Blog: Learning Curve

Integral Theory: Learning and Leadership, Part 2

In our last blog, I introduced Integral Theory, a meta-theory by Ken Wilber. His AQAL model and acronym include five elements: (four) quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types. As detailed in that last blog, each quadrant focuses our attention to observe and influence modes of inquiry.

This blog further distinguishes the Quadrants of Integral Theory and applies it to Learning and Leadership: two areas of development that impact organizational life today that might benefit from an integral perceptive.

Integral Theory

Briefly, Wilber’s AQAL model integrates five elements into an Integral Theory:

  • Quadrants: The four quadrants are four perspectives that all phenomenon possess.
  • Levels involve stage development, offering mindsets or vertical development, embracing previous levels to expand and include more variables and complexity.
  • Lines of development are akin to Gardner’s multiple intelligences, expanding each line across each level.
  • States (of consciousness) unfold within deep awareness that is both more fluid that evolve through stages of “awakening,” from gross, subtle and causal to non-dual awareness.
  • Types involve from basic such as gender to more complex personalities typologies such as Meyers-Briggs, Keirsey, and Enneagrams, etc.

For Wilber, reality — all phenomenon — is not composed of things or processes, but of holons, which are wholes that are simultaneously parts of other wholes (whole/parts). This is true in the way a word is both, whole, onto itself, and part of a sentence; and that, a sentence is also whole, and part of a paragraph, and so on. The four quadrants reveal four dimensions of a holon (whole/part) when observing phenomenon and solutions. 

  • Upper Left: CONSCIOUSNESS: intention, phenomenology, ontology, psychotherapy, meditation, emotional intelligence, personal transformation
  • Upper Right: BEHAVIOR: epistemology, empiricism, scientific analysis, quality control, behavioral modification
  • Lower Left: CULTURE: multiculturalism, postmodernism, worldviews, corporate culture, collective values
  • Lower Right: SOCIETY: systems theory, social systems analysis, techno-economic modes, communication networks, systems analysis

Left-Right Tensions

Specifically, in our last blog, we explored how, businesses and leaders today, confuse the parts with the whole. For instance, how many conflate cultural awareness or lower left issues with lower right societal concerns or solutions. As a public policy example, police departments across the nation opted to deal with left-side concerns about police brutality by:

… putting cameras on police officers (lower right solution)

… to record and change behavior (upper right)

… rather than dealing with the racial fears (upper left)

… that form the culture (lower left) and drive actions (upper right).

Indeed, businesses are also being called to respond to issues emerging from the lower left cultural quadrant:

  1. Disney canceled the popular show Rosanne within hours of a racist tweet by its star, Roseanne Barr—not for low performance, ratings, or revenues (right side), but for racist remarks (left side) made in another venue.
  2. In recent weeks, five airlines sacrificed profit to stand against the U.S. government’s family separation policy. Each refused to transport separated, undocumented minors across our nation.
  3. Last year, the former CEO and co-founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was summarily dismissed and replaced by his board for fostering a culture that revealed sexist policies.

Each of these situations resulted not from poor revenue, bad ratings, low profit or lack of productivity. These right-side issues were trumped by left-side values and concerns, catching boardrooms and executives off-guard.

Integral Learning

This blog further distinguishes the Quadrants of Integral Theory and applies it to Learning and Leadership.

Learning can be most pernicious, as most educational institutions have designed learning from the right-side perspective of studying, teaching, and investigating. That perspective limits us to facts and evidence from empirical observations, which in business translates to researching, acquiring and managing knowledge.

But knowledge is more fungible and accessible now than ever before. We require a framework that expands beyond knowing to increase capacity in learning.

Researcher Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, a leading scholar in integral education, shares thoughts in his paper Integral Teacher, Integral Students, Integral Classroom: Applying Integral Theory to Education, which explores the strength each quadrant contributes to an integral learning experience.

With regard to learning, I offer this AQAL view that integrates our research in these areas:

Upper Left: CAPACITY/CONTEXT:

This quadrant increases capacity. I embody learning and self-discovery through inquiry. Through increased awareness, I engage in contemplative inquiry, critical reflection, and somatic discovery.

The focus is on whether I am grounded: open to possibility, now, and present to my intention? Or, am I reacting to the past or anticipating the future?

Upper Right: CONTENT/CONCEPTS:

This quadrant studies content. I study concepts and research knowledge to produce results. Through study, I engage in skillful action, practical application, and active observation.

The focus is on whether I am focused on distractions or study.

Lower Left: PRACTICE:

This quadrant discovers practices. We experience learning via deepening and uplifting engagements. Through discovery, we understand through connected encounters, perspectival embrace, and ethical participation.

We experience learning by cultivating shared experiences to clarify values and deepen shared commitment.

Lower Right: PROCESS:

This quadrant processes knowledge. Technology and systems can improve how we learn together via efforts such as STEM, gamification, systems, and scenarios.

We share knowledge through connections enabled by processes, systems, and technology.

AQAL Model to distinguish Integral Learning.

Learning Tensions

Learning challenges that emerge often do so from confusion between left- and right-side observations and solutions. We tend to notice the emergence of right-side issues and assume they require right-side solutions.

For instance, if students drop out of school or if employees lack competency, we tend to seek out content, tools, or systems to solve these issues. This is automatic because we are inclined toward progress; we constantly feel the need for new tools, better content, or bigger systems.

When developing learning programs or working with learning specialists, we automatically lean toward these right-side solutions. Many of them involve STEM, empirical, and practical solutions that manage conditions at the expense of left-side phenomena and discoveries that involve values and practices that deepen culture.

As a guiding principle, the right side explores tools to improve behavior and systems that increase productivity, and the left side explores values that cultivate belonging and practices that deepen culture.

The key here is to include right-side learning grounded in empirical investigations (what we research, study, and know) and left-side learning that encompasses both experiential observations (what we generate and discover) and existential inquiry (who I am, why this matters).

Integral Leadership

The inquiry into learning also impacts how we view leading, leaders, and leadership. Expanding or developing these capabilities involves challenging observations, discoveries, and solutions precisely because most experts, executives, and learning specialists focus on the right-side perspective, limiting us to facts and evidence from empirical observations.

Researcher Russ Volckmann, the publisher and editor of Integral Leadership Review, explores the strength each quadrant contributes to an integral learning experience.

With regard to leading and leadership, I offer this AQAL view:

Upper Left: CONSCIOUSNESS:

This quadrant discloses consciousness or levels of awareness. Interventions address who I am (as a leader) by questioning values and beliefs and inquiring into attitudes, possibilities, intention, and thinking. With practice, I expand awareness to develop perspective.

Upper Right: COMPETENCY:

This quadrant improves competency. Interventions address how I perform (as a leader) by expanding skills and improving actions, performance, and accountability. With training, I improve behavior and expand knowledge.

Lower Left: CULTURAL CONTEXT:

This quadrant discovers context. Interventions address developing cultural awareness that involves exploring implicit agreements, shared values, worldviews, and collective morale. By encouraging aggregate values and shared practices, we cultivate belonging and deepen commitment.

Lower Right: CONDITIONS:

This quadrant manages conditions. Here, interventions involve technology and systems to manage, share, and enhance knowledge that improves best practices and strategic focus. By managing systems and resources, we increase productivity and scale services.

AQAL Model to distinguish Integral Leadership.

Leadership Tensions

When examining the needs of organizational life, we view the lower half of the quadrants as most business executives do: relying solely on lower-right solutions. They understand success through measures such as behavior modification via skills and technology to increase performance (ROI, KPIs, and productivity measures).

This reveals a leadership blind spot in the lower left, which encompasses attitudes, mindsets, and values that inform and form culture beyond data and metrics. For instance,

  • Leaders often diagnose a lack of team cohesion by focusing on skills to become productive (right side) rather than on a culture that promotes belonging or collaboration (left side).
  • Leadership development often focuses on achieving tasks, projects, and goals (right side) while ignoring demands to promote a culture of meaning and purpose (left side) that courses through an organization.

The dilemma for developing leaders and cultivating leadership development resides in all four quadrants.

Leadership involves the role (leader), the behaviors and worldviews—including beliefs, intentions, and the like—(leading), and the context (systems and culture). In a world of fungible knowledge, volatile change, and increasing complexity and ambiguity, leadership ventures beyond Hersey’s and Blanchard’s (1969) notions of situations and situational contexts.

An integral context includes awareness and culture as well as systems, processes, technologies, and so on. Thus, the term leadership refers to the gestalt of bio-psycho-social-cultural-spiritual phenomena in which many variables are played out in the service of generating or altering contexts for some accomplishment, even if that involves creating a calm presence in the face of challenges.

Leadership development today expands our view beyond the right side, to involve the upper left “awareness” view, to cultivate the lower left “context” view, to expand culture by deepening belonging and commitment

Change Demands Fuller Views

Much of our work to expand human potential and to develop leaders and leadership require new views of humans, organizational life, and change. Integral theory and the AQAL model comprise more than the four quadrants—to include levels, lines, states, and types—but there’s no place better to begin.

Expanding our view beyond the right side is a worthy effort to open to wholeness in everyday life.

Typically, with my blog posts, I share thoughts and ideas about learning and leadership without tying them back to our firm. I will just make this rare point. Our firm employs an Ontological Inquiry with Integral Theory and Contemplative Practice for the sole purpose of working with coaches, L&D professionals, and executives to expand mindsets to include the left side of the AQAL model.

We’ve engaged in this level of development because of the times we find ourselves. Today, adult learning must achieve more than mere training for competencies. We must create a meta-learning framework that allows for expanding awareness, integrating new insights and complexities, and engaging practices that sustain continuous learning.


tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning specialist at Zampella Group, which serves Learning & Development Professionals. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of learning programs and contemplative practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His studies include the work of Martin Heidegger and ontological inquiry, Ken Wilber, and Integral theory, and Zen Buddhism and contemplative practices.

 


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Integral Theory: From Behaving to Belonging, Part 1

What do these issues — family-separation immigration policies, sexual harassment in business, and police brutality in our streets — have in common?

Consider that our evolving perceptions of these longstanding issues have created much uncertainty today.

We are experiencing a shift that expands societal systems to include cultural attitudes — a new lens through which to view everyday life. Ironically, the technology that connected us to real-time stories to expand our awareness also reveals a social-cultural awareness gap. We will dissect this gap in awareness later, specifically regarding police brutality.

To appreciate this shift, I recall a time when the term culture referred to more affluent interests such as a city’s symphony, museums, or literary scene. These structures promoted social cohesion without revealing the underlying community attitudes alive in the makeup of society.

Today, culture holds a rich significance in our complex social, political and work life.

Much of our shift in awareness involves old systems rubbing up against evolving attitudes. New perceptions confront our knowledge and historical contexts. Faster change with more variables requires larger contexts, or meta-theories, to make sense of our perceptions.

The next decade may become known as a time of meta-theories. Embracing integral (meta) theories will support us as we learn to learn again. As educators and learning specialists, we must become adept at thinking both in detail and as generalists. Any integral theory bridges societal systems and cultural attitudes.  This dynamic of connecting process and paradigms rubs against our silo methods of doling out fragmented knowledge.

We’ll discuss this notion of meta-context in turn below.

Meta-Theories

One of the most powerful, potent and predictive meta-theories is Integral Theory by Ken Wilber. Not the only meta-theory, Wilber’s Integral Theory has, over four decades, assembled a consortium of academics, intellectuals, activists and community hubs.

As of 2014, the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, the major peer-reviewed journal in this field, included more than 50 disciplines using the integral model to reinterpret disciplines. Each employs this robust meta-framework to integrate all phenomena and find some truth in all views.

As Ken declares, “I have one major rule: Everybody is right. More specifically, everybody…has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished and included in a more gracious, spacious and compassionate embrace.”

There are many aspects to Wilber’s Integral Theory, most fundamental is its AQAL model, which stands for All Quadrants, All Levels (lines, states and types). As a philosopher, Wilber is expansive; as a theorist, he is exacting. He entered the field of evolutionary theory in the ‘70s via the emerging field of transpersonal psychology, which integrates the transcendental (existential) aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology.

I discovered his work in 2004 when I was seeking more integral approaches to viewing paradigm shifts in evolution. An academic at the time, I found his work refreshing and sufficiently complex as a worthwhile critique for deep inquiry.

Of his dozens of books, Wilber’s thinking comes alive in Spectrum of Consciousness, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, and a recent addition, The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions.

Integral Theory, Briefly

It is impossible to delve into this entire framework in a blog. My intention here is to quickly review the theory and focus on an emerging and critical awareness gap between culture and society. In my next blog (part 2), I will explore how Integral Theory can affect business and leadership.

Briefly, Wilber’s Integral Theory integrates these elements:

  • Quadrants: The four quadrants are four perspectives that all phenomenon possess.
  • Levels involve stage development, offering mindsets or vertical development. Each level embraces the previous level to expand and include more variables and complexity.
  • Lines of development are a corollary to levels, offering horizontal development at each level with a line of development such as emotions (EQ), spirituality (SQ), intuition, interpersonal, self-identity, creativity, cognitive, kinesthetics, moral, etc.
  • States (of consciousness) unfold within deep awareness that is both more fluid—as in a dream, wake or altered states of consciousness —and moves through stages of development, from gross, subtle and causal to non-dual awareness.
  • Types involve typologies such as Meyer-Briggs, Keirsey, Enneagrams, the Big Five Personality test etc.

Keys to Integral Theory

The brilliance of Wilber’s model is not its content but its context. He combines historical and contemporary Western theories and models from psychology, economics, and science with Eastern thought, from Buddhist precepts to Hinduism, Taoism and other mystic lineages. His work provides a new context for viewing and leveraging all the known material, focusing on where each is most potent.

  1. Nothing is 100% right or wrong; Each theory or thinking model merely vary in their degree of incompleteness or potency. No one or nothing is 100% good or evil; they just vary in their degree of ignorance and disconnection. All knowledge is a work in progress.
  2. Leaps in evolution usually occur in a manner of “transcending and including,” not by wiping out what came before. For instance, the evolution of a single-cell organism did not wipe out molecules but included them in a greater order of complexity. Wilber asserts that this pattern of evolution occurs with all phenomena.
  3. Perception contains interior and exterior modalities, or Wilber’s solution to the mind-body problem in philosophy. You can cut open someone’s brain and track the neurons firing when they think about a cat, but which is real, the neurons firing or the thought about the cat? It depends whom you ask.
  4. The problem arises when one conflates thoughts and behavior as controlled by exterior measures, such as neurons firing, implying that our minds are not autonomous. Wilber claims that both the interior and exterior modes of consciousness are not only equally real, but also reflections of one another. Indeed, research into neuroplasticity (the ability to change the brain’s physical configuration through changing thought patterns and behavior) supports this conclusion.

AQAL: Partial Perspectives

I’d like to focus on point four by illustrating Wilber’s four-quadrant mode, the basic element of his Integral Theory.

Notice some of the influential modes of inquiry, based in each of the quadrants:

  • Upper Left: CONSCIOUSNESS: intention, phenomenology, ontology, psychotherapy, meditation, emotional intelligence, personal transformation
  • Upper Right: BEHAVIOR: epistemology, empiricism, scientific analysis, quality control, behavioral modification
  • Lower Left: CULTURE: multiculturalism, postmodernism, worldviews, corporate culture, collective values
  • Lower Right: SOCIETY: systems theory, social systems analysis, techno-economic modes, communication networks, systems analysis.

Which of these approaches is right? All of them, according to Integral Theory. The key here is to place models, theorists and methods in the quadrant where they have the most potential.

New Problems or Old Paradigms?

Businesses today are dealing not with new problems but with outmoded views of problems. And there’s the rub. The Information Age confuses perceptions, confounds meaning-making, questions our sensibilities, and drives isolation. Such anxiety, confusion and complexity confront right (exterior) side views of the quadrant longing for left (interior) side solutions.

With a faster pace of change, more complexity and greater uncertainty, issues of belonging (lower left) compete with issues of behavior (upper right), systems and even economics (lower right).

Consider this view from the annual Happiness Report, which asks: What makes nations rank happier on its index? University of British Columbia economist John Helliwell posits, “It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationships between people, what is it worth?” Helliwell also shares a now-familiar refrain: “The material (right side) can stand in the way of the human (left side).”

The U.S. is currently experiencing low unemployment rate with greater anxiety. We have more technology and connectivity and less connection and belonging.

Happiness, belonging and Integral Theory 

Yet with our faster rate of change, increases in complexity and greater uncertainty, we also experience increases in isolation, anxiety and meaninglessness. These existential conditions do not respond to right-side solutions such as increased pay and benefits packages or new technology.

What is required is a fuller view — a focus on belonging.

Back to the Happiness Report: The Nordic countries pay some of the highest taxes (right side) in the world, but there is wide public support for them because people perceive them as investments in quality of life for all (left side), such as high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity, (left side) with good governance (right side).

Much of our social tensions, according to researcher Jeffrey Sachs, result from America’s focus on Economic Renewal (right side) over Human Potential (left side). The United States, Sach’s concluded, is looking for happiness “in all the wrong places.”

Conflicts between right side priorities and left side concerns produce existential angst that requires fuller perceptions. Our challenges at becoming more (upper left) involve a deeper need for belonging (lower left).

L&D Focus on Quadrants …

The dilemma for learning and development (L&D) resides in shifting our focuses and attitudes: from the upper right “content” view that alters individual behavior to a lower left “context” view that shifts culture. That is, from fixing behavior to focusing on belonging. And here is where the gap magnifies.

When examining needs in the lower half of the quadrants, most business executives rely solely on lower-right solutions. They only understand measures such as behavior modification via skills and technology to increase performance: KPIs, ROI and productivity measures.

There is a leadership blind spot in the lower left: Attitudes, mindsets and values that inform and form culture beyond data and metrics. Much that lower left includes how we listen, learn and collaborate to cultivate a shared understanding. For instance …

  • Leaders often diagnose a lack of team cohesion by focusing on skills to become productive (right side) rather than on a culture that promotes belonging or collaboration (left side).
  • Leadership often focuses on achieving tasks, projects and goals (right side) while ignoring demands to promote a culture of meaning and purpose (left side) that courses through an organization.

As a public policy example, police departments across the nation opted to deal with left-side concerns about police brutality by…

… putting cameras on police officers (lower right solution)…

… to record and change behavior (upper right)…

… rather than dealing with the racial fears (upper left)…

… that form the culture (lower left) and drive actions (upper right).

… From Behaving to Belonging

Businesses are also being called to respond to issues emerging from the lower left quadrant:

  1. Within hours of a racist tweet by its star, Roseanne Barr, Disney canceled the popular show Rosanne —not for low performance, ratings or revenues (right side), but for racist remarks (left side) made in another venue.
  2. In recent weeks, five airlines sacrificed profit to stand against the U.S. government’s family separation policy. Each refused to transport separated, undocumented minors across our nation.
  3. Last year, the former CEO and co-founder of Uber Travis Kalanick was summarily dismissed and replaced by his board for sexist policies and culture.
  4. Last fall, the public revelation of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s conduct, an industry secret for decades, caused an internal revolt. That revelation dismantled the Weinstein Company, a once-powerful gatekeeper for many of Hollywood’s biggest projects.
  5. Weinstein’s conduct – revealed through personal stories – has toppled dozens of other powerful icons once considered untouchable, cash cows.

Each of these situations resulted not from poor revenue, bad ratings, low profit or lack of productivity. These right-side issues were trumped by left-side values and concerns, catching boardrooms and executives off-guard.

Employees and other stakeholders didn’t want to belong to such brands. In a fast-paced, disruptive world, belonging is critical. Employees, customers, vendors and executives do not want to be associated with brands that place profit and technology (lower right) above human values and belonging (lower left).

For leaders and business, the key is to marry these two quadrants (lower left and right). Both are critical to 21st-century brands. Both are critical for us, being human. I will approach this question and possible views for bridging these two quadrants in our next blog.


tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning specialist at Zampella Group, which serves Learning & Development Professionals. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of learning programs and contemplative practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His studies include the work of Martin Heidegger and ontological inquiry, Ken Wilber, and Integral theory, and Zen Buddhism and contemplative practices.

 


June 26th, 2018|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

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The Time is Right for Servant Leadership

I am reposting a revised blog from February 2017, which seems even more relevant today.

A brief examination of headlines in business, government, and education reveals a focus on leadership that seems to intensify with each passing year. Over the last two decades, I’ve reviewed leadership theories, models, and styles, such as situational, functional, adaptive, generative, authentic, collective, collaborative, transformational, and authoritarian, to name a few.

Many of these offer valuable insights for our current Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) times. And it is possible to combine some of these models to develop an effective leadership profile to produce results and manage change. But the more I study, teach, and practice, the more I return to Servant Leadership as a natural model for inspiring humans to achieve together.

Inquiry into Servant Leadership

Servant leadership may be the most potent, personal, and public of all the models, as it has a deep history and embraces the full range of the human condition. There are passages related to servant leadership in the fifth-century Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tzu, who wrote,

“The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware…. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!'”

In modern history, servant-leaders such as GandhiMartin Luther KingNelson MandelaMother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama have led some of our most lasting movements without any formal role or authority.

The Meaning of Servant-Leadership

Our contemporary-day use of the term servant leadership was coined by Robert Greenleaf, who worked 38 years at AT&T as Director of Management Development. He developed the world’s first corporate assessment center and was the first to promote women and Blacks to non-menial positions. He even brought in famous theologians and psychologists to speak about the wider implications of corporate decisions.

Greenleaf longed to move beyond the power-centered authoritarian leadership style so prominent in the US, and in 1964 he took an early retirement to found the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (first called the “Center for Applied Ethics”).

In his 1970 essay (and published book) titled “The Servant as Leader,” Greenleaf asserted the need for a new kind of leadership model—one that puts serving others, including employees, customers, and community, as the number-one priority. His central definition of servant leadership involves a “calling,” as follows:

“It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” 

The test for this leadership is whether “those served, grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?”

Ten Key Precepts of Servant-Leadership

After carefully considering Greenleaf’s original writings, Larry Spears, former CEO of the Greenleaf Center, expanded the original ten precepts, which I’ve also revised.

  1. Listening. Traditionally, leaders have been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. Servant-leaders develop a deep commitment to listening intently and openly to others. They seek to identify and clarify the will or commitment of a group. Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one’s inner voice by tuning into one’s body/senses, mental states, and intuition/will.
  2. Empathy. Servant-leaders strive to understand and empathize with others. One must assume the good intentions of co-workers and not reject them as people, even when forced to reject their behavior or performance.
  3. Healing: Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation and integration. One of the great strengths of servant leadership is the potential for healing oneself—becoming comfortable and whole with oneself. From compassion and humility, these leaders cultivate an environment that promotes the well-being of others.
  4. Awareness. General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthen the servant-leader. Making a commitment to foster awareness can be scary—you never know what you may discover! As Greenleaf observed, “Awareness is not a giver of solace — it’s just the opposite. It disturbs. Servant-leaders are not seekers of solace. They have their own inner security.” These leaders embrace the very blind spots that become the source of new learning to lead and serve.
  5. Persuasion/Encouragement. Servant-leaders rely on persuading others, rather than positional authority when making decisions. They seek to enroll or encourage others in a commitment, rather than coerce compliance. This difference between commitment and compliance offers a clear distinction between traditional leadership models and that of a servant-leader.
  6. Conceptualization/Imagination. Servant-leaders seek to nurture their ability to “dream great dreams.” They have the ability to look at a problem (or an organization) from a conceptualizing perspective, requiring them to think beyond day-to-day realities and problems to view possibilities. This requires a delicate balance between a future to conceptualize and the urgency of the day-to-day focus.
  7. Foresight/Perspective. Foresight enables servant-leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequences of a decision in the future. These leaders place current items in the proper perspective to gauge priorities. 
  8. Stewardship/Commitment. Robert Greenleaf’s view of all institutions was one in which CEOs, staff, managers, and directors serve as trustees, taking custody of their institutions for the greater good of society. Servant-leaders are committed to something bigger than themselves. They enroll others into that commitment, as highlighted in Peter Block’s (1993) book, Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest.
  9. Commitment to Personal Mastery. Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, they are deeply committed to the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization.
  10. Developing Community. Servant-leaders are aware that the shift from local communities to large organizations as the primary shaper of human lives has changed our perceptions and caused a sense of loss. They seek to identify a means for developing community—as teachers, stewards, and designers—among those who work within a given organization.

Faster Change Fosters Human Paradigm for Servant-Leaders

The grid below highlights the three leadership paradigms we have navigated these last three decades. View this grid as developmental; each successive paradigm grows beyond and expands to include the skills and insights of the previous paradigm. Each paradigm matched the needs and concerns of that era.

The Conventional Expert paradigm. The focus here is on external economic indicators, which worked until about 1990 when knowledge was stable and change was predictable and “manageable.” Expertise and economics drive leadership concerns.

The Change Agent paradigm emerged in the early 90’s. The fall of the Berlin wall and Soviet blockade encouraged releasing the Internet into the public domain. The Internet ushered in an era of greater connectivity, more knowledge sharing, and increased the pace of change. This shift from expertise to productivity focused on purpose and direction. This paradigm is coming to end. Performance and brand drive leadership Concerns.

The Servant-Leader/Human paradigm. The amount of life absorbed online – media, news, financial transactions, shopping, entertainment, and even culture – find us accessing and absorbing more information, daily. To leverage the pace of change and abundance of information demand greater perspective, deeper understanding, and networking across culture and platforms. This signals a shift to the human paradigm, which has always been present but often dismissed or ignored in favor of other values.

Cultural movements such as #metoo, #neveragain, #timesup, #enough can shift brand value overnight. ABC cancels its hit show “Roseanne”  hours after a bigoted tweet; Uber loses its successful founding CEO because of its toxic culture. The shift from economics and productivity has expanded to include cultural concerns to cultivate mutual understanding, collaboration, and service. Higher purpose and learning now drive leadership concerns.

The Paradox of the Servant Leader

Lao-Tzu captures the paradox of servant-leaders: “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware …” The leader described in this age-old wisdom emulates researcher Jim Collins’ level 5 leader, possessing both humility and will.

Most, still define leadership from a position or role—not as a higher purpose, mindset, or commitment to something bigger than oneself. Many assess leaders as a personality, or trait that often demands the spotlight. But the best leaders are invisible, operating in the liminal space where paradoxes exist. As Peter Senge and Fred Koffman (1990) stated in their classic paper on learning organizations:

Developing leadership capacities in diverse people takes time. It is risky. Many resist the initiative because they lack confidence or shirk responsibility. Finding the great hero is much easier. It can produce quicker results . . . a familiar and comfortable path. Over time, people become more and more dependent on the hero leader . . . They come to expect that a great leader will save the day … As a myth of the hero leader fades, a new myth of teams and communities that can lead themselves emerges.

In his classic text, The Fifth Discipline, Senge (1990) suggests that it takes servant-leaders to cultivate learning organizations, pointing to a shared commitment and personal mastery for developing this mindset.

Growing Applications of Servant-Leadership

Peter Senge reinforces the power of servant-leaders:

“Servant leadership offers a unique mix of idealism and pragmatism. At one level, the concept is an ideal, appealing to deeply held beliefs in the dignity and self‐ worth…. But it is also highly practical. It has been proven again and again in military campaigns that the only leader whom soldiers will reliably follow— when their lives are on the line— is the one who is both competent and whom soldiers believe is committed to their well‐ being.”

A 2013 Washington Post article, Servant Leadership: A path to high performance, outlined some organizations that benefit from servant-leaders, such as Best Buy, UPS, Ritz-Carlton, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, and the San Antonio Spurs, to name a few. A couple of well-known tales of servant-leaders include those of Max De Pree and Herb Kelleher:

De Pree’s leadership at Herman Miller, as expressed in his 1989 book, Leadership is an Art, emphasized love, elegance, caring, and inclusivity as central elements of management.

Herb Kelleher at Southwestern Airlines offered an eccentric approach to caring that found all workers pulling together emotionally and financially after the 9/11 attack. Workers then donated vacation days to a general pool to support workers who needed extra time to cope. This culture outlived Kelleher, who stepped down just before 9/11. Indeed, Southwest Airlines was the only major airline that didn’t require a government bailout and still earned a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.

Per Ken Blanchard (2102), Coach John “Cal” Calipari led his Kentucky Wildcats to the National Championship, instilling these lessons:

  • As servants, life is not about them but about those whom they serve;
  • As stewards, they don’t own anything—everything is on loan, and they nurture and support what is given to them; and
  • As shepherds, every human being is important.

For leaders, Selfless-service Trumps Self-dealing

I must admit, the events of our current President (U.S.) continue to deepen my interest in this area of inquiry.

It can be challenging to imagine servant-leaders, especially today as we witness a self-serving President who is focused on personal gain and preoccupied with winning at all costs. Recent actions that overlook the vulnerable, embolden the powerful and avoid accountability fly in the face of leadership that serves first.

But perhaps it is against this global backdrop that we can appreciate another possibility—a 21st-century path of selfless service that enrolls humans into a higher purpose while inspiring them to grow and develop.


tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning specialist at Zampella Group, which serves Learning & Development Professionals. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of learning programs and contemplative practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His studies include the work of Martin Heidegger and ontological inquiry, Ken Wilber, and Integral theory, and Zen Buddhism and contemplative practices.

 


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