Evolutionary leadership and psychosynthesis
28 April 2016
We are running a three-day retreat in Southern France in September for organisational professionals and leaders, that brings together the topics of evolutionary leadership and psychosynthesis. Anyone who has come across Frederic Laloux’s research into evolutionary organisations and is interested in how we can speed up the development of evolutionary leaders might want to come. This is also for any psychosynthesis practitioners who are interested in exploring the role that this psycho-spiritual psychology might play in transforming organisations and developing leaders.
I want to use this post to expand upon these themes a little further, as they are central to my purpose and passion for working in the field of leadership coaching.
If you are an active member of APECS it will have been difficult to miss the buzz around Laloux’s work over the last year of so. Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organizations’ was published in 2014 and he can be seen speaking about it on You Tube, for example at this packed event at the RSA hosted by Matthew Taylor. Laloux’s work has been endorsed by the likes of Ken Wilber, Robert Kegan, Bill Torbert and Richard Barrett and has inspired the emergence of forums such as Enlivening Edge that is exploring the gap between where most organisation are today and what they can become if reinvented along evolutionary principles.
I have already written extensively about Laloux and his model elsewhere including in this blog and in the recently published ‘Value Creation in the Pharmaceutical Industry’ (Chapter 19 ‘The Influence of Leadership Paradigms and Styles on Pharmaceutical Innovation’). However, I will briefly reiterate here why I think Laloux’s work is so important and relevant to leaders and coaches alike; Laloux’s model of leadership paradigms (itself drawing upon Ken Wilber’s and Jenny Wade’s meta analyses of models of human development) presents a developmental perspective which is dynamic, accessible and grounded in well researched case stories, and thus stands a fair chance of gaining some traction in mainstream organisational thinking and practice.
As more and more people becoming familiar with this developmental perspective, the notion of the ‘evolutionary’ (or ‘teal’) paradigm is beginning to become established. To my mind this is crucial, because many of the serious problems and challenges we are facing in organisations (and society in general) cannot be adequately understood (and then addressed with creative solutions) without the benefit of a developmental lens. Fortunately, there does seem to be an emerging groundswell of creative thinking around how to transform organisations from this perspective. Two main tracks are being followed – one is how to transform or create evolutionary organisations (e.g. with approaches like Holocracy) and the other is how to develop evolutionary leaders. Laloux acknowledges that the chances of creating an evolutionary organisation are slim unless the leader(s) at the top are developed enough (and also have enlightened owners to whom they are accountable), but he leaves it at that. This is where psychosynthesis coaching and other approaches that work with inner development can come in.
Psychosynthesis is a powerful depth and height psychology that provides a language and grammar for working with both being and becoming, thus creating a space for the leader’s emergent self, helping activate the will and freeing growth towards both self-actualisation and self-realisation. The nuances around the role of the coach are important here – Laloux is right to say that leaders develop from within and not through external agency, and within this context the coach is seeking to enable or partner this internal development if the potential, desire and will is there. As coaches, we know that every involvement in a leader’s development can be important and valuable, at whatever level, evolutionary or otherwise (although different coaches will tend to be suited to helping leaders at different overall stages of development). The mystery of the self, the complexity of our personalities and the unpredictability of how development happens means that all we can do is work with what is present. Psychosynthesis helps us to become aware and work with the full spectrum of what is present, both conscious and unconscious in all dimensions and at all levels.
For example, a critical piece of work I am currently doing with a leader involves resolving control and ego issues that keep his autocratic style dominant in his behaviour. This involves surfacing inner hero narratives and repeating family patterns that are held deeply within the subconscious. As the need to be the hero and maintain control diminish, because this leader is already well developed in many other aspects, this releases their capacity to create the context for an evolutionary organisation that is aligned by purpose and embraces wholeness. In a different organisation I worked with similar ego and control issues with a leader who was unlikely to ever lead an evolutionary organisation – but in this case he let go of needing to be and do everything, found his best role within the organisation and brought in a different kind of leader to work alongside him to take the organisation forwards.
The other theme we want to explore at the September retreat is how to make psychosynthesis more accessible as a psychology that can help with the challenges touched on above. Partly this is about language (using words that don’t turn off the modern, pragmatic, performance-oriented organisational world – and I know that with my theoretical leaning I am a worst offender here!) But it is also about the therapeutic culture and biases within the psychosynthesis community and the way it has evolved since Assagioli’s day. I am looking to create a bridge between different worlds here that allows this rich and powerful psychology to be engaged with by more people who are supporting the inner development of leaders and working to transform organisations and society. We hope to start a dialogue around this at the International Psychosynthesis conference in Taormina in June – how can Psychosynthesis be brought to bear on the today’s most pressing organisational and societal challenges? Can we bring psychosynthesis out of the psycho-therapeutic, alternative, marginalised shadows? How can we shift the emphasis away from just healing the deeply wounded or engaging the spiritually aware, towards the development of fully functioning ‘healthy neurotics’ and self-actualising leaders who can potentially make a difference to so many other people? I am not sure of the answer, but I look forward to the dialogue. If anything in this piece resonates and you are interested in joining our retreat in September, please get in touch.