Epoch of Transformation: An Interpersonal Leadership Model for the 21st Century
”There is nothing in the world that does not have its decisive moment, and the masterpiece of good conduct is to see and seize this moment.” Cardinal de Retz
“Psychology must be gained for it is not given and without psychological education we do not understand ourselves and we suffer”. James Hillman 1926-2011
Existing and emergent global challenges are placing ever greater demands on leadership today. In order to meet those challenges more effectively, there is a growing need for leaders to overcome the limitations of existing ways of thinking and operating. As the external world becomes more complex and uncertain, leaders must become more conscious of the nature of their own interior world, including the varieties of inner states, experiences and resources available to them to meet difficult and often ambiguous demands in more balanced and integrated ways. Tremendous contextual changes in fields including business, socio-economics, and politics raise fundamental questions about the actual purpose and practice of leadership today. There is an evolutionary impulse emerging today that invites a reappraisal of existing executive leadership models as well as an honest, creative dialogue between traditional and non-traditional disciplines. Evidence presented in the first paper seeks to develop this idea and suggests that different practices are available from a rich diversity of fields that could enhance leadership development.
Part 2 of this article will build on this theme in more detail and address the question of practical application. Drawing on personal experience and examples from his work with senior executives, the author will propose a series of practices designed to support both leaders and facilitators in cultivating a dynamic interpersonal leadership practice.
The central argument of this paper rests on the following assumption: that the ability to reconcile the tension between a leader’s external and inner worlds is fundamental to 21st century leadership development (Jironet xii). Put another way, the psychological health of the leader will be a key differentiator in coming years. The external world is characterised as being essentially uncertain, complex, and subject to constant change. These are also characteristics of the leader’s inner landscape. It is the capacity to find alignment, coherence, and a dynamic harmony within and between these inner and outer states that reflects the leader’s capacity for greater mental complexity. The ability to self-organise across an array of mental states towards high levels of effectiveness in the world is critical for today’s leader.
The assumption is that the range and nature of worldwide challenges is so great and so different from previous experience that leadership development needs to be fundamentally redefined and reorganised in ways that mark this time as one of authentic transition–an “epoch of transformation” as Thomas Kuhn described it (in Holloway, 111). Einstein was correct when he said that our current problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. The model presented here offers a frame for further research and discussion towards a new model of executive leadership practice.
Business as usual will not be sufficient in coming decades. Leadership capability will be a key differential in the future, and this will require a new and different emphasis on the leader’s capacity for development. I have used the term Interpersonal to describe this model. interpersonal leadership reflects an approach to leadership development that is new and different for two reasons.
Firstly, the term interpersonal recognises that each of us as individuals is made up of a multiplicity of selves or states. We show up to situations in different ways depending on the context. A woman who turns up to lead a board meeting is in a real sense, different from the same woman who tells a bedtime story to her child. According to Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, the key to wellbeing lies in our capacity for collaboration across interior states required to meet a broad diversity of contexts not always consistent with one another. For the purpose of this model I refer to each of the leadership functions proposed here as states, as Siegel defines them. In using the term wellbeing, I am referring specifically to the development of mental complexity, resonance, and flow. This model will present four states that could work collaboratively to support greater wellbeing in this context.
Secondly, the term interpersonal references the principle of collaboration between diverse disciplines across an array of fields, leading towards more integrated and complex levels of understanding among individuals, groups and organisations. Interpersonal leadership invites diversity of thought and experience. It seeks to find common and new ground between existing practices and other, non-traditional learning frameworks. Thus, interpersonal leadership has both outward and inward movement based on principles of diversity, cooperation, harmony, and integration.
An Epoch of Transformation
Education always takes place within an existing framework or paradigm that defines the nature of self and reality and sets boundaries based on those assumptions around learning objectives and methodologies. In his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn reflects on the nature of paradigms. Kuhn notes that the history of science is marked as one of long periods of peaceful and stable research interspersed with brief, sudden ”epochs of transformation” (in Holloway 111). Each scientific revolution creates a new paradigm–a new worldview that forms an evolutionary description of reality. It is considered to be the truth. The paradigm remains for as long as it holds, and it is the persistence of unexplained anomalies that creates further crises. The vital point is that this process of change, adaptation, maintenance and collapse is not restricted to science but is common to all human knowledge (and life) in general. The implication of this is important–there is no final and absolute truth, but only a continuous unfolding evolutionary process with no end, always moving to overcome its own restrictions and limitations towards ever greater levels of complexity.
We can argue that executive development could and even should aim to model itself as an evolutionary process towards ever greater complexity and that it too is subject to periods of relative stability followed by epochs of transformation as old truths run up against persistent unexplained anomalies that force the hand of change.
A good deal has already been written about the nature and depth of the global crises we face in every field. These include energy resources, population growth, problems of obesity and starvation, food and water shortages, climate change, socio-political upheaval and profound economic uncertainty. These are highly complex times, challenging and difficult in ways and degrees that were inconceivable in earlier days of leadership development. The fundamental anomaly we face today lies with the struggle for leaders to meet these multiple and diverse problems effectively and with an eye to the long term. Important research highlights the problem.
Describing the tectonic shifts in the global marketplace and their implications within a leadership context, Cam Danielson notes the following:
Recent times have been dominated with technological innovations that connect people instantaneously around the world resulting in massive migrations of people (both digitally and physically) beyond their tribal or cultural boundaries. At the same time there have been major political changes such as the growth of the European Union; the breakup of the Soviet Union; the accelerated industrialization of China, India, and Brazil; and the emergence of radical Islam. The transformation of values in our age has been dramatic… A dynamic, global environment becoming more complex with less clarity of outcome creates the greatest degree of ambiguity and instability for collective endeavor of any kind.
The evidence suggests that leadership in the emergent world will need to be highly adaptable and creative, able to cope with extremes of complexity and ambiguity across cultural, political, economic and philosophical boundaries.
The 2009 IBM study, Capitalising on Complexity: Insights from the Global CEO, based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1,500 chief executive officers worldwide, anticipates a sea change in the priorities of CEOs. It draws upon four very important sets of conclusions in relation to complexity and creativity for emerging leadership:
- Today’s complexity is only expected to deepen;
- More than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage this greater complexity;
- Better performers manage complexity on behalf of their organizations, customers, and partners; and
- Creativity will be the most important leadership quality in coming years (IBM).
The headline here is really important: leaders need to learn to meet global complexity with greater creativity. The Oxford Dictionary defines creativity as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” The physicist David Bohm describes creativity as an act of discovery and originality. Existing leadership development does not do enough to encourage creativity, originality, discovery, or the use and exploration of the imagination.
Keith Eigel conducted a longitudinal study of 21 CEOs of major corporations having average gross revenues of $5 billion. Individual leaders were evaluated on their effectiveness in terms of their ability to challenge existing processes, inspire a shared vision, manage conflict, solve problems, delegate, empower and build relationships (Kegan and Lahey 21-24). One critical finding from a business perspective was a strong correlation between the level of mental complexity and effectiveness in meeting these leadership functions.
In their book Immunity to Change, Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey note the natural tendency of leaders to develop mental complexity over time as a response to meeting greater challenges. They identify three clear stages of development in the leadership mind that they call the socialised, self-authoring and self-transforming. In commenting on the diminishing number of individual leaders meeting the higher developmental stages they comment:
there is a gap between what business expects and the current capacity to meet that expectation. Data drawn from research suggests that there is a significant gap between what is expected of people’s minds and what their minds are actually capable of. In two large meta-analyses of studies with several hundred participants a majority of respondents were not at the level of self-authoring (58%). Only about 50% of the ‘very promising’ middle managers were self-authoring and only 4/21 of the CEOs were beyond the self-authoring stage. Note that those who are, do better than those who are not (28).
To put it bluntly, the evidence suggests that our current leadership capability is not adequate to meet the global challenges that are now emerging. Too few people are actively engaged in a developmental learning process that has an authentically transformational trajectory. Meeting the leadership demands of the 21st century will require some extraordinary efforts from ordinary people. Many of the developmental frameworks for leadership behaviour prevalent in the last decades of the 20th century are incomplete and cannot offer a meaningful response to the increasing complexity outlined above.
Developing capacity means raising awareness by bringing into conscious practice what has previously been obscured or unavailable to the individual on multiple levels. Evolved leadership means aligned practice that maximises and leverages access to and development through the broadest possible range of perspectives.
The Self-Transforming Mind
As has been noted, Kegan and Lahey identify three key stages in their study of leadership development that describe an evolutionary trajectory of mental complexity: the socialized mind, the self-authoring mind and the self-transforming mind (Kegan and Lahey 17-20).
The socialized mind describes a sense of self in relation to the expectations of others. At this stage the self is shaped by the definitions and expectations of its personal environment. The self coheres by its alignment with and loyalty to that with which it identifies and expresses itself, primarily in it’s relationships with people, with schools of thought, or both.
At the level of the self-authoring mind, the sense of self is defined by one’s sense of purpose and an internal orientation that is primarily self-reflective in nature. One is able to step back enough from the social environment to generate an internal seat of judgement or personal authority that evaluates and makes choices about external expectations.
At the level of the self-transforming mind, the sense of self goes beyond the limitations of the personality to the essence behind individual purpose, essentially to a transpersonal orientation. The self-transforming mind is able to transcend conventional thinking and act in authentically transformational ways. From this perspective the leader can step back from and reflect on the limits of their own ideology or personal authority, see that any one system of self-organisation is partial or incomplete, be friendlier towards contradiction and opposites, and seek to hold onto multiple systems rather than projecting all but one on to the others.
Kegan’s and Lahey’s research suggests that greater mental complexity correlates with effectiveness and an enhanced capacity to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty in genuinely creative ways. According to Kegan and Lahey, developing creativity and the self-transforming mind requires that we transcend the limits of our current thinking and deepen our understanding of ourselves and our purpose. Herein lies the case for the development of transcendent and transformational states.
In considering a new model for leadership it is important to acknowledge paradigms that either form or could form our understanding of reality – the ”truth” as Kuhn puts it. Four frameworks are relevant: the rational dualistic, the contemplative sciences, the living systems, and the transpersonal.
Evidence from these disciplines presents a compelling case for an expanded practice of leadership development. The rational dualistic paradigm forms the basis of virtually all existing executive leadership education. Future developments must investigate wider concepts. Included in this assumption is a view that cultivation of mind and the transpersonal aspect of the self are essential to individual growth and development. Leadership therefore is understood to entail a journey towards psychological maturity across a broad range of intelligences. This type of leadership requires inwardness for 21st century leaders. Learning frameworks that create opportunities for deep self-reflection to cultivate mind and build mental capacity will be of central importance to the next generation of executive leaders. Technical excellence and expertise within one knowledge system will not be enough.
The Rational Dualistic Paradigm
As a framework, the rational dualistic paradigm has been instrumental to stage development in the Western mind. Axioms of this paradigm include the absolute value of reason, the application of rationality in the resolution of problems, as well as the establishment of objectivism, reductionism and positivism as fundamental systems for understanding and defining reality. The rational dualistic frame is defined by the dominance of scientific method and the development of the concept of the thinking self–the Cartesian cogito–as the valid mediating system for human experience. At the heart of this worldview lies the principle of separation.
From a psychological perspective this worldview has promoted and inflated the position of the personal self or ego. Focus on the individual ego has led to the development of concepts such as self-determination, personal freedom, self-awareness, individual uniqueness, and the whole concept of self as understood in many forms of psychology and psychiatry (Miller 1). Whilst important, the supremacy of this paradigm as the basis for all business practice over the last 300 years has come with consequences to our wider sense of self, including our sense of meaning, connection, and place in the world both individually and collectively.
Richard Tarnas suggests that the negative consequence of the revolutions in science and philosophy was disenchantment with the cosmos:
In a disenchanted cosmos, nothing is sacred. The soul of the world has been extinguished; ancient trees and forests can then be seen as nothing but potential lumber; mountains nothing but mineral deposits; seashores and deserts are oil reserves; lakes and rivers engineering tools. Animals are perceived as harvestable commodities, indigenous tribes are obstructing relics of an outmoded past, children’s minds as marketing target (56).
The issue today is not the relative value of this model but the assumption of its absolute value, dominance and rightness in determining our sense of reality, and our choices at the exclusion of other knowledge systems. The negative consequence of a one-sided approach to business and thereby leadership development is that leadership education has become trapped in a perpetual hall of mirrors and cannot evolve beyond its own assumptions. The rational mind is not reflective. Neither does it question its own logic. In fact, what it does rather well is defend itself against any other logic that might challenge it. Its unfailing certainty is its greatest weakness. Failure to recognise the ways in which the system perpetuates itself without courageous reflection in the face of new information means that a leader cannot be equipped to effectively meet emerging challenges. One wonders at what cost?
Living and Complex Adaptive Systems
The futurist Willis Harman described the Western industrial paradigm as “the science of separateness.” He described the emerging disciplines of quantum physics, evolutionary biology, living and complex adaptive systems theory, neuroscience and consciousness studies as the science of wholeness.
According to Harman and other commentators, in the paradigm of wholeness the world is experienced as a living, dynamic, evolving and participatory system. Underlying assumptions from this perspective include an understanding that the universe is fundamentally intelligent, creative, and experimental in nature, organising itself into patterns that are increasingly complex and that support more diversity and greater sustainability. It is assumed within this framework that people are inherently intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organising, and meaning seeking beings. Principles of interconnection, unpredictability and the relative nature of time are important here.
Evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris suggests that we need a more complete model of the universe if we are to meet emerging challenges effectively. This is important in our reflection on an executive education in transition. According to Sahtouris education needs to give a central place to direct subjective experience as informing our understanding of reality. It needs to consider consciousness as axiomatic to a holistic understanding of the universe and to explore the idea of continuous self-creation (autopoesis) as a core definition for life. This is the process by which all galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, cells, molecules (including the trillions in our own bodies) atoms, and subatomic particles emerge and co-exist (Sahtouris and Lovelock, Earthdance).
The Contemplative Sciences
The contemplative sciences describe a body of practices specifically designed to support the cultivation of the mind. Daniel Siegel proposes that the mind itself is not the brain or an epiphenomenon of the brain. This is a common belief of the dualistic paradigm, but there is a third position that emerges directly out of the interaction between the brain and our relationships. Mind is what emerges in the tension between the external environment and our internal environment, and it is constantly evolving in the face of new experience. Cultivation and understanding of mind and the development of attention becomes fundamental to leadership intelligence.
According to B. Alan Wallace (Choosing Reality), the focus of contemplative science (including Buddhist, Yogic, and Taoist practice) is towards the nature of the mind itself, specifically ”the nature and problems of human existence and the untapped resources of human consciousness. Practices, developed in cultures over thousands of years are designed to deliberately cultivate the practitioner’s perceptions beyond those of the conceptual mind, sensory experience, and language to perceive the mind itself directly in ways that both include and transcend ordinary consciousness. Within this framework, disciplining the mind – ”calming the waters“ as Wallace describes it – and transcending the limitations of the ego are considered essential practices. Practitioners use an array of meditative and physical methods to explore the nature of mind, balance the body, and cultivate core qualities, including equanimity, compassion, joy, and loving-kindness.
Meditation has attracted a great deal of interest from researchers in recent decades. Evidence from numerous studies (Austin xvi; Segal, Williams, and Teasdale 311-232) demonstrates there is a strong correlation between meditative practices and coherent alpha, theta, and gamma brain states. These states are associated with mental well-being, mental agility, enhanced mental performance, access to flexible attention, self-regulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and an array of positive functions. These states of mind include improved mood, crisis management, resilience to stress, recovery from destructive emotional states, and the cultivation of holistic and creative psychological coping mechanisms.
The Transpersonal: A Jungian Perspective
The final framework included here is connected to the field of transpersonal psychology defined as “the study of experiences, beliefs and practices that suggest that the sense of self can extend beyond our personal or individual reality.” Important contributors to this field of enquiry include William James, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, and Ken Wilber.
As a founder in the field, C. G. Jung developed the idea of the Überpersonliche (transpersonal self) in his distinction between the personal and collective unconscious. Jung identified the personal and transpersonal selves as different mediating functions in the process towards psychological maturity or individuation. Each perspective offers a different way of collecting and interpreting the available data in the journey of maturation.
The process of individuation begins when the relationship between the personality/ego, the authentic inner world, and the outer world–which form the vertical axis of this model–become irreconcilably conflicted and can no longer effectively meet the demands of life. In this process the ego proves inadequate to meet the psychological struggle experienced by the individual. According to Jung, the path towards maturation entails a renegotiation that must take place at the level of both the personality and the larger (transpersonal) self, between the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the psyche. Anything less will not suffice. Human maturity demands a relationship with the transpersonal. If we assume that deep personal psychologos will be fundamental to future leadership, this must be taken seriously.
An Evolutionary Interpersonal Model of Leadership
The model that I introduce here proposes a leadership practice that consists of four core states: the transactional, the self-reflective, the transcendent, and the transformational.
Leadership development within this framework is an evolutionary process. Periods of stability within and between states are followed by periods of transition and development in a creative process towards greater complexity. Joseph Chilton Pearce describes evolution as, “the transcendent aspect of creation rising to go beyonditself” (xx). In this case it is a developmental journey of capacity building across four core states over time with no final destination. It is an inherently creative process of emergence, adaptation, maintenance, and collapse; it is a dance between the inner and outer world towards higher orders of expression. Within the framework it is assumed that the leader’s centre of gravity shifts across and between states with time, experience, and responsibility, as well as in relation to context. What is essential here, and is a mark of mature practice, is the leader’s ability to navigate across the four states, accessing and exiting each at will as context requires.
The four states, as a totality, are accessed through two discrete but complementary and cooperative aspects of the psyche–the personal and the transpersonal self. It is assumed that both aspects of self are necessary to support the individual leader to successfully navigate the tensions experienced between their internal world and their external environment. It is further assumed that the continuous reconciliation of this tension is strongly correlated to effectiveness in the world, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Interpersonal Model of Leadership. Source: Nick Ross, 2011.
The flow denotes a dynamic movement among the four core leadership states.
Terms of Reference
External environment (EE): This is the objective phenomenal world. The external environment reflects what is going on out there in the world. It may include our external relationships of all kinds with people, objects, situations, challenges, opportunities, daily work pressures, difficult staff, and the myriad other events an individual will meet every day. From a leadership perspective this paper argues that the external environment is increasingly defined by the triple pressures of accelerating change, greater complexity, and rising uncertainty.
Internal environment (IE): This refers to awareness of the various aspects of self and self states, access to the whole spectrum of body sensations, and information processing systems. These include visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, smell, taste, touch, feelings, emotions, thoughts, cognitive processes and phenomena, conscious and unconscious mental activity, habits of mind, the sense of time, and the experience of consciousness and awareness. The inner environment also reflects our emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal capacities for self-reflection, self-organisation, and impulse towards integration and coherence.
Personal self: “The individual person, from his or her own perspective” (Oxford English Dictionary). To you, self is you. To a different person, self is that person. The self is one’s consciousness of one’s own being or identity. The personal self has a number of aspects. From a Jungian perspective these include the ego, persona animus (female) and anima (male).
The ego closely reflects what is represented in this model and can be defined as a protective organising system of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that define our personal universe through the fear of losing our physical and psychological identity. The personal self experiences itself as subject, discrete and separate from other things that are experienced as objects depending on the quality of relationship between transactional and self-reflective capacities.
Transpersonal self: “Denoting or relating to states or areas of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity” (Oxford English Dictionary): The transpersonal self experiences states of consciousness beyond the normal range of sleeping, dreaming and waking. It is concerned with higher, or ultimate, potential and purpose, access to intelligence and information beyond the ego or personal self, including the collective unconscious, experiences of transcendence, peak experience, and the spiritual realms.
Introducing the Model
Mature executive leadership development is reflected here by the capacity to navigate across the four well-developed core leadership states. Each quadrant represents a means of being present to the world in a particular way (Figure 1). According to Siegel every living system has an inherent impulse towards a healthy, dynamic relationship between different states or aspects of self. As human beings we are hard-wired to connect–both to different aspects of ourselves and to others through these states. Integration is reflected in the system’s capacity for flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy, and stability. This is a useful definition of psychological wellbeing and a powerful working definition for the qualities of the self-transforming mind.
Siegel does not mean that we should become homogenous individuals. Far from it. We are vivid, living, heterogeneous beings with multiple selves that interact with one another in diverse and creative ways. Our health is determined by the flow of energy and information between the states, by the interpersonal relationship between our own various inner aspects, and our intrapersonal relationship within each aspect, as well as the internal coherence of each individual state in relation to its overarching goals and intentions. State integration, the coherent communication and relationship within and between the four quadrants in the model, is central. In a healthy leader, different states cooperate and communicate effectively towards mutually beneficial outcomes.
For Siegel, dis-ease is experienced as lack of integration between states. This emerges in behaviours that are either too rigid or chaotic, demonstrating a failure of communication and a lack of attunement within the system. The work of integration, which brings alignment and a sense of flow, will require leaders to access and develop a range of personal capacities and be prepared to address imbalances. This single commitment would represent a significant shift in conscious leadership behaviour.
Each leadership capacity invites response to a central question or meditation:
Q1 What can I achieve?
Q2 Who am I?
Q3 What am I?
Q4 How can I serve?
Executive development within this framework can be understood as the capacity to respond to each question in increasingly nuanced, integrated, and aligned ways. This is state integration according to Siegel. Evolution means alignment between states and towards ever higher purposes, whilst development refers to the conscious and intentional capacity to access and exit from the different states as context demands.
Primary Functions of the Four States
Q1: Transactional State:
The transactional state emerges out of the relationship between the personal self and the external environment. It represents the primary focus of almost all leadership thinking, practice, and education; and it provides the foundation for most organisational life and working relationships. Transactional leadership is defined as “setting clear objectives and goals for followers as well as the use of punishment and rewards in order to encourage compliance with those goals” (citation?).
The transactional state negotiates the external environment through the personal ego. It represents leadership development within a framework of esteem, status, ambition, drive, the will to achieve and succeed, and the desire to demonstrate and prove ability. Extrinsic goals are centrally important; career decisions made solely within the transactional state are aimed at enhancing personal position or status in terms of image, money, and popularity.
The transactional state is conventional. Experience is mediated primarily through the senses and intellect; thinking is linear, causal and literal. Its logic supports the truth of separation, creating a discrete identity separate from the world that is experienced as out there, but to which it is always relating in order to measure its sense of self-worth and value.
The transactional state is central to key capabilities including negotiation, competitive planning, day-to-day transactions with multiple stakeholders, short term goal setting and execution, the capacity to set and deliver targets, and an array of other skills considered essential to good business. Technical development and competency building (expertise development through instructional learning) have their root here and create a strong and necessary platform for future development and responsibility. Whilst essential for holistic practice, indiscriminate overemphasis on the transactional state as the modus operandi of business is fundamentally limiting in developmental terms.
Q 2: Self-Reflective State
This relationship within Q2 is between the personal self and the internal environment. The focus of attention is to influence and mature the correspondence between inner experience and the outside world, making this relationship more fluid, honest and conscious through a range of practices. Considerably less attention is paid to the self-reflective state within leadership development than is currently given to the transactional state. The reflective state represents an ego-activated approach to reflection, and its focus is on the continuing development of the personality/individual life in a context of greater success and effectiveness in the workplace. Its developmental focus is based on the integration of past experience (where have I been?) and future opportunities (where am I going?).
Self-reflection as a practice, including work on the individual shadow aspects of the personality, is essential to the process of psychological maturity. Self-reflection changes the experience of subject-object, allowing an individual to hold more as object the feelings and emotions, thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that they were once entirely subject to and therefore unconscious of. This shift brings choice.
Self-reflection can be enhanced through autobiographical work that offers a change of perspective and creates the foundation for genuine self-authorship. Useful work in this state can include processes such as life mapping and analysis of the tendencies of the ego, including the shadow aspect.
Life mapping is a process that I use frequently with leaders. Life maps create a sense of personal narrative and provide deep insights into the ways in which past experience can shape current choice making and future planning. As leaders, it is essential to know both what you are working on and also what is working on you. Self-reflective work is the work of personal integration. The process starts with understanding one’s current story, then moves into stories in transition, followed by shaping future stories.
Reflective processes allow individuals to nurture a healthy subjective relationship with their inner world in a way that can challenge existing operating assumptions and success strategies. Central to this capacity is the development of emotional intelligence, including qualities such as empathy, openness, objectivity, and emotional self-control. Emotional development is an essential precursor to more integrated leadership practice, and it has its roots in our capacity for self-reflection.
Autobiographical work represents a burden for leaders. Honest self-exploration can be extremely challenging. For these reasons, exploration of this capacity is at best inconsistent within current executive education as evidenced by the significant numbers of senior executives who fail to demonstrate authentic self-authoring qualities.
Q3: Transcendent State
The dominant relationship here is between the inner environment and the transpersonal self. The transcendent state represents our capacity to “go beyond normal or physical human experience and to exist apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford English Dictionary).
The transcendent capacity supports the development of an array of abilities that allow an individual to experience the world beyond the confines of their personality, to develop insights, and to access knowledge and information that are correlated with heightened and expanded states of consciousness. Opportunities to deliberately cultivate this capacity are rare within traditional executive leadership, and it is here that significant opportunities for development exist.
Access to different states of consciousness beyond the normal range of sleeping, dreaming, and waking are strongly implicated in the development of the capacity for critical existential thinking, meaning-making, symbolic and metaphoric thinking, the establishment of hierarchies of personal values, psychological well-being, greater interiority, extended states of flow, peak experience, access to intuitive thinking, synchronicity and other aspects of inner guidance, development of the imaginative capacity, personal vitality, the capacity to maintain high energy states, loss of self-consciousness, and high levels of creativity. It is not difficult to create a value proposition for the development of these qualities in executive leadership practice.
Practices that support the cultivation of the transcendent state include the arts, contemplative practice, and a deep engagement with nature–the wonder, awe, and beauty of the participation mystique.
The arts offer rich opportunities to access transcendent states. Art, narrative, drama, myth, and movement cannot be made, met, or understood by the left brain processes that anchor us to our ego centres. The arts speak directly to our right hemisphere; they transport us beyond ourselves in language that is metaphoric and symbolic. As McGilchrist points out, the right hemisphere “yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate living beings in the context of a lived world” (TED Lecture). These are qualities of a creative mind at work in a living universe. From this place interconnection, change and evolution are life. Art is curious, exploratory and playful. It is a principal way in which we make sense of our lives and find meaning in the world in non-literal ways using symbol and metaphor.
At Olivier Mythodrama, we use the works of William Shakespeare to provide a powerful narrative backdrop to our practice with executives. We have found that these mythic stories provide a rich context and framework for learning that enable us to draw on universal, timeless themes of leadership in memorable ways. Participants are able to identify and work on difficult personal and organisational challenges by accessing an array of non-ordinary frameworks that are inherently creative and that can yield extraordinary insights into future practice.
In terms of intention, the transcendent state has an intrinsic orientation (as distinct from the extrinsic orientation of the transactional state), defined as autonomy (self-government), mastery (excellence), and purpose (service and legacy) (Huppert, Baylis, and Kaverne).
Q4: Transformational State
The transformational state represents the relationship between the transpersonal self and the external environment. Transformational is defined here as “making a difference” (citation?) and in its mature state this will have global implications. The transformational state is the seedbed of evolutionary thinking and represents our creative capability to transcend previous limitations and embrace new possibilities; to take “what is new and different from what has been inferred by previous knowledge” (Bohm, 6), to build new and more complex systems with a long term vision. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi represent examples of action in the transformational state.
Transformational action arises out of meta-cognitive processes that include the ability to discern and explore different aspects of our lives as well as life in general beyond appearances. It enables us to recognize and act out of the transcendent aspects of life and gives the ability to perceive one’s own life and life in general from a viewpoint independent of numerous attachments (King). These perspectives give this state a quality of freedom of movement and expression alongside considerable energy and resolution.
Within the transformational state there is significant alignment between path–meaning recognition of the specific realization that wants to be expressed through the individual as a calling or vocation in this life–and the daily practice necessary to achieve it. This is the vocational state, and it is what gives the transformational state real power; it is the soul’s voice that speaks from this place. Networking and a diversity of relationships are important in cultivating this state; and the impulse to wholeness, both personal and planetary has its roots here.
Integration work in the transformational state can be facilitated greatly by practices that develop clarity of mind. Practices that still the mind and engage the body include mindfulness-based meditation, contemplation, yoga, and some martial arts–particularly Aikido and Tai Chi. Mindfulness meditation is becoming increasingly popular, and it is something that I teach with ever greater frequency to executives as an essential practice for self-development.
At the School of Inspired Leadership in Guragon, India, the faculty have produced a wellness programme for students using a range of yoga, breathing, and meditation techniques. These techniques are designed to balance mind, body and spirit. Within this practice students are taught the benefits of engaging fully in the business world from a calm, rooted, and healthy inner centre. Speaking as someone who follows the wellness programme, I can affirm the value added to daily living is in terms of the clarity, alertness, and presence that the practice affords.
Meditation is linked to numerous positive physical and psychological outcomes. Meditation gives access to the mysticism of life in a very practical way. The word mystical is derived from the Greek root muein, which means to keep silent. Meditation allows us to meet the world in silence on its own terms, without any judgement. An interesting paradox about the transformational state is that whilst it is a place of action, it is also a state of deep listening and liminality. Holding liminal space and being present to the world between states of knowing is a core aspect of the transformational state. Silence supports the cultivation of the listening capacity. Silent reflection brings us to the mystery of life, giving us the space to reflect on the nature of existence in very meaningful ways.
As emergent demands meet the limits of current leadership thinking and practice, we find ourselves at an epoch of transformation in leadership education. Existing educational opportunities are largely transactional in nature. They are based on unexamined, outdated paradigms and operating assumptions, and are, therefore, insufficient to meet the challenges we face. By definition they cannot support leaders to go beyond traditional high performance transactional practices. Overdependence on one inner state always leads to incoherence and imbalance in Siegel’s model of psychological health. Wellbeing is the result of resonance and integration between diverse states. This is what is missing in current practice. Put simply, we need to become more: more aware and more conscious of the totality of whom and what we are. The model highlights both the limitations of current thinking and the direction of travel that might provide a route towards a leadership practice that will be fit for the 21st century. It is an evolutionary process of development and represents the creative impulse to overcome limitations that drives the transcendent nature of evolution.
Pearce (85) states that the ability to transcend limitations is a two-fold process: the first is to generate movement, and the second is to create that which lies beyond and manifests through that movement. The primary purpose of this paper is to create movement and then to highlight some of the ways in which we might create what lies beyond–the ways in which leadership capacity could be developed towards a more self-transforming trajectory. This could effectively narrow the gap between what businesses expect of the leadership mind and what the leadership mind is currently capable of.
Many questions remain regarding the ways in which appropriate development might take place. There is much work ahead if current assumptions about learning are to be challenged and overcome. Where a transactional bias exists, any discussion about reflective and transpersonal learning will be problematic, even conceptually, since it orientates to an entirely different and apparently counterintuitive operating logic. To the transactional mind, transcendent and transformational operating logics seem unconvincing at best, irrelevant at worst. A closed system always mediates itself to keep its own identity. Transpersonal education is always challenging to conventional systems of knowing favoured by the contemporary Western mind, but that is not a good enough reason not to act.
Sufficient examples of good practice exist in both consciousness development and the psychological work of personal development and integration that could provide a template for future practice. There is, of course, no one way to build a practice that addresses the development needs of all four states. There are multiple ways to build a practice around this model, and I list here a range of things that can be considered to leverage the model. It is not an exhaustive list, but I would suggest that it provides areas for further research.
David King’s thesis ”Rethinking Claims of Spiritual Intelligence: A Definition, Model, And Measure” (56-117), presents a powerful case for Spiritual Intelligence (SI) as an emerging field with tremendous potential within executive leadership. King rigorously reviews existing data to present a compelling model for SI alongside tools for assessment and measurement of capability within this intelligence.
According to King, SI can be defined as” a set of mental capacities” that contribute to the awareness, integration, and adaptive application of the nonmaterial and transcendent aspects of one’s existence. King proposes four core components that comprise spiritual intelligence: critical existential thinking, personal meaning production, transcendental awareness whilst in the normal waking state, and conscious state expansion.
The concept of spiritual intelligence is important because it describes a range of mental capabilities and adaptive practices that authentically define it as a legitimate intelligence. The assumption is that it can be developed within an educational setting using a variety of methodologies. As such, SI becomes a focus for the intentional learning derived from new and ongoing practices rather than the description of an array of discrete extraordinary phenomenological behaviours or belief systems with limited application to leadership. King proposes that the development of the four core components of spiritual intelligence supports the cultivation of a range of personal, interpersonal, and global qualities that are of considerable interest.
The Role of Creativity in Leadership
Creativity is at the heart of the evolutionary impulse. The 2009 IBM study, “Capitalising on Complexity: Insights from the Global CEO,” cited at the start of this paper, concludes that creativity will be the most important leadership capability in coming years. Returning to Bohm, he states that creativity is “founded on the sensitive perception of what is new and different from what is inferred by previous knowledge” (6). This is the evolutionary impulse to move beyond existing limitations.
In Bohm’s eyes, creativity would reflect a call to a different kind of understanding, including the deeper purpose of leadership. Bohm suggests that creativity has a childlike quality or playfulness, that it can be nurtured and developed but that it gets easily lost in the confusion of our daily fears, desires, aims, securities, pleasures, and pains. The creative leader will be deeply interested in discovery and originality but also able to tolerate confusion and to self-organize around difficult feelings, distractions, and conflicting interests.
Creativity emerges when the conditions support it, and Bohm provides us with a rich template outlining both the kind of things we might expect to find in a creative executive programme and what we might seek to avoid. He argues that it is the natural condition of the mind to be creative and that it is both unnatural and unhealthy for the mind to think mechanistically. He suggests that mechanical thinking is precisely what leads the mind into confusion, dissatisfaction, and a variety of psychological problems.
Creativity is destroyed and mediocrity ensured by three things: fear of making mistakes (and the perpetuation of ego structures through the pursuit of perfection), mechanistic perceptions (dry learning and learning by repetition), and utilitarian thinking (unconsidered conventionalism).
For Bohm, as with Siegel, state of mind greatly influences the capacity to learn new things. Abilities derive from the practices designed to foster discovering and originality; the cultivation of a perception that is attentive, alert, aware, and sensitive; an understanding of universal principles including harmony, structure, totality, and unity; and a willingness at all times to challenge or overturn old structures and orienting systems in the face of new facts. This is the core of creative practice. This is surely an excellent description of the self-transforming mind.
Leadership and the Brain
A great deal has been written about the relationship between the brain hemispheres in processing and understanding data from the external world, developing a coherent sense of self, and supporting the formation of our understanding of the world. Whilst there is not space to discuss this in detail here, we can summarise that the Western rational dualistic paradigm that underpins most executive education is primarily an expression of left-brain hemisphere processes. This has been given pre-eminence in forming and articulating our understanding of reality. Right-brain processes, commonly described as holistic, individual, empathic, implicit, interconnected, and intuitive in nature, have tended to be less developed, and this has become a problematic bias. Iain McGilchrist quotes Einstein in a recent presentation on the brain:“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift” (TED Lecture).
Leadership practices that seek to align, synchronise, and give equal weight to both the brain hemispheres and that can explore the wider implications of integrated functioning between the different aspects of the brain (brainstem, limbic, cortex, and prefrontal cortex) offer considerable opportunities for research and development. Evidence from fields such as neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology strongly suggest that self-reflective and transpersonal practices, including meditation and autobiographical work, have profound effects on key areas of the brain as well as on the way the brain organises and develops. Mind is not the brain, but it influences the brain directly through the conscious flow of energy and information. Mind has a profound impact on important regulatory areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex and the temporal regions with significant benefits to mental well-being and the development of coherent internal states, suggesting that mind-based practices could become central to future education programmes. Old limiting patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving can be overcome whilst more integrated ways of being present to the world can be developed at any age. Practices that develop SI also demonstrate very meaningful brain responses with positive outcomes across an array of positive health metrics (King 134 – 156).
As has been noted, a period of transition is an invitation to examine the fundamental paradigms that are used to describe reality in order to address persistent anomalies and so that more complex organising systems can emerge.
The Native Science Movement (Cajete Chaps. 1 and 2) has sought to find a language to bridge the subjective experiences of Native peoples with modern science within an eco-philosophical framework. The collaboration, headed by the Native American Academy offers profound insights into the nature of reality and finds striking similarities between the concepts of the world as held by native people for millennia and the findings of quantum science and other disciplines. Logic systems concur in part and then expand beyond the axiomatic references of the traditional Western paradigm. The native paradigm is based on an extraordinarily rich array of sources including observation, experiment, meaning and understanding, objectivity, unity, causality, models, instrumentation, appropriate technology, spirit, interpretation, explanation, authority, place, initiation, cosmology, representations, human experience, ceremony, eldership, life energy, dreams and visions and the concept of pathways.
From the native perspective individuals are active universal agents participating in a living and mutually dependent world. The idea of mutuality and participation within a living and animate world is central here and could add significant value to existing rational dualistic systems. Practice is upheld by elders and leaders who are developed deliberately to have a profound understanding of and responsibility to the maintenance of balance and harmony in the world. In this logic, each person is a separate agent, but action is not driven unduly by individual motives. The position of the ego is renegotiated to a more balanced place alongside other systems of knowing. The Native Science Movement proposes a living practice that coheres in every aspect of life and that manifests as an agenda for a sustainable future. It is path and practice in genuine alignment and as such offers a rich template for further research.
We find ourselves at a threshold in terms of executive leadership education; a time of transition in which old systems are no longer adequate to meet emerging demands. Research tells us that there is a significant gap between the challenges we face and the current capacity for leaders to meet those challenges in new and creative ways. Without the conscious cultivation of greater mental complexity through the integration of core leadership states and with development opportunities focused primarily on the transactional and self-reflective functions, consistent transformational practice will continue to be haphazard and largely consigned to chance. It is important to recognize that the reflective, transcendent, and transformational states must be accessed and nurtured through an operating logic different from the rational dualistic frame. Different frames exist that can both support and go beyond the limits of the current curriculum with its anchor in transactional development.
The reality of our global situation requires that we think both urgently and differently about the way in which executive education is conceived, what its future focus should be, and what paradigms and frameworks it should be modelled on. This is the nature of evolution. We are being invited to go beyond our existing limits. The gateway into transformational thinking and action can emerge through the integration of the transactional and self-reflective functions, with the transcendent and transformational mediated through both the personal and transpersonal aspects of self. This process can support leaders towards the cultivation of states of greater internal coherence, of expanded awareness and towards capacities for thinking and action that exceed normal, conventional limits–defined here as interpersonal leadership. It is this step that can make transformational leadership development an authentic possibility. As educators and leaders it is something that urgently requires our attention today.
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