As the rate of change continues to increase exponentially and our lives become more interdependent, complex, and uncertain, humanity needs holistic or integrative frameworks to better understand and respond to the unprecedented demands of the 21st century. These unparalleled demands include threats to our very survival as a species from pressures of climate change, terrorism, water scarcity, food insecurity, poverty and social inequality, political corruption, and economic instability.
Consequently, U.S. philosopher Ken Wilber proposed that any truly integrative or integral view of human and social phenomenon must minimally include the individual subjective/interior, the individual behavioral/exterior, the collective intersubjective/interior, and the collective interobjective/exterior. Borrowing from Wilber’s All Quadrant All Level or AQAL framework, an integrative approach to leader development addresses the individual internal and individual external dimensions while acknowledging the larger context of leadership development and leadership. Thus, in this more expansive context, an integrative leader-development framework must first consider human existence and well-being from a holistic perspective, as well as the insights and learnings from adult-development theory.
Given that leaders are first and foremost human, the foundation of this integrative leader-development framework is a comprehensive view of human existence and well-being or wellness. Wellness is a holistic and proactive view of health that regards humans as beings with physical bodies, mental bodies, emotional bodies, and spiritual bodies embedded in social and natural environments and dependent on a vibrant planet Earth. Wellness also emphasizes the overall quality of life and not solely the absence of disease. Wellness is highly significant to leader development because general wellness supports full and consistent access to current developmental capacities and provides the “fertile ground” necessary for ongoing self-development. Although various models of wellness exist, a general framework includes physical, mental-emotional, financial or material, spiritual, social, and environmental dimensions.
Physical well-being is a core dimension of wellness and generally refers to the capacity to meet the demands and potential crises of ordinary life. When physical health and vitality are compromised, it is more difficult to be one’s best self or tend to other areas of wellness. Physical wellness includes regular exercise or body movement, healthy weight, strength and flexibility, rest and relaxation, and sleep. It also includes one’s food and beverage choices and how they affect one’s overall well-being, including general health, vitality, energy, mood, weight, body-mass index (BMI), and stamina.
Mental-emotional wellness refers to awareness, constructive expression, and healthy integration of thoughts and feelings. Thus, mental-emotional wellness includes numerous areas that are highly relevant to an integrative approach to leader development such as mental attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, thoughts, feelings, personality, shadow, identity, motivation, will, self-awareness, perceptions, and self-regulation. Financial or material wellness refers to having adequate financial or material resources to meet essential basic human needs (e.g., food, potable water, clothing, and shelter) and support the fulfillment of higher needs (e.g., self-actualization).
Spiritual wellness refers to a sense of interconnectedness or relationship to and with all life/Life (immanent and transcendent), as well as a sense of awe and appreciation for the mysteries of life/Life. Furthermore, spiritual (or existential) wellness relates to the meaning and purpose derived from contributing to ideals or causes beyond the self (e.g., justice, peace, and sustainability). Social wellness refers to one’s ability to have and maintain healthy adult relationships in all areas of life (e.g., intimate, family, work, and community). Also, social wellness refers to a sense of belonging in the world as well as the capacity to engage in authentic, skillful, and constructive self-expression and communication. Environmental wellness refers to the overall quality and stability of one’s social and natural environments.
Furthermore, as highlighted in Wilber’s Integral Theory, the physical body can be viewed as three bodies, not one, which is also highly significant in an integrative leader-development framework. The three bodies are the gross body, the subtle body, and the causal body. The gross body or actual physical body includes all aspects of the body we typically think about—our skin, bones, muscles, systems, organs, tissues, cells, blood, etc.
The subtle body includes energies of the life force associated with human existence. Wilber’s AQAL associates the subtle body with dream states where earthly laws disintegrate. However, the energies of the subtle body are not limited to sleeping states. They are activated and alive in times of vision, inspiration, and creativity. Thus, although still not formally recognized by Western physiology, growing appreciation for and acceptance of subtle energies enlivens our being, as found in Eastern healing and religious traditions such as tai chi, yoga, and Hinduism. Furthermore, as other leadership writers have emphasized (e.g., Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, 2005 and Bruce Schneider, 2008), leaders who understand the role of subtle body energies will increase their potential for effectiveness, especially in the turbulent times of the 21st century.
The third body, the causal body aligns with deep sleep and an infinite openness, stillness, and formlessness or the Ground of Being. This is the body or state that the great mystics of the ages speak of, as expressed in the poem, “Expands His Being,” by Meister Eckhart (1260–1328):
All beings are words of God,—In Love Poems from God (Ladinsky, 2002)
His music, His art.
Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps in our souls.
Every act reveals God and expands His Being.
I know that may be hard to comprehend.
All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth of Himself.
Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;
I need to be silent for a while,
worlds are forming in my heart.
Thus, the three human bodies—gross, subtle, and causal—are highly relevant to this integrative leader-development framework, as addressed further throughout this book.
Note: This essay is an excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders” available on Amazon. An audiobook version is also available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.
Following a dynamic U.S. mid-term election that continues to unfold, the heart-breaking destruction and death from the worst wildfires the state of California has ever experienced, and the ongoing madness of the US national political scene, I read a news headline that prompted me to ask myself, “how can we free ourselves from the either/or thinking that has us trapped in a downward free fall?”
While an excellent article on the political landscape for Democrats in the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election, the headline, Midterm elections return Democrats to a debate over their 2020 presidential choice: Passion or pragmatism? (Matt Viser, November 10, 2018), illuminates the either/or thinking trap that limits humanity’s capacity to respond to the challenges of our times creatively.
We, Americans and all peoples, live in a complex and interconnected world. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as climate change, natural resource depletion, political corruption, growing inequality, mass extinction of species, global terrorism and numerous economic challenges, war, and world hunger.
Given the scale of our challenges, it is essential that we all join hands to address our collective problems. Unfortunately, America’s current political climate and tone are divisive and regressive. How can we overcome the toxic and dark forces to effectively respond to our challenges and usher in a positive future? Our religious traditions have called humanity to live in unity throughout the ages. For example:
- Christianity: God hath made of one blood all nations of men.
- Judaism: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
- Islam: All creatures are the family of God, and he is the most beloved of God who does most good unto His family.
- Hinduism: Human beings all are as head, arms, trunk, and legs unto one another.
And, in Taoism, the theme of unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, represented in the religious symbol itself, is fundamental.
With all this encouragement for unity from our religious traditions, where might we start to begin to unify? The American Heritage Dictionary defines unity as the arrangement of parts into a whole. Thus, to unify as a people and solve our most pressing global problems, we must first unify our thinking.
We cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created them. We must learn to see the world anew. Albert Einstein
Unified thinking requires us to move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking. Actualizing this third way of thinking about and responding to the challenges before us – shifting from fragmented parts to an interconnected whole – -is the evolutionary imperative of the 21 Century, which does not mean everything is equal. It is not. Both/and thinking requires discernment of breadth and depth. How inclusive and how deep?
Much has been written about this urgent need to move from either/or to both/and thinking (i.e., from fragmented parts to wholes)- thereby expanding our thinking and creating comprehensive frameworks to guide our lives. A few such authors include Hazel Henderson, Fritjof Capra, Buckminster Fuller, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Duane Elgin, and Ken Wilbur.
Ken Wilbur, one of the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, has written over a dozen books, including, A Spectrum of Consciousness; A Brief History of Everything; and Up from Eden. He developed a unified field theory of consciousness, a synthesis, and interpretation of the world’s great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. Wilbur refers to his approach as Integral which is synonymous with the concept of unified thinking. In his Integral Theory, he identifies four essential quadrants of reality and argues that we must integrate the truths of all four quadrants to solve our most urgent social problems and fulfill our potential. In other words, each quadrant is only a part of the whole. Standing alone, each quadrant is incomplete.
The essential message is that we face unprecedented and complex challenges to our quality of lives and the lives of future generations. We will not and cannot successfully overcome these challenges with the same fragmented thinking that created them. Starting with our own lives, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help lead the essential shift from either/or to both/and thinking at every level of society. Three areas that beg for unified thinking are reason and faith; the economy and the natural environment, and the individual and the common good (To be continued).