there would be a reassessment of one’s understanding of aggregated cultural variables. In LR there would be a reassessment of the individual’s accounting for systems variables. Some or all of these would be considered in relation to each other. Similar dynamics would occur within an individual’s experience and view of meso and macro levels, as well as in all cases second and third party analyses at each of these levels. And in the relationship between individual and team, individual and organization, team and organization and so on, similar dynamics would be taking place.

The implications for leadership are that all of these are relevant. This is why I commented that rather than an integral map we need an integral atlas. This is a whole bunch of stuff. I sit on some dissertation committees of individuals undertaking some application of integral theory to the study of leadership. None of them can (or should they necessarily) address all of these variables. But it seems that if we are going to evolve a metatheory of leadership it demands that we work toward such integration. Is this a way to see the forest and the trees?



Mark: You ask how we might “transition from a fifteen cell matrix to a double helix perspective”. Figure 8.2 is my way of combining about seven of, what I call, integral lenses, and there are many ways of depicting this combination of lenses. In the following figure we have two holons interacting – let’s say it’s two people in conversation, i.e., a 1st and 2nd person singular interaction. The helix represents the developmental holarchy lens (let’s say for pre, normative and trans stages) where the two strands might represent the interior and exterior forms of development, the bridges between strands are the translations involved in maintaining identity (translation-transformation lens), the interactions between helixes represent the lens of social mediation (the words “W”, the symbolic interaction, the dialogue).


Now we could repeat this representation for micro, meso, and macro levels and for the 3rd person and add the agency-communion lens and so build up the equivalent of the seven or so lenses combined to form the metatheoretical framework shown in the Figure 8.2 matrix. In other words just replace the holons in 8.2 with the helixes in 8.3 and you’ve got a helictical framework instead of a holarchical one. There are representational benefits from this helictical approach. You can more clearly see the intertwining of the interior and exterior poles of that bipolar lens and the translation and transformation lens is also more clearly depicted. But, on the whole I prefer the matrix form because its cleaner, the compounding nature of lenses is clearer, the inclusive nature of development is captured better with holons than with helixes, the metatheoretical aspect of the resultant framework is more obvious and, to put it bluntly, you can fit more in. You have unpacked Figure 8.2 using the helictical metaphor in a way that fits nicely with the graphical representation that I give in Figure 8.3.

There are two other matters that you raise, Russ, which I would like to say something about. You have said that “The implications for leadership are that all of these [lenses] are relevant”. And this is true, in that all of these metatheoretical lenses have their role to play in building up a comprehensive and integral metatheory for leadership. However, this does not mean that every research project needs to include all these lenses. Metatheory is first and foremost about raising the consciousness of a researcher, in being aware of what she includes and what she excludes in her theorising. Researchers hardly ever specify the conceptual domain and theoretical tools that they are using their in research. Metatheory helps to identify boundaries between theories, research paradigms and, most importantly, between the different types of conceptual orientations that a researcher can take towards their topic. For example, in leadership studies we often assume that leadership is about what the senior executives do, when, as we have seen in previous sections in our conversation, a more comprehensive view of leadership must, in some way, include all individuals and groups in the organisation (and sometimes decision-making levels beyond the organisational boundary). But this does not mean that, in taking a metatheoretical approach to leadership, we can no longer focus our study on the behaviour of senior executives and CEOs. What it does mean is that we should acknowledge that leadership is much more than this. We need to bring into the open our boundaries and assumptions about what leadership entails and through that explicitly state the focus and limits of the study. While most scientific studies do recognise some of their inherent limitations, they hardly ever specify the conceptual limits that underlie the research (and from that flows the whole issue of science colonising other value domains). You can see that this has immense implications for the way all research is done and not only metatheoretical research at the very abstract level.

The other point I would like to take up in your last response concerns a fundamental question about metatheory and its relationship to the particular. You ask, “Is this a way to see the forest and the trees?”. By this I take it that you mean can metatheory be applied to both the individual empirical event as well as the overarching view of a particular field of study. It seems to me that there are several murky lines being crossed here. First, it is important to recognise that metatheory is only ever directly about other theory. Metatheory cannot be developed from empirical phenomena but only from our theories of such. When we want to apply metatheory to a particular event I think we are crossing the line into standard theory. It is possible to do this but in such instances we are making theoretical speculations and hypotheses that need to be empirically tested and socially assessed using all very appropriate modern than post-modern criteria for theory testing.

The territory of metatheory is always about what connects and differentiates other theory and it becomes standard theory when we use it to explain the particulars of social life. This is a key point—whenever we have our metatheory referring to or explaining some applied situation it has crossed a line and entered the world of speculative theory and hypothesis generation. When it enters this world metatheory becomes a source for the generation of theoretical hypotheses and nothing more. This line gets crossed in the application of AQAL and frequently without acknowledging that we have crossed from metatheory building to the world of theoretical speculation. For example, I sometimes see something like the following in AQAL-informed discussions: That between 50-70 percent of the world’s population is at the ethnocentric level of developmental identity, or that all terrorists have the same basic psychograph or that wars are caused by the clash of vMemes or that everyone experiences the transpersonal because they dream every night and so on. All these might be interesting but they are totally speculative in that they are completely untested hypothetical propositions. They usually haven’t even been evaluated at the metatheoretical level in terms of how they fit with the internal consistency of AQAL. Just because AQAL metatheory is based on theory, which is (often) based on empirical data, does not mean that AQAL-based speculations have any empirical base. They do not. They have a theoretical base. And, like every (meta)theory AQAL needs to be evaluated according to the standard criteria of parsimony, generalisability, fecundity, internal consistency, uniqueness, abstractness, trustworthiness, usefulness, social justice, etc. Once metatheory has been considered according to these criteria then it’s time to test its theoretical propositions. But more importantly once the evaluation of metatheory has taken place, we can then immediately set about evaluating other theory. This is the primal role of metatheory for me in the current crisis we find ourselves. This is where metatheory has a role right now in changing the path we are currently unconsciously plodding on. Our theories of how the world works are not up to the huge task of global transformation that faces us. Metatheory has something to say about that now by being able to critically and (at the least) rationally evaluate our theories, models, frameworks and cultural worldviews. This is why I have always found AQAL to be at its best when evaluating other theory and at its most dodgy when it tries to explain some empirical social event (like, for example, Islamic terrorism).

Russ: We are really tracking with each other now! I am delighted with the way you have made the distinction regarding metatheory. In theIntegral Leadership Review I have been maintaining that the publication needs to be a field where different perspectives and methodologies can come together, can be seen in relation to each other. This is the interface of theories. At the same time I welcome and encourage material such as this dialogue to build an integral metatheory of leadership. In working with PhD students I have not been so clear. I have criticized dissertations for their failure to address the multiple variables included in metatheory when their task would be better understood as a contribution at the level of a theory and a set of methodologies related to that theory. Nevertheless, it would still be important to acknowledge and address the relationship between a theoretical and methodological approach and an integral metatheoretical perspective.

I am hoping to see more and more of this kind of work in doctoral dissertations. I am less concerned that the dissertation address metatheory beyond what I am suggesting than that there is a discussion and demonstrated awareness of the relationship between the chosen approaches and an integral metatheory. In that way, the contribution of the approach to our refining the metatheory can be made explicit. I would like to see more dissertations, for example, that are demonstrating the relationship between cultural, situational, servant, etc. theories of leadership within an integral context. Either the matrix or the double helix are tools or ways of mapping that can contribute to showing such relationships.

I would also like to note that a distinction between these models and Wilber’s mapping tools is that process is made more explicit and that time is also a critical factor. For example, the inclusion of mediating variables (which would include processes such as self-management, meaning making, attunement, engagement and system evolution) as they are demonstrated through the use of symbols, communication techniques indicates both process and observations over some period of time.

I think that this has been an invaluable clarification in this dialogue to this point. If you agree, can you go back to my questions and see if there are others that you would like to address? For example, I think we have been discussing questions #1 (So, with regard to the quadrants a question we may wish to consider would be, what matrices would be useful to the exploration and study of leadership? What is the utility of each, that is, what kinds of insights will each provide and how can it be used to develop and prepare leaders, particularly for the challenges of rapid change and complexity?).

In your last response you also introduce the notion of levels of development. Questions #2 are about just that (What is the developmental level of a leader? A follower/collaborator/contributor? How do those at different levels engage? How do we develop from one level to another? What is the nature of recidivism and anomie in relation to stages of development?). This includes not only the various models of levels and stages, but the relationships among stages in any leadership occurrence. And we have talked about development and anomie. I think the double helix model allow for visualizing that most effectively. We can readily see how developmental movement up and anomic movement down can occur.

If I may set the stage for this a bit (pun intended), we have various models representing stages: Gebser, Kegan, Perry, Loevinger (Cook-Greuter/Torbert), Fowler, Wade, etc. You have used in Figure 8.3 pre-stages, conventional and trans-stages. Otto Laske has referred to problems with some of these stage models, for example the “Loevinger Fallacy,” that is, “the notion that social-emotional and cognitive development can be happily mixed and merged.” There are numerous publications comparing these models. Perhaps you have one that you would like to cite. And I am not looking forward to engaging in another effort of that sort unless it adds clarity to our discussion of leadership.

I do believe that addressing this can be done on two levels, as you have indicated. The first would be, of course, the conduct of research using one or more of these models in relation to leadership. Here we find examples of the application of Kegan to cadets at West Point and to senior U.S. Army officers ( Leader to Leader, Summer 2005). We also find the work of Rooke and Torbert related to developmental level of CEOs and success rates with organizational transformation. Other research that I am familiar with is focused on individuals who have exercised leadership roles in their lives, politically and in business. In both cases “integral” was used to designate a stage of development a la Gebser and also one of the ways Wilber uses the term. There are, of course, other publications drawing on integral in relation to leadership, but I do not recall any that address stages of development beyond what I have suggested so far.

The second level is at the level of metatheory and that is the level where we might focus most profitably. How can we address the myriad of developmental models at a metatheoretical level? I wonder if you see this as a useful next step.


  • Colomy, P. 1991, ‘Metatheorizing in a Postpositivist Frame’, Sociological Perspectives, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 269-286.
  • Leader to Leader, Summer 2005.
  • Lemak, D. J., Henderson, P. W. & Wenger, M. S. 2004, ‘A new look at organizational transformation using systems theory: An application to federal contractors’, Journal of Business and Management, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 407.
  • Overton, W. F. 2007, ‘A Coherent Metatheory for Dynamic Systems: Relational Organicism-Contextualism’, Human Development, vol. 50, no. 2-3, pp. 154-159.
  • Porras, J. I. & Silvers, R. C. 1991, ‘Organization development and transformation’, Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 42, pp. 51-78.
  • Ritzer, G. 2001, ‘Conclusion: The case for (and against) sociological metatheorising’, in Explorations in Social Theory: From Metatheorizing to Rationalisation, ed. G. Ritzer, Sage, London, pp. 299-322.
  • Torbert, W. R. 2004, ‘ Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership‘, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco.
  • Tushman, M. L. & O Reilly, C. A. 1996, ‘Ambidextrous organizations: Managing evolutionary and revolutionary change’, California Management Review, vol. 38, no. 4, p. 8.
  • van Marrewijk, M. 2005, ‘Multiple levels of decision making: ethical management in various business contexts’, International Journal of Management & Decision Making, vol. 6, no. 3,4, p. 257.