Integral Leaders: what could a new kind of leadership look like?

19 July 2017

The On Think Tanks Fellowship Programme is moving forward with very promising personal and group developments. We (the mentors), like the fellows, are learning along the way.

The Fellowship has convened a group of 11 young think tank leaders who are trying to bring on fresh and imaginative perspectives to age-old problems. We want to help Fellows become real agents of change and transform their organisations to make them healthier, more aligned with global possibilities and challenges and with a larger and deeper contribution to their people and communities.

How are we doing this?

First, each fellow has prepared a leadership development plan and they are receiving the help of mentors to learn, implement, reflect and act.

Second, many of them are taking courses from the OTT School, where the Evolving Think Tanks series covers a wide array of critical issues for think tanks to become better at what they do. Gradually, they will share lessons learned and findings with their peers through our monthly meetings.

Third, we meet online once a month using Zoom. During these meetings, we discuss common challenges and Fellows also share their personal development plans with each other. This common space is critical for our fourth step: the co-design of actionable methods and ideas to inform the development of a new leadership paradigm for think tanks.

The power of this group to enable the emergence of a new paradigm is undeniable. What is this new paradigm about? It´s related to what we have called Integral leadership.

Integral leadership is an evolving movement visible in different spots of the world, where leaders are daring to abandon their comfort zones and traditional approaches to leadership to embrace volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (sometimes referred to as VUCA). These leaders need courage to connect to their inner truths, to speak about the intangible but powerful forces that underlie our behaviours, to make visible their own vulnerability and not know what the right solution is.

We are working on three critical entry points developed by intuit/liderazgo integral to let this integral leadership emerge:

  1. Uniting the internal with the external world: individuals are increasingly aware that the issues outside are a mirror of the issues inside ourselves . However, as Alan Watkins (co-founder of Complete Coherence +) argues, among 90-95% of the solutions high level executives think about are external solutions, both at the individual and the collective levels. Rarely do they think –let alone discuss- about the inner source of their and others´ decisions and actions. This significantly limits the success of these solutions. Moreover, as the Presencing Institute has discovered: “the quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate. The formula for a successful change process is not “form follows function,” but “form follows consciousness.” The structure of awareness and attention determines the pathway along which a situation unfolds.” Therefore, it is time to really pay attention to this inner dimension of leadership and how it relates with external challenges and opportunities.
  2. Uniting heart and mind: since the Era of Reason and Enlightenment, the public space has been dominated by reason. We rely on our brains to argue with others, make strategic decisions, manage teams to achieve expected results, etc. Most of the time, this has left our hearts out of the equation, at the conscious and explicit levels. Gallup’s recent surveys show that a mere 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. The same surveys show a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged with their work. Considering the disengagement of brain and heart, can we be surprised by these results?

    The heart plays a key role in how each person engages with their work. Even though we often try to leave it out of our workplace (and resort to our cranial brain for planning, discussions, implementing decisions, etc.), the heart has its own brain (it has 40.000 neurons functioning). It communicates with the brain 10 times more often than the brain to the heart: 90% of the nerves fibers connecting the two run from heart to brain and not viceversa, as we would think. Moreover, the heart radiates an electromagnetic field (6 feet vs 1 inch radiated by the brain), making information on the heart´s emotions and intentions reach the whole body. The cranial brain can lie, the heart cannot. This is why people can attune to another´s field and feel this information intuitively. Why are we not integrating our hearts in a more explicit way?

  3. Uniting masculine with the feminine qualities: masculine and feminine qualities are present in both women and men. However, due to biological and cultural reasons, the former dominate in men while the latter are prevalent in women. This is also reflected in the public space and the way social, political and economic issues are resolved. Authors increasingly write about the hyper-masculinisation of the external space: action, reason, dominance, winning and power, have all pervaded our organisations and systems. On the contrary, feminine qualities such as communicating and processing emotions, intuition, nurturing, interconnectedness and flow have been relegated to the private and domestic space. As women entered the public space by voting, receiving tertiary education or filling positions of power and decision making, they adopted the masculine qualities to be recognised and to grow. In turn, this has led to intense crises for many of them. Many women have suffered from spiritual aridity, depression and stress due to a growing expectation to keep their traditional roles at home and add the professional one. Many have escalated a high ladder, but at its end have questioned themselves: is this the wall I wanted to climb? Why am I parking my soul before entering my workspace?

    In parallel, as men become increasingly involved in child rearing and home caring, they face the opportunity to reconnect with their feminine qualities. All this is opening up a new door for us. As human beings and as leaders of organisations, we must start integrating both the feminine and masculine essence, which will allow us to address challenges and problems and enable change with a more complete and coherent approach.

It is time to unite and integrate. The world´s problems are asking us to step out of our current world-views and behaviours. Peter Senge points out in the preface of Scharmers´ Theory U book:

The social field of most families, teams, organisations and societies remains largely unchanged because our level of attention renders it invisible. We do not attend to the subtle forces shaping what happens because we are too busy reacting to these forces. We see problems, then “download” our established mental models to both define the problems and come up with solutions.

We hope the Fellowship is a space to leave those mental models for a while and open the door to a new way of seeing and addressing leadership challenges. We want to bring out the internal worlds, the hearts and the feminine qualities and partner these with the external world, the brains and the masculine qualities. Integral leadership is a possibility to turn all this into reality. It is a collective exercise that some have begun and that we may decide to follow.