A Conversation with Ken Wilber
By Jo Doyle, May 2005
This conversation was conducted as part of an international research tour into world class executive education and business schools ‘best practice’. The meeting with Ken Wilber allowed for an understanding of his perspective on:
a. what an Integral Leader looks like
b. what an Integral organisation looks like
c. Integral coaching
Characteristics of an Integral Leader:
An Integral leader is someone who is at the yellow or turquoise 2nd tier level of development (?), whether they understand this consciously or not. Ken suggests that there are very few leaders at 2nd tier who are consciously aware of how they are in the world as a yellow or turquoise leader. He suggests that the majority are currently leading intuitively and by providing these leaders with an All Quadrant, All Level (AQAL) map of an Integral perspective, they would be better equipped to consciously step into the role as a more effective leader embracing all aspects of leadership.
However, Ken cautions that there are leaders who may appear to be at the yellow level through their intellectual understanding of the presenting concepts which is necessary but not sufficient to be an authentic leader. He suggests that even though the cognitive understanding is there, this often runs one or two levels ahead of moral development. Therefore, the ‘talk’ is one thing but the person’s centre of gravity is in fact one or two levels below where their thinking lies. This imbalance eventually causes damage within the Self and the organisation as lack of respect for the leader will begin to emerge if the rhetoric and action are not aligned. Therefore, an Integral Leader is someone who is integrally informed about their development, that is, their cognitive and Self lines are essentially similar. Both are second tier, and the person has a conscious map of what it means to be second tier in development. Although encompassing all other levels, their interpersonal, moral, needs and ego development capacities are all at second tier. Essentially they are “walking the talk”, their words, behaviours, needs and understanding of Self and others are congruent and operating at the yellow or turquoise level. Furthermore an Integral Leader has a deep understanding of all levels that precede the yellow or turquoise and have the ability to influence interactions by changing behaviour and language to match the level of the person with whom the communication is taking place. An interesting example was cited where leaders of red, blue, orange, green, and yellow levels were all placed in the same room to discuss a common issue. Upon leaving the room each person found some reason why they did not like the other participants except for the yellow leader. All the other leaders had no distinct feeling or opinion towards this person.
When asked who is doing it (Integral theory) well, Wilber cited Rhodes and Corralis “The Congruent Leader” as a very good interpretation/application of the integral theory with an expansion of further ideas.???
Characteristics of an Integral Organisation:
First and foremost an Integral organisation has an Integral president or CEO, someone who has a conscious map of the yellow or turquoise level and is living the values of the 2nd tier level. This person has an understanding or map of human nature that takes into account the AQAL map when setting up all aspects of the organisation. Therefore an Integral organisation is crafted from the beginning. The structure of the organisation is not necessarily that different from the norm, the significant difference lies with the people and how they are viewed. For example, by employing upper management who are already 2nd tiered and giving them an AQAL map:
allows them to consciously understand their people from a more integrated perspective
provides them with the terminology for what they have been doing intuitively as a leader.
creates more clarity which leads to better judgement and decision making.
is as good as having an understanding of the typology of an employee as it enables a leader to change language in order to interact at the level of the person at hand.
An Integral organisation also makes certain things explicit in their values, mission statement, expectations and way of operating that would not be found in a ‘normal’ organisation.
A further significant difference is in the hiring practices of the organisation. The implementation of an assessment tool to produce a AQAL psychograph of each employee enables a more comprehensive matching of employee to position. This ensures:
the employees are compatible with the tasks, skills and competencies required of them
the employees are compatible with the immediate team members and overall working environment
the employees are compatible with the values of the organisation
This provides a significant benefit for HR placements as well as creating a congruent and aligned match between the individual’s values and the values of the organisation. On a more macro level, Wilber cited two references to works related to
1. Christianson – “Disruptive Technologies”
2. Geoffrey Moore – Looks at four different types of companies at the blue, orange, green and yellow level.
From Wilber’s perspective, he believes that there are three elements that underpin the process of coaching.
1. Consent of the person – there can only be forward movement if the individual is a willing participant in the coaching relationship. It is a possibility that over a period of time an unwilling individual may come to value the coaching experience however this is not a given nor the ideal scenario for a positive, beneficial coaching relationship that generates change.
2. Time – the coaching relationship creates the most substantial change over a period of time therefore the individual must be willing to dedicate time and energy into the process, including committing to homework agreed upon by the two parties, that is the stimulus for change in the person’s life. Without the time commitment, it is highly likely that very little significant change will take place.
3. Cross training – greater gains can be found if training is conducted simultaneously across several developmental areas such as cognition, physical fitness, emotional understanding and behaviour. Three areas cross trained simultaneously result in a higher degree of improvement however research has shown that a person who is practicing Transcendental Meditation and weight lifting in the same period experience more dramatic benefits than someone who is participating solely in one medium. Thus the integral, transformative practice of cross training is a multimodal approach to facilitating change within an individual as long as the two criteria mentioned above are present in the process.
Further to the success of integral coaching is for the coach to have an understanding of the AQAL map and use it to determine a generalised map of the level at which the individual is functioning. To determine the psychograph, development typology can be ascertained through the use of assessment tools such as the MBTI, the Enneagram, and 360 degree feedback for example. Understanding defence mechanisms can also lead to a general determination of levels by identifying something that the person excels in and something that the person continues to sabotage in their life. Clarifying the level of an individual then creates a basis of understanding of their centre of gravity and allows the coach to shift their own way of being to fully complement the individual. The ability of the coach also depends on where the coach’s centre of gravity lies. A coach at the orange level will interact well with all clients at the same level and below but will find it difficult to coach an individual that has a centre of gravity above that of orange. An integral coach has the ability to change their language to whatever level the client is at. Furthermore, as with the integral leader, an integral coach is someone who’s cognitive and self line are congruent – they are ‘walking the talk’ and ‘know thy self’. Wilber suggests that it is preferable that the coach has a psychology background and, if not, exhibit a deep understanding of human behaviour. Essentially, by giving an individual the tools to strengthen their gifts, the coaching relationship is invaluable.
About the Author
Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD in Leadership and Organisational Development. Learn more at Integral Development