This Week’s Mindful Living & Leading Reflection

An Integrative Leader Development Framework for the 21st Century

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.

Ken Wilber, American Philosopher

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,
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.

—In Love Poems from God (Ladinsky, 2002)

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.

Ten Developmental Themes Audiobook Excerpts Now Available on my New YouTube Channel!

Greetings! I am excited to share that excerpts from the new audiobook version of Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders are now available on my new YouTube Channel. I invite you to check one of my first offerings:


More Integrative or Balanced Leadership: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

tao symbolWhile there is no universal definition of leadership, popular definitions often include a reference to power and influence that shape or inform others’ thinking and acting. In Western societies, particularly the United States, leadership is highly associated with traditional masculine qualities such as assertion, control, achievement, competition, and material success. In other words, leaders are typically rewarded for doing.

In contrast, in the United States, traditional feminine qualities such as receptivity, cooperation, relationship-orientation, humility, and harmony have historically been deemphasized in leadership and the workplace. While this is starting to change (i.e., the growing recognition of the importance of these qualities in leadership effectiveness), the emphasis is still overwhelmingly on doing.

Consequently, today’s organizational manager-leaders report long hours and high demands that leave them overstretched, depleted, and disconnected. Consequently, the modern organizational manager-leader often lives an extremely unbalanced life with work consuming most of their days (and nights) with minimal time available for self-care, family time, spiritual renewal, or community engagement.

Overtime, this takes an immense toll on manager-leaders on many levels as they start “killing the goose” as illustrated in the wisdom of the Aesop Fable, The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg:

A man had a hen that laid a golden egg for him each and every day. The man was not satisfied with this daily profit, and instead he foolishly grasped for more. Expecting to find a treasure inside, the man slaughtered the hen. When he found that the hen did not have a treasure inside her after all, he remarked to himself, ‘While chasing after hopes of a treasure, I lost the profit I held in my hands!’

Ideally, manager-leaders make positive life changes before “slaughtering the hen.” Unfortunately, it often takes a significant crisis before a manager-leader recognizes the self-destructive path she/he is on. However, the first developmental theme of the mindful leaders in my study indicates that the growing interest in and practice of mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) by an increasing numbers of manager-leaders is resulting in a potential shift toward greater balance in their approach to leadership as depicted in the following example.

I guess another thing that changed for me is I’m starting to kind of shift my views on decision-making.  And, so I mean that’s the primary role of a leader, right, is to make decisions about certain things.  And I used to sit there and agonize, ‘Oh, well, what’s the right decision?  What’s going to, you know, satisfy this criterion or, you know, make this person happy or, you know, achieve this goal or whatever?’  And I still kind of do that, but now I’m shifting a little bit more towards letting go of that process a little bit.  It’s not that I don’t make a decision.  It’s that I see the decision as kind of emerging on its own, which is a little bit strange, but again, it ties back to that aspect of, you know, the not sell or, you know, not (over) identifying. (Middle manager and academic in higher education)

Thus, a more integrated or balanced leadership style was the first and most represented theme of the mindful leaders studied followed by greater self-regulation, the topic of my next blog essay.

This essay is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders with a projected publication of December 2017.