Leadership In Action as a Way of Being to meet the Demands of Early 21st Century Life

It seems like there’s nothing much new in the leadership literature until about the year 2000.  Indeed, there has been an evolution in thinking about leadership which has moved through first “person-subjective” to “second person-interpersonal” to “third person-objective” (organizational systems) to a more integrative “fourth person-inter-objective view”. (Nicolaides & Wallis, p.1)

Once, effective leadership was viewed as an individual having specific traits or qualities and displaying specific behaviors.  In the years following, you see the introduction of an appreciation for the interactions of leaders and followers with the introduction of “emotional intelligence” and still later, a more complex systems-oriented view incorporating concepts from Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory.  The bookstore shelves are full of how to guides and even some of the most notable authors on the subject, like Peter Drucker suggest good leadership is the possession of a set effective personality traits and the display of certain desired behaviors.

Our thinking about leadership has evolved from thinking in terms of behavior traits of effective leaders to a more complex systems view.  Certainly, today’s more progressive view of leadership is one of leadership as a state of being as opposed to simply displaying the specific traits or behaviors.  Advances of genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (GNR) will inevitably require even more significant changes in how leaders lead.  In the near future, failure of our social systems to evolve rapidly enough to keep pace with technological advances could lead to tremendous problems for humanity.

1st Person-Leadership from the individual perspective (Subjective)

Leadership, to the average person, most likely means charisma.  The handsome, articulate political, business or military leader comes to mind.  But there are many examples of charismatic leaders, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin who led their followers into a death spiral.

Conversely, other reserved, shy and somewhat awkward people were very effective leaders.  Perhaps Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi are good examples.  Perhaps because, as management guru, Peter Drucker suggests, the foundation of effective leadership is clearly defining the mission.  You find this theme echoed in some of the most popular evidenced-based leadership textbooks like Kouzes and Posner’s very popular, The Leadership Challenge (1987).

One finds the trait theory alive and well into the 1960s when MIT professor Douglas McGregor defined the characteristics of “Theory X” and “Theory Y” managers.  Theory X assumes most people respond best to coercion and force while Theory Y suggests people respond better to the charismatic leader who using persuasion to change follower’s behavior.  It was McGregor who suggested a Theory Y approach would better create an environment of trust which he believed was more a more effective leadership strategy.

Many of the traits ascribed to good leaders have proven quite stable over time.  Good leaders view their role as a responsibility rather than an honor bestowed.  Good leaders are secure with themselves and gather the best possible teams around them.  Good leaders engender trust in their followers. (Kouzes & Posner, pp.3-49)

Trust emanates from integrity which is demonstrated by behaving in a manner consistent with ones spoken words. (Drucker, p.271)  Through self awareness and reflection, today’s good leaders behave as they want their followers to behave.  One’s actions are more important than words.  Research tells us we have gaps between what we say and what we do.  Followers experience those inconsistencies at unconscious and preconscious levels and see them at a conscious level. (Quinn, p. 233)

Effective leaders model values important to the purpose or mission of the organization and good leaders are able to facilitate the creation of a shared vision around which followers can rally.  By its nature, leadership is about inspiring followers to move toward something new.  If people are to stay where they are, they need good management, not effective leadership.  So leaders, by nature, are risk-takers.  Through integrity and trust, leaders inspire others to action.  Great leaders are also able to “tap into” the emotions of followers inspire their followers.  Churchill and Martin Luther King are good examples of leaders who presented themselves authentically, inspired a shared vision, challenged the status quo, enabled and encouraged others and tapped into the emotions of their followers. (Kouzes & Posner, pp. 3-49)

Kouzes and Posner have conducted longitudinal research about the attributes followers say they value in leaders.  Consistently across years and cultures, followers say they look for honest (integrity/authenticity), forward-looking (vision/mission), inspiring and competent.  They maintain these attributes comprise credibility and they suggest that characteristic is the foundation of leadership. (Kouzes and Posner, pp. 3-49)

According to the old models, and even today, effective leadership is definitely a “way of being”.   Historically, most leaders of note have been people whose locus of control was more internal than external.  (Rogers, p.119)  Self awareness for effective leadership then, is not a new idea.  When one reviews lists of the characteristics of effective leaders created by the popular writers in the genra, the similarities appear striking.

As recent as the late 1970’s and early 80’s, the focus remained on the leaders’ behavior with “situational leadership” gaining popularity. (Graff, p. 285)  This movement seems to be related to “structural contingency theory” and the concept of person/environment fit.  Jim Collins in his popular book, Good to Great (2001) speaks about the importance of getting the right people “on the bus”.   It seems the classic argument that leaders are born, not made is successfully refuted in Rooke and Torbert’s article, “Seven Transformations of Leadership”.  They suggest leadership is situational and that leaders can change their behavior though self-awareness and personal development efforts.  How leaders develop is the most important factor. (Rooke &Tolbert, p.45)

In his very contemporary but rather traditional book, The Soul of Leadership Deepak Chopra (2010) highlights the themes of self-awareness, vision creation and vision communication.  Interestingly, Chopra lists introduces the seven-letter acronym L-E-A-D-E-R (L= Look and listen, E= Emotional Bonding, A= Awareness, D= Doing, E= Empowerment, R= Responsibility, S= Synchronicity) to define a leadership style which is visionary, emotionally intelligent, self aware, empowering (echoes of servant leadership) and accountable for the development of both the group and the individuals.

Type Characteristics Strengths Weaknesses
Opportunist Wins any way possible.Self-oriented; manipulative;“might makes right.” Good in emergencies and inpursuing sales. Few people want to followthem for the long term.
Diplomat Avoids conflict.Wants tobelong; obeys group norms;doesn’t rock the boat. Supportive glue on teams. Can’t provide painful feedbackor make the hard decisionsneeded to improveperformance.
Expert Rules by logic and expertise.Uses hard data to gainconsensus and buy-in. Good individual contributor. Lacks emotional intelligence;lacks respect forthose with less expertise.
Achiever Meets strategic goals.Promotesteamwork; jugglesmanagerial duties and responds

to market demands

to achieve goals.

Well suited to managerialwork. Inhibits thinking outside thebox.
Individualist Operates in unconventionalways.Ignores ruleshe/she regards as irrelevant. Effective in venture andconsulting roles. Irritates colleagues andbosses by ignoring key organizationalprocesses andpeople.
Strategist Generates organizationaland personal change.Highly collaborative; weavesvisions with pragmatic,

timely initiatives; challenges

existing assumptions.

Generates transformationsover the short and longterm. None
Alchemist Generates social transformations(e.g., Nelson Mandela).Reinvents organizationsin historically

significant ways.

Leads societywide change. None

Rooke and Torbert’s seven Action Logics (Rooke and Torbert, p.45)

 2nd Person-Leadership from the interpersonal and relational perspective (Inter-Subjective)

Dan Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995), like Steven Covey’s, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, codified many of the somewhat timeless traits of effective leaders.   The awareness of one’s own emotions and the emotions of others and the ability to manage both are found in the writings of Drucker and many other management and leadership theorists and writers. The accurate empathy of Rogers’ “core conditions” has implications in management and leadership.

Emotional intelligence has been shown to be important factor in determining which individuals emerge as leaders, the effectiveness of the management or leadership process, how others perceive the individuals as leaders and organizational performance.  It is generally agreed emotional intelligence has four components they are: (1) awareness of one’s own emotions; (2) accurate awareness of others’ emotions; (3) the ability to manage one’s own emotions; and (4) the ability to manage others’ emotions. (Humphrey, p. 495-502)

The concept of authenticity comes up, again and again. To be authentic requires courage because when one is authentic, they are exposing their “real selves” to others and the world.  If one’s inauthentic self is rejected, one can take solace in the fact that it wasn’t their true identity that was rejected but their “avatar”.  The rejection of one’s authentic self would be more painful.  If one considers the ability to influence or persuade others a necessary leadership skill then Carl Roger’s “core conditions” of an effective therapeutic relationship which include authenticity, unconditional positive regard and accurate empathy contribute to the leadership literature of the 20th century.

3rd Person-Leadership from an organizational and systems perspective (Objective)

            While not cited in his book, “Change the World”, Quinn’s Advanced Change Theory appears to draw heavily from Spiral Dynamics thinking.  His “four strategies of change” parallel the MEMEs found in Spiral Dynamics.  Some of the themes common to both are high concern for task and people rather than position or hierarchy, preference for collective good over personal and internally directed and other focused leadership.  (Quinn, p. 238) Quinn’s term “bounded instability” has a definite systems origin. (Quinn, p. 149)

4th Person- Leadership from an integral multi-dimensional perspective including the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspective (Inter-Objective)

When one gets to Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics (1996) and Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory (2000) there is a view into a more transcendent leader.  While their views might be viewed as simply expanding upon the work of Maslow and other developmental theorists, they integrate earlier thinking into a framework that is quite different. (Figure 1)  These works appear to have spawned a new wave of thought about leadership, a more holistic view, rooted in systems theory.  This approach views leaders as catalysts or “spiral wizards”, a term coined by Beck and Cowen.  From a human development and leadership perspective, Wilber and Beck integrate quite nicely. (Figure 2)

One can hear themes of both situational and servant leadership in Beck, Cowan, Wilber and Quinn’s writings.  A connection between Rooke and Tolbert’s seven “action logics” or descriptors of leadership styles to Spiral Dynamics’ MEMEs is obvious.

Figure 1: In Spiral Dynamics:  Mastering values, leadership and change (1996), Don Beck and Chris Cowan describe a systems-based evolutionary human development framework depicted in a spiral balloon’ graphic.  From this view, individuals and society expand consciousness from a center focused upon individual survival to concern for the welfare of all others and of nature.

Figure 2: Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrants overlaid upon Beck and Cowan’s nine levels, Rice (2006)

Chopra’s selection of seven principals here shouldn’t go unnoticed.  It has some correlation with the seven hierarchical chakras from the Hindu belief system.  Chopra provides no references in this book which seems to be written for the hurried executive interested in a view of leadership that goes beyond those offered by the best-seller volumes found on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.

In Evolutionary Leadership (2009), Peter Merry positions leadership in an organization development “change agent” light.  Merry references Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near (2005), Beck and Cowan, Wilber and many other progressive thinkers of today in defining effective leadership as facilitation of change.  Interestingly, he brings physical health into the conversation by devoting a significant amount of space to the topic.

While not specifically about leadership, Ken Wilber’s Theory of Everything (2001) suggests effective leadership would use an “all quadrant, all level” (AQAL) approach.  Wilber’s theory suggests that there is an interior, exterior, individual and collective component to everything.  Daryl Paulson suggests the development of Wilber’s four quadrant, Integral Theory is a natural evolution from Theory X (Upper Left) to Theory Y (Upper Right) to cultural management (Lower Left) to systems management (Upper Left). (Wilber, p. 94)

If Ray Kurzweil (2005) is correct then much of the leadership thinking of the past will be out of sync if not mostly irrelevant within a few decades.  If good leadership is about emotional intelligence and meeting people where they are, then classifying people according to their Meyers-Brigg Type Indicator or their Strength’s Finder 2.0 hierarchy will not be sufficient in the future.  Historically, throughout human history, man’s tools and technologies have evolved more rapidly than the social systems which govern them.  While the looming advances in GNR offer great promise, they also hold potential for great tragedy.  A genetically modified virus or a nanotech “robot” in the wrong hands could kill millions if not destroy all humanity.

The realm of consciousness and the definition of authenticity may change dramatically in the not too distant future and the biological and non-biological worlds merge mid-century, as predicted by Kurzweil.  With the potential for organ regeneration, artificial organs and body parts, our very definition of what it means to be human may need to evolve.  And Wilber suggests what good are these technological developments if they are placed in the hands of those whose consciousness has not evolved to a point where they will be good stewards of it (Wilber, pg. 105).


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