As I embarked on my own personal odyssey and started to develop a personal Transformative Practice in the days before I had heard of Integral let alone started to try to understand what it means, I pursued three avenues of enlightenment. Before I tell you what they were, I feel I need to give you a little background information to put what I have to say into context.
At the time I was a senior executive with a major international bank responsible for all telecommunications and distributed computing development. I sat atop an empire of over 800 people with a budget in excess of $200M. My personal Everest had been conquered and I sat wondering what next, when out of the blue a double “whammy” brought me crashing back to ground zero with an almighty thud.
Not wishing to bore you with details suffice it to say my wife at the time decided that she was no longer prepared to be the second love of my life after my work and demanded a divorce; and the new Chief Executive of the bank chose to restructure my division and effectively dismantle my own personal fiefdom. Looking back, I think that I could overcome one of these two blows without necessarily having to change too much. The one-two combination proved too much and sent me into a spiral that left me looking precariously over the precipice into the abyss. I was left with no option but to transform or, well I’ll leave that to your imagination.
With the help of three saints who appeared into my life, I started to adopt three practices to help keep body mind and spirit together. The first, which still amazes me to this day, was to take up a so called new age dance practice called 5-rhythms developed by a lady called Gabrielle Roth. For somebody with two left feet and a belief that I wasn’t in line when rhythm was being handed out to spend all his spare hours on a dance floor left most of my family and friends completely bemused. But for the first time in my life I felt in touch with my body and the spare tyre around my midriff from too many executive meals soon disappeared.
The second practice area that I fell into was an attempt to reawaken my mind by catching up on the developments that had been taking place over the past two decades or so in respect of scientific development. When I wasn’t on the dance floor, my nose was buried in some book or another on chaos and complexity theories or attending lectures by leading edge practitioners. Breaking free of the constraints of Newtonian mechanics was a truly liberating experience as it allowed my mind to explore options that were previously hidden from my world view.
The third leg of my transformative practice sent in search of something to raise my spirit that had been recently awakened. I set off on a path of discovery that most of my generation had pursued 25 years earlier. I tasted what was on offer from all of the true mystical traditions and also some of those not so traditional. In the end I found myself being pulled by the bedrock of my own culture and became a student of Kabbalah long before it was made fashionable by Madonna, Roseanne and Britney.
At the time, I could see no overlap between these three practices. I started to build three very distinct and separate communities with whom I pursued my interests and satisfied the needs of body mind and spirit. At the same time I was attempting to rebuild my career in the so-called “real world” of business. With the collapse of my personal business empire, I was passed by my boss at the time what seemed to be a poisoned chalice, yet with hindsight might prove to be the greatest gift that I have been given in this lifetime, apart from the birth of my three children that is.
Basically, I was moved a long way sideways out of the mainstream activities of the bank. I was asked to take a long-term view of the future of business. A pot of money was made available to me and I was told to go and sit at the feet of whomever I chose to try to uncover fresh insights into how business might evolve over the next 10, 20 or even 50 years and to come back with suggestions as to how the bank might prepare itself for future changes and transformation.
My immediate, almost Pavlovian, response was to track down the leading business school professors and like a dry sponge seek to soak up their wisdom. Smart as most of these modern day pundit’s were, I soon found very little new in what they were offering. Sure they were ahead of the curve, but only just so. I then moved on to the futurist community and whilst I felt at home with many who practiced their trade in this arena I was starting to feel distinctly uneasy about what they were preaching.
It wasn’t until I discovered Ken Wilber a couple of years later that I realised my uneasiness stemmed from the fact that most of the knowledge and wisdom that I had been soaking up was flowing from the flatlands of the right-hand quadrants. There was little that attempted to deal with the interior quadrants, even though most admitted that culture and personal evolution were critical to the final outturn of any future scenarios.
I was stumped and stymied and felt as if I had ventured a great distance up an impassable canyon and was going to have to turn back. As this realisation dawned, I sought solace in the practices that had been serving me so well up until now. A two-day dance workshop left me feeling wonderful in body and open to possibilities but delivered no answers. Of the six books that I was reading concurrently, no answers to my quandary manifested. Finally, I chose to go to an open class of a new Kabbalah teacher and in that class the light finally switched on.
The essence of what I learnt in that class was that the scriptures that had been passed down over the centuries have locked in them lessons that are as applicable today as they were when they were written. The challenge was learning how to read the biblical myths and to unstack them so that their meaning becomes apparent for today. This is extremely difficult, because the key to understanding the Old Testament is the language in which it was originally written. The chain of translation from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English to further English has acted to throw away those keys, leaving us with some nice fairy stories to tell our kids but little of use when it comes to gaining insight into our world today.
I would like to give you one example, which is so apposite to understanding leadership from an integral perspective and hopefully demonstrates that if we want to understand the future delving into the distant past is often a good place to start. The story I am talking about can be found in the book of Exodus and concerns the visit of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro who comes to visit with his family in the wilderness. This little story is easy to miss as it sits between splitting of the sea of reeds (and not the Red Sea as it has been mistakenly translated) and the description of mass enlightenment as the Ten Commandments (again another mistake it is really ten statements containing thirteen commandments) are given.
When surrounded by two myths of such gargantuan impact that fuel the psyche of possibly half the world it is not very surprising that the visit of Jethro in the desert barely registers on the radar screen. Jethro is described as the priest of Midian and was a former adviser to the Pharaoh in Egypt who had so much difficulty in meeting Moses’ demands to let his people go. In the backing commentaries to this story we discover that Jethro was really the Ken Wilber of his day. He was a seeker of truth and enlightenment and recognised that there were elements of both in the myriad of spiritual practices that were extant at the time. Jethro’s lifework had been to seek out and learn these practices and had become the world’s greatest expert in these matters.
Jethro hears that his son-in-law who had lived with him for forty years up until a year ago had recently had been quite successful in a new venture that he had undertaken. All the time he had known him, all that Moses had done had been to take care of the sheep. Now he had gone head to head with the most powerful man in the world and was leading close on to 2 million people across the desert to a new home. When he arrived there he was horrified at what he saw, Moses had become the archetypal heroic leader. From sunrise to sunset the people would queue to see him to resolve some issue or other. As a consequence no progress was occurring.
Without batting an eyelid, Jethro drops into super management consultant mode and tells his son-in-law that he is doing it all wrong. OK it’s a myth and in most modern day households such an action would probably lead to the outbreak of world war III and a family feud. But Moses is an archetypal leader. He knows that the system that he has in place is not working but he is too busy having to answer every query to do anything about it. From this we learn our first lesson for successful leadership to be open to advice from others who can see the situation from a different perspective.
Moses’ response was along the lines, “You say I have a problem, what do you propose that I do about it?” The reply that came back proves to be interesting. It starts with a statement that reinforces the reason why Moses got himself into this mess in the first place. Jethro tells Moses that, “he is a representative to God and that he conveys the matters to God.” As we unpack this, we realise that what is really being said is that as the Leader of this overall Enterprise gifted with vision and the strategy of the venture it is essential that you focus on those things that only you can undertake. Not every action requires your personal involvement, to attempt to do so will tire both you and the rest of the population.”
Jethro emphasizes the need to communicate effectively the path that they are following and the deeds that need to be undertaken. Our second lesson for leaders from 3,500 years ago is on the need for communication above all else to dispel any uncertainty and to move the venture along. If you allow yourself to get distracted from doing what you and you alone can do, then it becomes a vicious downward spiral.
But our Leadership Guru continues by saying that effective communication is a necessary but not sufficient criterion for success. Communication needs to be supplemented by structure that allows the message to flow. Moses is instructed to implement a leadership cascade that allows the message to pass down and more importantly allow queries to be handled at levels along the cascade. Now many modern organisational theorists might start to emit steam from their ears at the thought of hierarchy. But from an Integral perspective it is a necessary stepping-stone that is included and then transcended.
The next big question that Moses put to his personal coach was, “What attributes should I look for in appointing leaders throughout the people.” Jethro identified four traits that are as relevant today as they were all those millennia ago. He started in the upper-right quadrant by stating that the leaders need to be men of accomplishment. The great sages and interpreters of the scriptures always understood this to mean women as well, sadly through the mistranslations this understanding was lost, and misogyny allowed to prevail when it was never intended to do so.
The key point that is being emphasized here is that the first attribute of leadership that we automatically look for in a leader is what have they achieved so far. Followers are more likely to follow somebody who has a track record and accept his or her judgement is what Jethro is attempting to impart to his son-in-law. Good leaders are measured in the first instance by what they have achieved not by accidents of birth or popularity. This is a lesson that we need to keep reminding ourselves of in this day and age.
The next trait that Jethro described was that leaders needed to be “God fearing.” Now here we need to unpack what the text is attempting to say. It is not suggesting that our leaders should be afraid of an old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud above us. The term really means that our leaders should be connected to a higher self, and understanding of events that transcend the obvious and reflect the great chain of being. Jethro is arguing for individuals who are not constrained by just the circumstances in which they find themselves but have the ability to see the bigger picture.
In our integral model, the ancient consultant has moved across to the upper left quadrant and is arguing for our leadership to have a reached at least second tier in respect of their value systems. Having the ability to see the “big picture” and how everything before them fits together becomes the next critical trait that Moses needed to look for in the selection process.
Moving round the quadrants, Jethro drops into the lower left when he describes the next trait, which is that, the appointed leaders “be seekers of truth.” This is a case where the long chain of translation can lead us totally to the wrong understanding of what was being said. Of course we want our leaders to seek out the truth it goes without saying. To understand the real meaning of this phrase we need to look at the Hebrew word for truth, which is EMET. It is made up of three Hebrew letters, which are Aleph, Mem and Tav. These three letters just happen to be the first, the middle and the last letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
Now the mystics and sages tell us nothing is by accident and that when Moses is told to appoint seekers of truth he is being told that he needs individuals who in assessing any situation start at the beginning move through the middle and finally reach the right conclusion. They need to overcome the culture that was prevalent then and still exists today of individuals who start a task but cannot see it through; or those who jump into the middle of a dispute and without having the full context cannot reach a conclusion or worst still those who believe that they know the answer and decide to ignore taking the painstaking steps to validate their position.
Today, we find ourselves under so much pressure that we seek to find short cuts. In doing so we encourage actions that result in the likes of Enron and Worldcom. The Myth writers of yesteryear knew that only by appointing leaders who truly sought the truth were we likely to create a fair and just culture for the masses to prosper in.
Jethro’s fourth trait, at first glance appears to backtrack into the upper left quadrant when he urges Moses to select leaders who “despised money.” However, as with everything written in the scriptures, things aren’t always as they might seem! We get a clue by the use of the verb “despise” which seems overly strong compared to the other instructions. The interpreters of the hidden codes over the centuries suggest that this means that we need to focus not so much on the action but the system of money itself.
As he scanned the assembled masses under his son-in-law’s charge, Jethro could see that their primary mode of daily living was survival from day to day. They were being provided for with Manna from heaven and a well that followed them around (I don’t really have time to go there in this article). Many of the systems that would be needed to establish a sustainable community had not started to emerge; however, Jethro knew that of all of those systems which would populate the lower right hand quadrant of this new Holon, one system alone had the potential to destroy the leadership structures that he was suggesting be put in place.
That system was, as you might have guessed by now, money. When Jethro told Moses to select leaders who despised money he was issuing a major warning to his client of the danger that could arise from the emergence of monetary systems. “Money is an inevitable consequence of emergent societies,” he is saying, “beware its ability to corrupt leadership structures at your peril!”
Having completed his assignment, like all good Management Consultants took his leave of Moses & Co, and returned to his home office in Midian. If we summarise the advice that he left behind we find that we should be seeking leaders who are recognised for their accomplishments, are driven by their higher selves, seek the truth in a thorough manner and are aware of the potential for monetary systems to corrupt the leadership systems. Sounds like a pretty good recipe for selecting leaders in the modern age too. It’s just a pity that too few organisations seem to act in such a manner.
In today’s frantic and frenetic world, where we are constantly scanning the horizon for new ideas on how to respond to the issues that present themselves everyday, perhaps it would make sense occasionally to look backwards and gain access to the wisdom of the first Management Consultant on record. What do you think?
Keith Bellamy is an independent consultant to businesses in Great Britain. He formerly was an IT executive and a futurist for Barclay’s Bank. He is active with Integral and Spiral Dynamics groups in London.