Category Archives: Leadership Development

Transformative Learning and Executive Coaching in the Workplace


Transformative learning is a concept most often associated with the field of education.  However, organizations are often seeking to transform executives in order to prepare them for more responsibility, more challenging roles or environments. Coaching is often used as one of the interventions to help facilitate significant executive change and transformation. This paper discusses the intersection of coaching and transformative learning.

Transformative Learning and Executive Coaching In the Workplace

Executive education and adult learning are often seen as formal processes requiring participation in corporate retreats filled with “team building” exercises and instructor-led seminars.  Conversely, executive coaching is often used as a direct intervention with a coach performing the role of catalyst helping an executive mitigate some shortcoming impeding his or her success in a current role or to prepare him or her for more responsibility or a promotion.  Here, we explore the intersection of executive coaching and adult learning that leads to individual transformation.

What is Executive Coaching?

            The International Coach Federation (ICF), the largest professional association representing coaches worldwide, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.  According the ICF a competent coach will possess the following Core Competencies:

  • Setting the Foundation

¨      Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards

¨      Establishing the Coaching Agreement

  • Co-Creating the Relationship

¨      Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client

¨      Coaching Presence

  • Communicating Effectively

¨      Active Listening

¨      Powerful Questioning

¨      Direct Communication

  • Facilitating Learning and Results

¨      Creating Awareness

¨      Designing Actions

¨      Planning And Goal Setting

¨      Managing Progress and Accountability

Coaching shares many similarities to mentoring.   As we see, most of the primary tasks of mentors, “engender trust, see the student’s movement, give the student a voice, introduce conflict, understand, emphasize positive movement and keep one eye on the relationship” (Daloz, 1999, pp.122-124) are found among the ICF’s Core Competencies. One can see how these same skills would be important to success in counseling and consulting as well. Indeed, coaching draws much of its empirical base and practice from the field of psychotherapy (Judge & Cowell, 1997).

Within the coaching profession, there are many concentrations. Life, leadership, relationship, career and executive coaching are some of the more popular areas of specialization. The executive coach is often seen as a change agent within a business, corporate or other organizational environment.  While there is no single definition or best way to practice executive coaching (Stern, 2004) suggests the executive coach is the “organizational consultant who can provide the coaching to help carry the weary executive through the constantly changing and harsh environment faced by business leaders of the 21st century” (p.161).  A good description of executive coaching is “an experiential, individualized, leadership development process that builds a leader’s capability to achieve short and long-term organizational goals.  It is conducted through one-on-one interactions, driven by data from multiple perspectives, and based on mutual trust and respect.  The organization, an executive, and the executive coach work in partnership to achieve maximum learning and impact.” (Ennis et al., 2003, p.20).

Within the corporate environment many coaches coach for skills, performance, development or the executive’s agenda (Gray, 2006).  According to Gray, skills coaching is directed at helping the client learn “basic concepts, strategies, methods, behaviours, attitudes and perspectives, for business success” (p.478). It is not intended to nor does it often produce long-term change (Fitzgerald & Berger, 2002).  Performance coaching seeks to help the executive become better at performing in her or her current role.  The goal of development coaching is to prepare the client for movement into another role.

Coaching for the executive agenda often encompasses a broad range of issues. The executive may be contemplating a merger or an acquisition, his organization may be experiencing rapid growth or contraction or her company may be impacted by major regulatory changes and need to respond.  Since the executive coach may play many roles, it is important to understand the theoretical underpinnings from which the coach operates. One of the major epistemologies of coaching is found in adult learning theory, more specifically transformative learning (Gray, 2006).

Kilberg (1996) suggested “executive coaching is defined as a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organization and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve his or her professional performance and personal satisfaction and, consequently, to improve the effectiveness of the client’s organization within a formally defined coaching agreement” (p.142).

In many instances, the terms coach and teacher can almost be used interchangeably.  Certainly, there are many intersections and overlaps of the two roles.  According to Jarvis, Holford and Griffin (1998), teachers may play several roles. Some of these roles are:

  • Provide information on certain topics
  • Serve as a resource for the individual
  • Assist learners to assess their needs and competencies
  • Locate resources or secure new information
  • Set up learning experiences
  • Work with learners as a sounding board for ideas
  • Help learners to develop a positive attitude towards learning and self-directed

Certainly coaches do these things too.  However, the executive coach is typically expected to help his client achieve something beyond simple skill development.  Often, she’s expected to help lead her client through some significant change, growth or “transformation”.  Adult learning theory, specifically transformational learning theory, offers great insight into the processes and approaches coaches might use to help their clients make significant change (Gray, 2006).

What is transformative learning?

             Popularized by two major theorists of adult learning, Jack Mezirow and Paulo Freire, the terms transformational learning or transformative learning have become somewhat diluted by some academicians and researchers, according to Mezirow contemporaries Stephen Brookfield (2005) and Robert Kegan (Mezirow, 2004).  Brookfield (Mezirow, 2004) points out Mezirow has been consistent in “asserting that a transformation is a transformation in perspective, in a frame of reference, in a personal paradigm, and in a habit of mind together with its resulting points of view” (p.139).  Elkins (2003) suggests transformative learning is facilitated by a cognitive process wherein our responses to our experiences are brought into our awareness through reflection and are evaluated.

Perhaps the definition most relevant to executive coaching comes from Mezirow (2000) where he states, “Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames of reference—sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of mind, meaning perspectives, mindsets)—to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change. Such frames of reference are better than others because they are more likely to generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action.” (p.58).

Mezirow (2000) identified four conditions for transformation:  “the presence of the other, reflective discourse, a mentoring community, and opportunities for committed action” (p.112). The presence of the other provides a contrast through which one compares his or her beliefs, thoughts and ideas.  Reflective discourse is “the process in which we actively dialogue with others to better understand the meaning of an experience” (p.114).  A mentoring community refers to the social learning aspects of transformation and opportunities for committed action refers to the ability of the individual to act upon the “evolving commitments” (p.117).

According to Kegan (1994), when people develop the ability to reflect upon something they were previously unaware of or took for granted and make conscious decisions about it, they have the opportunity to become transformed.  Kegan distinguishes between informational learning or new knowledge added in a form that currently exists in our minds and transformational learning, knowledge that actually changes our perceptions and interpretations of the world. Transformative learning occurs when someone changes “not just the way he behaves, not just the way he feels, but the way he knows—not just what he knows but the way he knows” (p.17).  Kegan believes transformation can take place when someone moves from Subject to Object.

According to Kegan, things that are Subject to us are a part of our selves. They are beliefs that form the frameworks and lenses through which we see the world.  We are often unaware of them. We take them for granted.  We assume they are true.  “We don’t have things that are Subject; things that are Subject have us” (Fitzgerald and Berger, 2002, p.30).  Things that are Object “can be seen and considered, questioned, shaped and acted on” (Fitzgerald and Berger, 2002, p.30).  Object isn’t how we see, it is what we see. Therefore, it can be analyzed, evaluated, retained or discarded.  Our worldview becomes more complex as we move from Subject to Object. We are more aware, more conscious and can be more responsible.  Indeed, one of the great ongoing developmental tasks of life is the moving from Subject to Object.

Transformations frequently follow the following phases, according to Mezirow (2000),   (p.22):

  • A disorienting dilemma
  • Self-examination with feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame
  • A critical assessment of assumptions
  • Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared
  • Exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and actions
  • Planning a course of action
  • Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans
  • Provisional trying of new roles
  • Building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships
  • A reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective.

The most significant transformations occur when we are able to analyze our own frameworks.  Exploring and challenging one’s own assumption about one’s self, society and one’s reality can often lead to a transformation (Mezirow, 1996).  Self-awareness is a critical component of this framework analysis.  We cannot analyze until we know. Knowledge is essential.

Cranton (2006) discusses three kinds of knowledge; technical, communicative and emancipatory. Technical knowledge is about cause and effect.  Acquiring it does not often lead to a transformative experience.  In the technical knowledge domain the coach or educator often performs the role of subject matter expert.  Communicative knowledge is “concerned with how we see ourselves and the social world that shapes us” (p.106).  The facilitator of communicative knowledge is in a co-development relationship with the learner.  Emancipatory knowledge is created when people “critically question their habits of mind in order to become open to alternatives” (p.106).  Emancipatory knowledge frees the learner from constraints, leads to awareness, reflection and development. The coach or educator working with students of emancipatory knowledge acts as a provocateur. The coach helps the learner become aware of limiting beliefs and to address discrepancies between their expressed values and their behaviors (Cranton, 2006).  From the social learning perspective of theorists like Albert Bandura and Julian Rotter, transformational learning requires an experience, and a critical reflection upon that experience followed by a developmental opportunity (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007). Certainly coaches can be instrumental facilitators of this experience.

Coaching and transformational learning

            Coaching’s links to counseling and psychology have been well documented.  Indeed, much of the profession’s body of knowledge, techniques and competencies are rooted in psychotherapy.  Some variation of many of the ICF’s Core Competencies highlighted above can be found among the skills utilized by counselors, social workers, psychologists and other professionals working in psychotherapy and individual change.  More recently, many have highlighted the coaching profession’s ties to adult learning, more specifically, transformational or transformative learning (Brookfield, 1998; Elkins, 2003; Gray, 2006; Griffiths, 2005).

Griffiths (2005) suggests combining coaching and transformative learning to create a new, synthesized model for growth.  Facilitated through traditional coaching processes like “active listening, powerful questioning, problem solving, self-regulation and observation” (p.62), the student/coachees’ readiness would determine their development plan and goals.  Organizational transformation might be facilitated by creating competency models including such transformational learning theory components like critical, objective and reflective thinking, collaboration and consensus building about individual reflections into leadership development and individualized coaching plans. (Elkins, 2003).

Brown and Posner (2001) connect learning to leading.  They suggest transformational learning theory can be used to “assess, strengthen, and create leadership development programs that develop transformational leaders” (p. 279).  They suggest learning to apply adult learning principles and fostering transformative learning is one of the attributes of an evolved leader. Daloz (1999) and others support this idea suggesting that mentoring becomes a responsibility of leadership.

Helping clients become better at reflective thinking is one of the most important aspects of the coach’s role.  Summarizing, integrating, reframing are communication skills considered important skills, according to the ICF.  Coaches need to be critically reflective in order to help clients create awareness that can lead to transformation (Brookfield, 1998).  Indeed, according to Mezirow (1998), transformative learning cannot occur without critical reflection. Ducharme (2004, Peltier, 2001, Sherin & Caiger, 2004) and others reinforce the importance of reflective thinking through advocating a cognitive-behavioral approach to executive coaching.  In cognitive-behavioral therapies like Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Therapy, the therapist focuses upon helping the client create awareness then encourage the client to evaluate and possibly reconsider the emotions the client associates with their life circumstances (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007).

Gray (2006) makes a strong argument that coaches serve as educators.  He compares Mezirow’s comments about the educator’s role to that of a coach:

“Education [coaching] for competence involves cultivating the learner’s [coachee’s] ability to negotiate meanings and purposes instead of passively accepting the social realities defined by others” (p.489).

Coaches facilitate reflective action by “helping their clients overcome situational, knowledge or emotional constraints (p.489).  Emotional constraints are often presented in the schemes or frameworks through which we view our lives and the world. These frames of reference determine, to a great extent, form our worldview.  Cranton (2006) defined these points of view as “clusters of meaning schemes”.  They are habitual, rules for interpreting experiences.  They often impede our ability to see things objectively.  Sometimes referred to as “habits of mind” these predispositions or interpretations are components of these frameworks.  Much of the work of the executive coach is designed to help the client identify and deconstruct these schemes.

Gray (Gray, 2006) suggested the term Meaning Structures to define these frameworks.  Meaning Structures provide rules for interpreting.  He broke Meaning Structures into two components, Meaning Perspectives and Meaning Schemes.  Meaning Perspectives form sociolinguistic, psychological or epistemic “codes”.  Meaning Schemes are defined by concepts, beliefs, judgments and feelings.

A personal reflection is a critique of our assumptions.  Teaching clients how to engage in behavioral self-monitoring through awareness created by self-reflection is an important task of executive coaching (Stober & Grant, 2006).  Reflections might be about content, process or premise.  Reflection is often triggered when life hands us contradictions to meaning structures.  According to Mezirow (1994), reflection occurs during problem solving.  In order to break down the barriers to self-awareness these frameworks create, the coach or educator might lead the client through a process of critical reflection.  Mezirow (1994) identified phases of a critical reflection process. These are:  Epistemic, Sociolinguistic, Psychological, Moral ethical, Philosophical, Aesthetic.  Distortions in meaning can occur in these stages.  The role of the coach/educator may be to help the client/learner become aware of these distortions.

Typically, the coach/educator will help the client develop a learning plan.
Effective development plans should include some basic elements, according to (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2011). These are the content of the problems or challenge, the process of the problem solving and an underlying premise. Ideally, the coach/educator and the client/learner will collaboratively construct a development plan which identifies a process which attempts to mitigate the client’s deficiencies against competencies.  Competencies are requisite abilities or qualities important to creating successful goal attainment.

Cognitive, humanistic and adult education theorists suggest the individual is the most important component when building competencies. Individual may not know what competencies he or she needs.  The role of the coach/educator is to expose the learner to role models.  The elegance of the competency model isn’t critical, according to Knowles, et al. What is important is the learners understanding of how acquisition of specific skills and abilities will improve their lives. This helps put the learning experiences into context.  “It (personal competency model) converts course-takers and seminar participants into competency developers.” (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 2011, p. 124).

Coaching is said to work because it facilitates action learning (Whitworth, Kimsey-House & Sandahl, 1998). “Clients take action and learn, which leads to more action based upon what they learned, which leads to more learning, etc.”(p.79). Sustained over time, action learning through coaching leads to transformational change.  Along with collaborative inquiry, Mezirow (2000) supports action learning as method to support transformational learning.

Many executives enter coaching to address a specific challenge or need. They’ve been promoted and feel ill-equipped for their new role or their progress is being impeded by a lack of skill or behaviors deemed inappropriate by their organization.  In these instances, it is common for both client and coach to view the coaching work as task-oriented and situational.  Major theorists and the research suggest more meaningful and enduring change might be achieved by approaching the work as a transformational learning opportunity rather than a routine, linear coaching assignment.


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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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