Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Integral Leader (1)

I plan to do a series of posts (not consecutively) expanding on comments in my recent post, where I said Obama was an integral leader. What do I mean by that? Where does the idea come from? What characterizes such a leader? Can someone learn to become an integral leader? How do we recognize one? And other similar questions. I have studied our President since 2007, and most of you readers (in one way or another) are also students of this man, so I will use Obama as the model. As I explore the capacities that an integral leader displays, I will take Obama as the reference point - looking to see if he has displayed such qualities. I will also work the other way - by examining key policy actions and presenting the aspects of Obama's engagement with those that I consider integral.

Since looking at Obama's actions in the context of developing a listing of integral capacities is much more interesting, at least initially, than studying the details of the philosophical and psychological model, I will start there: looking at specific actions that demonstrate important qualities of an integral leader. I will preface my remarks by saying American philosopher, and self-described map-maker, Ken Wilber is the founder of the integral movement. For those who want to explore Ken's prolific writings, take a look at his Amazon page. To get a feeling for the breadth of the integral movement, go to, or Ken's own site And I can guarantee that if you get started in the integral conversation and study, you will never stop, because the work is all about personal transformation and the path to integral leadership. For in demonstrating integral leadership, the President is not a distant and unachievable model; he is using and expressing capacities that all of us can develop with lots of hard, interior work; patience; and commitment.

First, the integral leader acts from an integral level of consciousness. Theory and supporting evidence will come later; for now suffice it to say that researchers show that only 5% of the world's population has attained this level, although this number is growing, and Wilber believes that when it reaches 10%, this will be a tipping point, and the world will begin to make very important, in fact, transformative changes

Second, I will be interested in examining ways of being first, with the ways of doing and acting presumed to arise naturally out of the interior, being spaces.

Third, your level of consciousness determines how you see the world; in fact it limits what you are able to see.

Fourth, to give us some structure to begin the investigation, let me posit and focus on five levels of consciousness, with each succeeding level incorporating all of the prior level, and adding important new emergent qualities:

  • egoic - tribal, terrorist, armed militias, gangs, teenagers
  • traditional - ethnocentric, Christian Fundamentalists, Tea Party Republicans, 25% of US adults
  • modern - rational, non-dogmatic, success-oriented, business class, other GOP, 40% of US adults
  • pluralist - post-modern, relativist, liberal to ultra-liberal, cultural creatives, 25% of US adults
  • integral - an emerging meme, realistic liberals, committed to building community, 5% of US adults
Moving up the levels from egoic to integral means many things - one of the most important is that we learn to take on, appreciate, even embody more and more perspectives. At egoic I see only through my own eyes, and care for myself and the tribe. At traditional I can understand the perspective of others in my social group, but do not "get" others outside the social, ethnic, or nation group. At modern, I can now see with the eye of science; I take a third person perspective and look to discover the laws that make the world work. 

At postmodern or pluralist, I engage multiple perspectives. I have learned that reality is largely socially constructed, that truth is relative, that no narrative is privileged; and I fall in love with many causes, am passionate about supporting all marginalized groups. I see a vast, multicultural array of groups, like many puzzle pieces; but I have lost the sense of how the puzzle fits together. 

At integral, truth reemerges from the sometimes  chaotic disaggregation of pluralist. I know (again) for sure that I belong; that evolution is moving in a purposeful way towards higher individual and collective consciousness; that there is transcendent Spirit, from which we are sourced, in which we live, and toward which we are evolving. For the first time, I can see the whole developmental array, what Wilber terms a holarchy; I know that all of us, when born, start at the beginning of the consciousness ladder, that all levels have an important evolutionary purpose, and that the role of integral is to hold the center and mediate the conflicts between different groups at different levels, so that all can grow and develop.

In my "Reflections" post, I was focusing on one of the important capacities of an integral leader - peacemaking. Obama is a peacemaker in important ways that the pundit class simply cannot see. As you might guess, traditional sees the world in black and white, never grey. When you go to war, you go for victory, unconditional surrender. You are not skilled at peacemaking. Modern is James Baker or Henry Kissinger. They go to war for strategic reasons; they will make peace when the cost has gotten too high (dollars, people, votes); and the peace process is quite linear and predictable. Pluralist is mostly anti-war, but they will fight for humanitarian reasons and self-defense. They can be peacemakers, but they are so often angry at or disdainful of the patriotic and military types that their effectiveness is diminished. 

Integral is whole, full-bodied, complex, richly textured and nuanced, patient, deeply caring, not ego-controlled, intuitive. In short, they are the perfect peacemaker, as we have seen with Obama in Syria. We will shortly see these qualities bearing fruit with Rohani and Iran. Smartypants pointed to the integrating, non-binary nature of the integral leader in her marvelous post - "A Both/And Leader in an Either/Or World".

It is a huge gift the integral leader has to offer to the world. The capacity to be a true peacemaker in the sense I have described is rare. We are blessed, truly, blessed that Obama, an integral leader, is our President.

No comments:

Post a Comment