Introduction Adrian Underhill’s informative and provocative article, Learning Leadership and ELT Today, raises many crucial points in the current debate about leadership, its nature, and relevance to education, business, and politics. It may well be argued that the search for appropriate forms of leadership is the single major challenge facing the world today for all the reasons Adrian mentions, and more.
While agreeing with much of what Adrian has written, I’d like to look at the nature of leadership from some additional perspectives. In particular, to offer the idea that rather than there being ‘a new paradigm for leadership,’ there are various effective paradigms for leadership, not all of which are new or necessarily need changing. The paradigm that Adrian offers of ‘leader of leaders,’ and ‘leadership as partnership’ is a fine concept, but it begs the questions: “Is everybody ready for this?” and “Does everybody want this?” I want to look at the journey that needs to be made so that this can become a reality.
Where I absolutely agree with Adrian’s thinking is the idea that leadership – in whatever form - should allow every person to contribute and participate in ways that make sense to them, and that attention be paid to their personal development as much as to their professional development. There needs to be a healthy interrelationship between work skills, technology and infrastructure, organisational culture, and personal consciousness. 1 This is as true for educational institutions as it is for the workplace.
However, I suggest that there are many different types of leadership, and that the key question is which type of leadership is appropriate for which groups of people in which particular contexts, and that what is appropriate leadership in one context or with one particular group of people, may be completely inappropriate in other contexts and with other groups. We do not live in a one-size-fits-all, flatland, world. 2
A useful starting point is the following metaphor: Farmers don’t grow crops; they create conditions in which crops can grow. This seems to me to be the essence of empowering leadership, suggesting that the crops are not passive but have an active part to play as well as the farmer. The best leaders ensure that the environment is healthy, appropriate, and that everything in it can thrive whatever its particular requirements. Within this environment people can develop at their own pace, in ways that make sense to them. Leaders don’t lead people; they create conditions in which people can thrive.
Not all individuals, groups, communities, organisations, cultures, and nations are at the same level of development. Any flatland approach to leadership is doomed to fail. Development is vertical as well as horizontal. The differing and uneven conditions in which the human species lives gives rise to different coping strategies through which people can survive within their milieu. Compare the different expectations and attitudes of a child growing up in an inner city ‘jungle’ to those of a child growing up in an affluent suburb. Compare the expectations of a child in bourgeois Paris to one in brutalised Fallujah.
Life conditions are dictated by five principal factors: 3
The geographical place: the physical conditions, natural or man-made in which we live and the habitat it offers, eg urban jungle or Saharan cave dwelling.
Historical epoch: a culture’s stage of emergence, eg 21st century Rome or 16th century Kabul.
Human problems: our requirements for existence and survival, eg is there electric supply 24 hours a day or clean water from a tap?
Societal circumstances: our placement within hierarchies of power, status, and influence which differ from society to society, and within societies
Biological factors: the innate codes and potentials with which every child enters this world; no two people respond in exactly the same way to the same conditions
Each of these five factors gives rise to the development in people of thinking and valuing systems appropriate for the conditions in which they live. When the conditions change, their valuing and thinking systems may change to accommodate, and new strategies will need to be developed to cope with the new challenges. Nevertheless, each different set of valuing and thinking systems requires different styles of leadership, and this is as true for schools and classes, and the methodological approaches they utilise, as it is for political systems, business organisations, and families.
Values, Complexity, and Emergence
One way to think about appropriate leadership is to recognise developing trends in complexity of social organisation. In fact, this can be noticed in the development of individuals just as much as in societies and cultures. As conditions of life become more complex, our coping strategies must become more sophisticated in order to deal with this complexity. What emerges is a natural hierarchy of complexity in thinking and values where each level is interdependent with all previous levels. None are better or worse, just appropriate.
One particular model of leadership which I have found useful suggests the existence of seven [+] levels of development at which leadership needs to operate, where each of the levels functions at an incrementally more sophisticated level of social, economic, cultural, and political complexity.4 Thus what the group or individual values will determine the appropriate style of leadership.
Where the individual/group values:
The style of leadership will be:
Survival from moment to moment
1. Instinctual: a caretaker
Belonging, bonding, knowing who we are, sense of ‘tribe’
2. Paternalistic: a caring parent, chief, or shaman
Egoic/heroic self expression; surviving in a ‘jungle’
3. Autocratic: the tough and respected boss; the strong one
Stability, structure, self-discipline, obeying the rule of law; following the ‘one true way’
4. Authoritarian: the properly qualified leader, the Teacher
Applying knowledge to get ahead, exploit available resources to achieve a better life
5. Strategic: the smart operator who knows and exploits the ways of the world, plays to win, and rewards success
Inclusiveness, a society of equals in which all humans can share earth’s benefits
6 Consensual: a facilitator who promotes participative leadership through which all are consulted and ‘wealth’ is shared
Complexity: the systemic relationship between all sentient beings; the need to preserve the deep ecology of the whole planet
7. Integral: the leader[s] who can bring the best out of all the previous levels, and recognise their contribution, and their right to be who they are
Reality is of course more complex than this, and many communities are in transition between one of these levels and the next. And in many communities - such as classrooms, families, organisations, and nations - individuals may be at different levels in the depth and sophistication of their thinking. The model is a metaphor, as all models are, and a useful way of testing theory against experience.
What do these levels mean in practice and where might we experience them? 5
General: Trauma victims; intensive care units
Education: Individuals need psychological help,
medicine, and should not be in the classroom
Inward looking groups
General: Gangs, tribes, football fans, clubs, families
Politics: Chiefs, shamans chosen from within group
Education: Primary education; rituals, group activities
General: Dog eat dog societies; lawlessness
Politics: Tough leader ruling through strength & fear
Education: Some 2 education; test boundaries, who
controls the classroom? Short activities
General: Societies ruled by law, ethics, and religion
Education: Acquire knowledge for personal advancement;
use hi-tech tools, computers, etc
General: Societies governed through consensus
Politics: Participative leadership, social democracies
[The Netherlands, Scandinavia]
Education: Acquire knowledge for collective advancement;
focus on social issues, participative learning
7. Functional systems
General: Interconnectedness of all life forms and systems
Politics: Just emerging. The Third Way? Democracy one
choice among many. Value competence and
knowledge above collective ignorance.
Education: Flexible & flowing. Can adjust to work with all
previous levels and styles in ways they need
So what does this mean for leadership?
It means that effective modern leadership needs to be adaptable and flexible, to have the breadth and sensitivity to apply different strategies for leading, influencing and motivating. It needs to bear in mind that no leader can change or motivate anyone directly. People will only change and get motivated according to their perceived need to change, and their desire to move towards things they value within their own worldview.
However, we can identify three types of leader. If we think of the above seven levels of complexity as waves of development, we can recognise the following leadership approaches.
The Wave Leader who operates at the same level as the group s/he leads. She is in tune with their values, needs, and desires. She knows exactly how they think and how they get motivated. She gets the best out of them because she understands them. This type of Leader is important when individuals, groups, and organisations are perfectly suited to their milieu.
The Change Leader who is perhaps half a step ahead of the group on the journey towards greater complexity. If they are at Level 3, he is navigating the territory between Levels 3 and 4. He understands their issues and can support and guide them in making the necessary transitions. This Leader is important when individuals, groups, and organisations need to adapt to greater challenges and complexities in their environment.
The Integral Leader who has evolved to Level 7 thinking and can handle both complexity and the dynamic relations that exist between all the previous waves of development. The Level 7 leader recognises the interdependence of each of the levels and creates an environment where all can contribute in their own ways, and in which they can develop as and when they are ready to. This is the Leader as Farmer referred to earlier. This type of leader is highly desirable in complex systems where people are centred at many different levels.
The problem is that very few people are developed to this level of systemic thinking and operating. Another problem is that a lot of people would like to think that they are. We should certainly want to develop people to this level but it will take time since people have to pass through each of the levels sequentially, as each level teaches the codes essential to develop to the next level. As an example, this writer spends much of his life moving between levels 3, 4, and 5. He can comprehend Level 7 intellectually, but he is certainly not yet living it.
Level 6 Inclusive Leadership
Another problem is Level 6 leadership. This worldview often refuses to recognise the existence of levels at all. To many at Level 6 everyone is equal, and should be treated equally. This would be great in a perfect world where everyone can be caring and sharing. But we live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. As Lawrence Kohlberg has suggested: ‘Every human being has equal rights, but everything they say and do is not of equal value.” 6
Anyone who has worked in a tough inner city school knows that before any successful teaching can be done, deep seated needs at Levels 3 and 4 have to be met. A teacher may have to establish assertively where power is centred, and create a stable, secure, fair and safe environment where learning can take place. Only once Level 4 is established can a student begin to access the codes for higher level operation. In addition, each different level requires different methodologies for success. Broadly speaking, Levels 2 – 4 require more teacher centred approaches, Levels 5 & 6, more learner centred approaches, Level 7 more autonomous learning.
Perhaps I should make it clear that teacher centred does not mean in the interests of the teacher. The child and his or her development remains central to the process of educating. The teacher’s role is to hold the space through which each child can progress as complexity develops in its cognitive, moral, affective, kinaesthetic, linguistic, somatic, interpersonal, spiritual, etc. lines. This means that the teacher as leader needs to be flexible and adaptive, and to have a range of strategies suitable for children at different stages of their development. [Piaget made this point too.] The most important thing is that the teacher and staff need to have a clear understanding of child development and a clear vision of what a progressing and well-formed education is
Thus, the nature of the teacher’s interventions at Levels 3 or 4 will be very different from Level 6. One of the dangers is that certain teachers who operate out of a Level 6 [or 5] values system may want to impose their own values on children who need different methodologies. Of course, you also find teachers operating out of Levels 3 or 4 who attempt to impose their favoured methodologies on students operating out of Level 6 with equally unsatisfactory results.
As an aside, an effective way to challenge Level 6 flatland thinking is to ask whether they think George Bush’s grasp of complexity is the same as theirs. ! Incidentally, Level 6 consistently underestimates GW’s street-smart intelligence. He is a Wave Leader, perfectly in tune with the Level 4 values of Middle America.
Natural Hierarchies of Sustainability
Level 6 has a deep distaste for hierarchies [which is what the levels are]. But this is based on the mistaken assumption that all hierarchies are bad, as indeed some are. But our planet is based on natural hierarchies of complexity without which life would not be possible. Such hierarchies are life giving and sustaining. The hierarchies are interdependent and each makes an important contribution in its own way. As an example, take the relationship between atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, ecosystem, biosphere. The relationship is one of embrace, each more complex level literally embraces the other and holds its integrity. Notice that if you destroy a lower level of hierarchy, for example cells, all the higher levels will also be destroyed.
This is why the move towards Level 7 leadership is so important because it recognises the value and contribution of each system, and can understand and mediate the conflicts that arise between them. It recognises that development is like a ship passing through a flight of locks. It can only go through the locks sequentially, moving on only when each stage has been satisfactorily negotiated. Level 6 on the other hand doesn’t recognise the stages and may become easily disappointed when people operating out of ego-centric Level 3 fail to ‘care and share.’ In such cases, Level 6 may resort to blaming the ‘system,’ failing to recognise that personal responsibility and recognition of others is developed mainly at socio-centric Level 4.
Keeping Development Open & Flowing
Thus good leadership recognises that it is essential to allow people to be who they are at their own level, and to move upwards [or downwards] when they are ready to do so. Excellent leadership needs to recognise what are healthy behaviours that help keep the systemic relationships open and flowing, and what are unhealthy behaviours that seek to restrict people or force them into doing things they are not ready for.
Co-operative working; group activities
Fatalistic; sacrificial; exclusive
Creative; testing boundaries; ego celebration
Aggressiveness; domination; bullying
Self discipline, structure, law abiding
Rigid; authoritarian; rule bound
Apply knowledge; push laws of reason; improve material conditions
Participative; caring; compassionate; justice for all
Devalue complexity; devalue task and competence; smugness; meanness
Deep ecology; concern for complex interrelationship of all living things
The good news is that even if we are not Level 7 leaders ourselves, if we are ‘healthy’ and open to development then we can make sure we work with people who do have more complexity than ourselves. Many of the greatest leaders have been people who were not the most skilful in all technical applications of their work, but were the ones who were able to identify the best people and build effective relationships between them for the good of the whole. 7
An orchestral conductor is a good metaphor for this type of leader. S/he is not necessarily the best violinist or trombonist, but knows how to get the best sound from the ensemble. The conductor operates through the participation and consent of the individuals in the group to achieve the desired results. In fact the etymology of the word conductor can trace its roots to the Latin conducere: ‘to lead together.’ However, in certain contexts conducere could mean ‘to serve’. The concept of the servant leader, it appears, has been around at least 2000 years.
Two final things that I would like to take up from Adrian’s article are the heroic and post-heroic labels; and the male – female division. Heroic leadership [that is Level 3 leadership in my model] is perfectly valid when it is appropriate. And there are plenty of examples from history and contemporary events which clearly prove that women are capable of heroic acts of leadership. I would also suggest that post-heroic leadership is too general a term. There are different kinds of leadership emerging after the heroic phase, and once again their effectiveness depends upon their relevance and appropriateness to the situation, their match with the people and value systems involved, and the intended results.
Having said that, it is certainly the case that Levels 3 through 5 favour leadership as an expression of maleness, indeed a desirable attribute of maleness. Women can and do succeed here, but they have to demonstrate the leadership qualities that these levels value. Level 3 respects toughness and strength. Level 4 favours leaders in the image of the Maker, and gods in monotheistic cultures tend to be male; male dominance is frequently interpreted as God’s law in fundamentalist societies. [Not fair I know, but that’s the dominant value system.] Level 5 is achievist and whoever can deliver the goods is acceptable. Here women begin to re-emerge in leadership positions but they have a tough task and often have to behave more like men in their aggressiveness and competitiveness than the men themselves.
I say re-emerge because in pure Level 2 societies women and men were traditionally respected equally and shared leadership positions. World-centric Level 6 respects equality and places emphasis on relationship rather than task where – according to most psychological types inventories – most women score higher than men. At Level 6, equal opportunities legislation ensures women, minorities etc., take more leadership roles whether they are ready for them or not. And, of course, as more women and minority groups do succeed in leadership roles, and as Life Conditions continue to change, the definition of leadership also begins to change.
Level 7 makes no distinction between gender, colour, culture, educational background, class, or any other immaterial factor. Whoever is competent forms the leadership core.
So wherever you are in your journey of emergence through the levels of complexity, what can you do to communicate effectively with everybody, and engage in various forms of leadership with others, in appropriate ways, regardless of their level of emergence?
Three Givens for Relationship Building
First, demonstrate politeness and respect. People have the right to be who they are.
Second, seek to develop open and trusting relationships where you say what you want in the way you want it. Actively listen and respond to what others have to say, and don’t run hidden agendas.
Third, demonstrate full responsibility for everything you do and say. Every level responds well to personal integrity.
Seven Qualities of Leadership
In my recent book on leadership and motivation, 8 I identify 7 essential attitudes and ways of being for leaders. These seven qualities seem to me to be central to the art and science of sensitive, responsive leadership. They offer the possibility of a partnership-fit with people at each of the different valuing and thinking levels. When partnership-fit exists, leaders will get active, open, participation rather than stubborn resistance or passivity. They are:
The Integral Leader – the leaders able to see the whole context from multiple perspectives; they recognise the need for both professional and personal development in individuals, and that these must be appropriate to the existing cultures, values, and infrastructures. 9
The Pragmatic Leader – the leaders who can connect the bigger picture to the practical requirements of day-to-day implementation
The Present and Aware Leader – the leaders who see the world as it really as, not as they would like it to be, and respond accordingly
The Leader who demonstrates Integrity – the leaders whose behaviours, skills, values, beliefs, sense of identity, and vision are completely aligned and support the talk they walk
The Leader who takes Personal Responsibility – the leaders who recognise that personal responsibility is liberating and empowering; and that blame only serves to make one a victim to external circumstances
The Contributing Leader – the leaders who are more concerned with giving than taking, whose attention is on the development of their organisation rather than their own personal aggrandisement
The Leader as Change Agent – the leaders who make change possible, and when it is appropriate sponsor it, support it, and when necessary provoke it
A final metaphor on leadership.
Many years ago my friend Christopher was a junior manager at Yorkshire Water Company. He was asked by his line manager to visit a senior engineer at his home in Huddersfield. Chris knocked on the door and was invited in. “Would you like a cup of tea?” the engineer asked. While Chris waited for the kettle to boil in the kitchen, he looked out of the back window expecting to see a garden. Instead he saw row upon row of fish tanks, stacked one on top of the other, each filled with a different species of fish. “I didn’t know you kept fish,” said Chris. “Nay lad,” replied the old engineer, “I don’t keep fish, I keep water.” Now that’s great leadership, if you think about it.
1 Wilber K A Theory of Everything Gateway, 2001