This is an attempt at an auto-ethnographic view of leadership, grounded in the organisational theory that has inspired my past and current work, and bringing in a little of the philosophical material that has helped me make sense of my life, and perhaps most importantly, the insights arising from moving beyond a mono-ontological/cultural view.
In my life, and especially in my relationship and with my children, the need to understand other cultures has led me through the most medicinal processes, despite feeling anything but when caught in the tension. My deep questioning of my cultures started with being half German in a UK school – I denied my German roots to myself for many years (very subtly, which I can only see in looking back).
Through both my unusual upbringing (Steiner school and Anthroposophy), as well as through my travels and experiences of other cultures, I have found the questions asked of oneself and what one does as a matter of course, are not easy to work through. It has been fatherhood, and integrating the Afro-Arab culture of my wife that has led me to really experience the truth in Jung’s idea of cultural shadow, which is redemptive, rather than blaming.
My work setting up and running Fusion helped me to live out both my own personal leadership development, as well as to see what works and what doesn’t in a larger organisational context. What has become clear to me is that there is something far more fundamental and universal at play than bad leaders, though awareness of one’s leadership ‘style’, it’s strengths and limitations is I think part of the responsibility of being in a leadership position.
For example in business, there is a direct causal link between leadership development and shareholder value (which also goes through employee fulfilment and customer satisfaction). If we then look at the leadership development, we see that the higher you go up the developmental leadership competencies, the more facilitative and non-directive (in a egoic sense) the leadership consciousness is, leading to ‘Self transforming, inter-independent’ modes of thinking/practice, whose role is to curate, co-design, and bring collective insight to the service of the organisation – to grow a community of practice.
Cross cultural interaction
Understanding oneself is absolutely key if one is to work with organisational/collective issues, and what is termed as hermeneutics is very well placed to help facilitate self-discovery and understanding of one’s own taken-for-granted reality. The added cautionary note that ‘The hermeneutic paradigm does not replace other paradigms; it complements and enriches them’ is important, and is for me summarised as integration, which I have been actively pursuing as reflexive practice since I first came across integral theory over a decade ago.
An important element in shining lights on our taken-for-granted assumptions, which relates to both micro (internal/personal) and macro (external/collective/inter-personal) development, is the idea of collective cultural shadows/complexes, which can only be seen once one is able to view one’s culture from ‘the outside’, (which I would say is enabled by truly understanding other’s).
For example (and I am grossly oversimplifying this to try and express this in a couple of sentences), our Western culture on an archetypal level is heavily focused on development (which is I think ultimately a very good thing), but if one then sees all development in the context of one’s own culture, it’s easy to unwittingly dishonour the developments another culture that may have elements that ours is sorely lacking in. We are so often sure that we have found ‘the best way’ to do something, which works for a time, and then becomes stale and rigid, becoming the very thing that blocks progress. Ultimately I think other cultures can bring what our own lacks, and ours can offer new perspectives in return – but the starting point has to be true mutual respect – and people respond far more to behaviour, than espoused values.
Examining our own behaviour with the ruthlessness of a judge is key, and there is the key question of control. Is life a measurable, predictable set of phenomena that can be analysed and controlled, or is the human existence more healthily lived if approached as akin to the natural world – viewing things with a ‘learners stance’, witnessing the emergent self organising systems and sub-systems of phenomena that make up our world, inextricably interlinked, which centralised control systems ultimately cannot manage. There’s many ways one could go with this thought, but I’d like to keep a focus on the mismatch between espoused values, and behaviour as experienced from ‘the other(s) – the collective view.
This really applies most to those who are aware of the global issues, and who seek to live their life in contribution to a better future. There is more integrity in leadership that states its profit objectives and works towards this, than leadership that espouses grand values, yet behave in a controlling manner, or refuses to check out it’s own ‘behavioural back yard’.
Often people who espouse a moving away from the Modern control paradigm, exhibit behaviours that are far more controlling than they might be comfortable with – ‘few people are aware that the maps they use to take action are not the theories they explicitly espouse’.
The concept of ‘triple loop learning‘ can help break old cycles and find the solutions that lie outside the paradigm that created the issues. It is through humbly (and necessarily) acknowledging my own iterations of my cultural shadow, which for me seems to be epitomised by our tendency to view ourselves as somehow superior, in however subtle a way, that I have been able to better see the ‘gold’ that comes with the shadow – strategising, is for me good example of both most useful, and potentially most destructive elements of ‘developed’ cultures.
Real (by which I mean authentic/experienced/lived-in) knowledge of another culture also allows one to build bridges, and not only honour, but cherish the greater insights of diversity that is there in all cultures despite ignorance, prejudice or hegemony that might make different cultures seem inherently oppositional. New ‘social currencies’ formed around respect could be helpful – and we have many examples of these as living, perceivable phenomena in other cultures seen by some as backwards – one if which I have experienced in Pemba, that has also been studied.
Heshima serves as a symbol for the power of honour and respect that comes from displaying a track record of humility and integrity, rather than coercive power (Kamwangamalu 1999, McMahon 2006) – a pragmatic realisation that can be felt and accessed, but not grasped, controlled, or owned – much like ‘ubuntu’ it’s premise is ‘a person is a person through people’ (Karsten & Illa 2005, Nafhuko 2006 p408, McMahon 2006, Swartz & Davies 1997).
Issues are complex, and frameworks such as Integral and Spiral dynamics can help us to unpick these complexities with a new way of thinking, that doesn’t seek to blame, or lay ‘universal truths’ onto others, yet give the ability to understand the core dynamics of a given context.
Experiential knowledge combined with intuitively-guided academic and cognitive/intellectual/self-scientific research also in my view helps, but I think ‘ontological humility‘ is a must.
If I were to try and philosophically summarise this, I would say that (with my current understanding) I feel that somehow uncovering/sharing/learning/unlearning epistemologies as they arise in-context, and transforming our relationship to/with them, allows the experience of a more holistic, phenomenologically experienced, emergent, collective ontology. There are no concrete answers, rather deep questions arising from the ontological exploration, with the view that new ways of thinking are needed in this ever more complex and fast changing world – a rethinking of core assumptions , or a new ‘paradigm of complexity’.
Conclusion – weaving the threads
All this philosophising for me has to come back into the practical, otherwise, what’s the point. Food, music, entrepreneurship, organisations, theories, philosophies, stories, whether intellectual tools or arts, – all are forms of cultural bridges that allow cross-connection for a two way traffic of insights, and an emerging ‘collective insight‘ that is becoming more visible.
The external turmoil that ravages our World has long served as a core motivator for me, but what is changing is my relationship to it (from wrestling with my internal turmoil’s). An agenda of wanting to ‘improve’ from the point of view of improving what is ‘external’ to me, has died/is dying. What I seek to improve is myself, by engaging with life and the world – to the world I strive to bring love (partly through my professional work), free of agenda, but full of intention. The knower is receding as the chief, and the learner (which by default connects to others) is becoming the new facilitator of my development. Yet still, within all this love and communion, some fierce integrity, insightful agentic and dialectic tools, and undeniable facts are equally essential. An alchemical fusing of the most high tech, and the most ancient, through self-knowledge and integrity, utilising acquired wisdom submitted to love – humility, and the will to really listen to others. <another blog post exploring the topic of integrity here>
My experiences have shown me the absolute benefit of utilising technology (physical, social or intellectual), my interest which came about in me in part due to a backlash against the prevalent tendency within the Steiner community of resisting technology, business and academia. Thanks to a decade of studying/practising Integral theory I have been able to sift the baby from the bathwater – though it was all the wonderful people from the many cultures I’ve experienced who showed (through their embodied integrity and humility) the way that does not follow any external validations, but rather seeks to build bridges of shared insights starting with Self-knowledge – and this took me to see beyond dialectic thinking as a core base of ascertaining truth. What is before us is emergent, and as yet hard to define.
My upbringing gave me a fostered, natural aptitude for using hermeneutic tools of insight, as well as a resilience that I am grateful for beyond words, and it is to the the philosopher who has had the largest influence on my life that I will turn to in conclusion – The intuitive thinking Steiner lays out for me encapsulates the new kind of thinking that is required – a re-integration of thinking feeling and willing – clear insight employed from embodied feeling/love, in the moment when it is needed. His intuitive thinking needs to develop with the many insights that the other paradigms, disciplines, views and meta-views contribute, and like the ‘Western’ culture it’s from, to stop countering truths that come from a different base of assumptions (which is something I think he tried to make very clear). I am led to wonder if, ultimately, an archetypal tension that is most fundamental to modern Western cultures, is the tension between youth and wisdom – that which is emergent, enthusiastic, yet often blind, opposing what is established, experienced, yet often cold – we have a lack of connection between the young and the old, something that I have experienced as very different in some other ‘less developed’ cultures.
Another key one being perhaps the masculine/feminine agency/communion tension, but that would be another articles worth.
I am currently working freelance as an Organisation Development consultant, as well as facilitating workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though linkedin.