Integrative Leadership

By Susan Wright, TCP President

In April, I was privileged to attend and speak on Integrative Leadership at the Integral Without Borders Conference in Istanbul, attended by organization and social sector leaders from around the world. The challenge:  how to bring an integrated perspective to the resolution of complex problems.

The philosopher Ken Wilber has written extensively about this integrated view ( and believes there are four necessary perspectives to seeing in a holistic or integrated way. The four perspectives include an Individual/Collective dimension and an INTERIOR(inside the person)/EXTERIOR(outside the person) dimension, as shown below. If we take his four perspectives from a leadership point of view, they might look like this:

INTERIOR Individual:

Who am I as a leader?


EXTERIOR Individual:

How do I behave as a leader?


INTERIOR Collective:

How do we relate to each other as leaders?


EXTERIOR Collective:

How do we serve our constituents as leaders?

Environment, etc.

As I thought about this diagram, I noticed a few things:

1.  We know much more about the right side (EXTERIOR), the world of tangible objects than we do the left side (INTERIOR), the world we experience but can’t see.  For example, we as organizational leaders are most focused on serving our constituents, whether that means, customers, stockholders, employees, or the community and environment in which we do business (Lower Right).  When we think about leadership and its development, we tend to move toward measurable competencies that can be demonstrated through behaviour (Upper Right).  Much less time is spent on leader self-awareness or ‘consciousness’ (Upper Left) or on the relationships and culture that form the invisible subjective contexts in which the organization functions (Lower Left).  These are secondary priorities, we say, because after all, business is business.  Or is it?

2.  If we take this one step further and ask which of the four quadrants receive the bulk of leaders’ attention, we find similarly that the Lower Right (Organizational Systems) is where we focus on strategy in the marketplace, the structure that best meets those needs, and all the functions and activities supporting success.  In progressive organizations, time is also spent to a lesser extent on how success is achieved through leadership culture and behaviour, the Upper Right (Demonstrated Behaviour) and Lower Left (Cultural Values), including how leaders are assessed and developed and how we enact the cultural norms in our leadership style.  Much less attention is given to Upper Left (Consciousness), leaders’ attitudes and motivations, the way we actually experience the world and how that is translated into our every thought and action.

3.  The interesting point about this Upper Left missing piece of the puzzle is that we now know from recent research (Goleman, Schwarmer, Senge, etc.) that our awareness of ourselves as leaders and our impact on others, our level of consciousness about the complex global web of interests and perspectives, is exactly what is required for long term success.  It is the aspect of leadership development that has been under-valued and is therefore under-developed when critically needed.  And more, although there is a growing recognition of the importance of the leader’s interior maturity and worldview, there are very few practical approaches to developing ‘consciousness’.  In fact, some would say it’s a maturation process that takes its own time and can’t be influenced.

So what do we do about it?

As with all development, awareness of the issue is the starting point.  Just being aware that our own level of consciousness or self-awareness determines what we see and how we interpret our own and others’ actions is a great start.

Using the four quadrants as a holistic diagnostic tool in problem solving is another way. What are the components of the issue?  What behaviour is getting in the way?  How might the culture be an inhibitor?  How are my own beliefs influencing my perspective and what other interpretations are possible? How can I stretch and test my assumptions against each of these four perspectives?

A personal reflective practice routine is another necessary element in developing self-aware consciousness.  For example, meditating regularly, walking in nature, any spiritual practice, or some creative expression like art, dance, etc. that allow for reflection are all effective forms of development.

Whatever practice appeals to you, I encourage you to ask “Who Am I as a Leader?” and to spend some time reflecting on how you answer the question.