Integral Leadership and Learning

Leadership has evolved throughout human history.  Each era requires its own unique leadership model.  These have included the tribal leader and village elders, aristocratic nobility and the professional model of the industrial era.  The digital – global era of the twenty-first century suggests a new model of leadership.  

This leadership style of the twenty-first century is integral, holistic and comprehensive.  It involves the capacity to see the big picture, the dynamics of a social ecosystem and to organize the fragmented chaos of daily experience into an orderly framework. 

During the twentieth century, during times of unprecedented crisis, particularly World War II, individuals emerged who had a natural genius for embracing complex and dynamic systems within their minds and personalities strong enough to influence the course of events.  We need more than these rare geniuses to help shape the emerging world of this still new and challenged century.   We have the resources needed to develop this new leadership.  We do not have the programs that do so in a systematic manner.

The resources available include general systems theory (GST), which is defined as an interdisciplinary approach to identifying patterns in complex systems.  GST is attributed to Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a biologist but there were other important contemporaries.  Jan Smuts (in South Africa), Patrick Geddes (Scotland) and Alfred Korzybski (in the United States) also proposed whole-systems approach and the latter had considerable influence on the emergence of GST.  Relativity and quantum physics also had a major influence on the development of whole-systems thinking.  Digital (systems) technology emerged out of this milieu.

It should be noted that Bertalanffy was a biologist dealing with living systems and that the most recent developments in systems thinking have been in the field of biology, especially Howard and Eugene Odom’s work in ecosystems science.  We have described a community as an ecosystem (link) and this framework suggests how we define both learning and leadership.

Industrial era leadership is highly specialization.  Integral leadership requires a much more comprehensive understanding.  Specialization has provided the incredible power needed to build the industrial and digital economies and modern political systems.  It has, however, long been recognized as lacking the scope and adaptability to guide this increasingly complex planet-wide civilization.

Schools and universities provide the subject knowledge of a variety of fields.  These courses are taught by specialists.  They are taught with little consideration of how these fields interrelate and how that knowledge is applied to living. 

Prior to the industrial era, education was defined as “liberal.”  There were seven liberal arts united into a common curriculum.  A library of only a few hundred volumes comprehensively embraced human knowledge.  Today university libraries contain millions of books and vast stores of knowledge in other media.  While we have made great progress (far from complete) in developing digital technology to access this vast store of knowledge, we do not have the training to put it to effective use.  A new “liberal” framework of subject matter is thus required that embraces the sciences, the social science, practical subjects such as business, management, communication, planning and digital technology; literature, and arts and crafts.  Education does not end with the classroom but is systematically pursued throughout life.

It should be noted that while the Integral Leadership and Learning model embraces a broad understanding of the world, its focus is local.  It is thus not “philosophical” but rather highly practical.

The global-digital era in which we know live requires an as yet to be fully articulated leadership model.  It requires a holistic and comprehensive understanding of the world we live in (an ecosystems – general systems model) and a comprehensive set of knowledge and skills required to affect beneficial change.  The necessary knowledge and skills are readily available but the integral learning framework is not.  Universities continue to teach for the industrial era.

The Transition Centre Integral Leadership and Learning model is based on an adaptation of Maslow’s self-actualized personality, a model that more broadly embraces society, environment and focuses on transformational agency – the Well-Formed Personality. 

Maslow’s was not the only model of self-actualization; there are many of them and each model represents a widow into the human psyche.  The Well-Formed Personality model came out of extensive research into a large number of models of self-actualization by the Cove Institute.  A comprehensive list of characteristics was developed, and categorized into a taxonomy of characteristics (27) that embrace not only the self, but also society, and particularly the matter of human agency.

The TC Integral Leadership and Learning model draws heavily from the work of Alfred Korzybski.  Korzybski’s work arguably helped development of the fields of general systems theory, cybernetics, information and decision theory and, by extension, ecosystems science.  By extension we can embrace other metaphors of complex systems such as chaos theory, dissipative structures and the emergence process. 

The ILL model also draws on R. Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics (a geometry of thought), Ralph Borsodi’s problem centered model of life-long education of the whole person, and Peter Senge’s work in the application of general systems to management of complex organizations is featured.

Learning, living and leadership represents an integral framework for this model.

Deep Leadership

A major part of the Transition Centre mission is to foster the type of leadership (perhaps stewardship would be a better word) required to plan, develop, promote and manage a sustainable, transitional, society.  It is clear that sustainability will require a new leadership style, attitudes and skills not fully represented in current social and business models.  Our approach, as follows, is an evolutionary progression of management style. (Read More)