Integrating Plurality Research Paper

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This research-paper provides perspectives on a more integral understanding of practice and theory of leadership and organization. Based on a critical overview of the fragmented contexts of practices and research of organization and leadership, an integral framework with specific multidimensional and interrelated spheres will be outlined. The task of this integral perspective is to bring together many of the core practical domains and theoretical positions for enacting and understanding the activities of organizing and managing. Furthermore, the integral orientation emphasizes the developmental potentials of organizations, members, leaders, and leadership in general. Finally, theoretical and methodological implications of an integral metatheorizing for leadership and organization studies and practices are discussed.


An organization can be metaphorically construed as a great “house” where the residents share and quarrel, work together, and lead each other toward common goals. In this specific lifeworld of the organization, members are involved and engaged, managing and performing their tasks and jobs, and developing social relations in various realities through many different experiences Unfortunately, organizations are also sites of dislocation, where many of their members do not feel “at home.” With the rapid and unexpected workplace changes of the past decades, involving so many renovations and restorations, many have lost their sense of belonging to that house. Members of organizations often have the impression that their everyday world of work is a collection of isolated fragments, without any shared meaning or overarching coherence. This situation is mirrored in the theoretical research into organizations and their leadership. As a theoretical building, the house of organization and leadership studies might also be characterized by fragmented specialization. From a metatheoretical perspective, we can see a prevailing fragmentation that is bound to particularized ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions and orientations. All of this results in a kind of sectarianism, where the various schools and paradigms of leadership and organization theory live in their separate rooms and do not frequently converse with each other. The state of affairs in the lifeworlds of organization and leadership mirrors and is part of the societal context. Likewise, organization and leadership/management theory, as a general discourse, reflects and is related to major trends that have recently emerged in the social sciences.

Bringing the house “in order,” and governing it in an integrative way, refers to the genuine task of “economics.” Originating from the Greek for “oiKoq” (“oikos”: house) and “v |aoq” (“nomos”: custom or law), hence “rules of the household,” economics refers to the knowledge about appropriate “household” governance. How can we find our way in our house with its many rooms? How can we use the different rooms? How can we feel “at home” in them? How can we develop a more integrative understanding of, and practice within, the household of organization and leadership? The following does not focus on particular organizational topics, but instead reflects the generation and status of practice and theory itself as an “object.” It aims to open up new possibilities for a more comprehensive framework for conceptualizing organizations and leadership. It does not claim to solve all inconclusive problems and quandaries; it proposes an integral understanding and approach for organization and leadership theory and practice. The term integral here refers to the “completeness” of a comprehensive and inclusive approach, in which the constituent “parts” and “wholes” of and within leadership and organization are not fragmented nor reduced to each other. In an integral orientation, micro-, meso-, and macrodimensions, as well as their interrelations, are brought together. Thus, briefly stated, integral means bringing together and strategically linking apparently contradictory or seemingly divergent perspectives, concepts, and practices to create a realistic, workable, and dynamic understanding and practice. Based on the groundwork of past and present contributions to organization and leadership practice and discourse, the integral approach, as proposed in the following, serves as a kind of “working philosophy.” With this orientation, the fields of inquiry into organization and leadership phenomena can be explored and disclosed in a more comprehensive way. First, we present an overview of the fragmented contexts of practices and research of organization and leadership. Second, we outline an integral framework covering the multidimensional spheres involved. Third, we describe a developmental model of leaders and leadership, and of organizational members and organizations. Finally, we discuss some theoretical and methodological implications of an integral perspective for the future of leadership and organization theory and practice.

Contexts Of Organization And Leadership Practice And Theory

The Fragmented Status of Practices

Organizational practice refers to daily activities and a vital “household” that has many, often narrow compartments and specialized rooms situated in isolation. Living in this building is currently intensified by many conflicting imperatives, dynamics, and pressures of change, making it increasingly uncomfortable as conventional practices and “comfort zones” are questioned. Over the past decade, organizations and their members have been “living in a blender of change” (Badham & Garrety, 2003). This “blender” consists of an acceleration of discontinuous change processes and transformation endeavors like downsizing, delayering, and outsourcing. This blender has its source in the many social challenges that face modern corporations. As organizations operate in more complex, competitive, and volatile environments, the need to change strategies, structures, and processes and to respond to the business challenges increases accordingly. The shifting realities of the workplace are marked by greater pressure on individuals and teams to work harder and to “deliver” more while facing greater job insecurity. As a result, many workplaces are characterized by daily stress, work-life imbalances, powerlessness, interpersonal tensions, and a severe dislocation between organizational and community life. Many managers and employees are facing contradictory performance imperatives and complex economic, social, and moral dilemmas, while at the same time experiencing increasing levels of dissatisfaction and failing to find meaning or fulfillment in their work. This results in such things as loss of motivation, burnout, inner withdrawal, hypocrisy, or even abusive practices like organizational misbehavior, organization violations, and bullying behavior. All this culminates in a permeating sense of conflict, distrust, and demotivation. Such problems impact not only on the person affected, including her well-being, but also on her relationships and on the entire organization in a dangerous, self-perpetuating cycle. Collectively, this all adds up to decreased performance, a climate of distrust, stifled innovation, and reduced creativity. The organization then becomes passive and debilitated, undermining the best intentions for change and the most carefully constructed programs for renewal. This situation is confirmed by the recent Gallup study, which found a new type of employee, the actively disengaged worker, one who is so unhappy and tuned out that they willfully undermine coworkers and employers alike (Krueger & Killham, 2005).

With regard to leadership, Kellerman (2004) has described how many practices of bad management show callous, corrupt, incompetent, or even evil sides. Hidden below the more obvious forms of leadership incompetency lies a common form of “leadership” that is simply ineffective or lacking in the skill or will to sustain effective action, unable or unwilling to adapt to ideas and new information or change, or to develop self-control in the face of ongoing challenge. Not only are there specific types of leaders who show these problematic kinds of leadership practice, but there are also followers who contribute to these problems and who must share responsibility for them. Additional specific factors such the rise of corporate scandals; the growing awareness of environmental, social, and ethical issues; and questions about (corporate social) responsibility manifest a heightened uneasiness and a hope for another kind of organization and leadership.

Nevertheless, organizations and their members and leaders at all levels continue to create wealth, opportunity, meaning, and employment. Organizations and work are becoming increasingly important as sources of meaning in people’s lives. Organizations also sustain economic networks and create goods and services that help civil society to pursue its goals in education, artistic endeavors, and scientific research. Organizations reflect societal values and aspirations and they legitimate the current systems and structures of the communities in which they function. Thus, the spiral of organizational development reflects the spiral of much broader social, national, and international arrangements. Within this social complex diversity and within the context of these positive and negative aspects of organizations and their leaders, organizational and leadership theorists have attempted to develop their understandings and explanations.

The Fragmented Status of Theory and Research

The challenges facing organizations and leaders are mirrored in the fragmented scientific context of economic, organizational, and managerial theories. The plethora of organizational and leadership theories are based on such diverse premises, seemingly unconnected assumptions, and contrasting worldviews that it is difficult to see how they might ever be seen as related or as contributing to each other in some way. It is not the diversity of plurality of views that is the problem here, but the lack of connection between them—the absence of metatheoretical positions that might bring some sense of relationship between such diverse theoretical perspectives. The disjoint in theory and research not only limits communication and collaboration, but also constrains the ways we deal with current and future challenges.

As organization theory and discourse emerged from within the fields of sociology and engineering, it absorbed a mechanistic and functionalistic paradigm that has shaped its canon to this day. Organizations are conceptualized as instruments for reducing uncertainty. They are assessed according to objective, performance-based criteria on how they achieve specific predetermined, market-driven goals. These goals are set and governed through instrumental and technical rationality and a type of organizational thinking that follows a quantifying, means-ends variety of formal logic. Such worldviews often inadvertently result in shortsighted policies that neglect important longer term opportunities and issues. Furthermore, much of the prevailing economic and business research adopts a reductionist approach that does not recognize the interrelatedness of individual, interpersonal, sociocultural, and environmental phenomena. These shortcomings find their correspondences in the leadership discourse. The scientific study of leadership has contributed significantly to the understandings and explanations of these fields. Academic scholarship has also provided innovative and evidence-based intervention strategies for attaining the conventional organizational goals of increased efficiencies and effectiveness through improving all manner of organizational systems and management practices. However, it is also clear that management schools— and theories they espouse and apply in their research and teaching—are unable to meet the challenges facing contemporary leaders and their organizations. In his paper titled “Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices,” Ghoshal (2005) proposed, “Many of the worst excesses of recent management practices have their roots in a set of ideas that have emerged from business school academics over the last 30 years” (p. 76). Prevailing leadership approaches are bound to fragmented or mutually exclusive paradigm parameters, and they lack an inclusive orientation toward leadership. This results in an incomplete approach of leadership phenomena and can lead to inappropriate investigations, simplistic understandings, invalid conclusions, and managerialistic implications, which have been criticized. Fragmented and trivial leadership concepts and “research” are often informed by superficial ideas of management and the latest prepackaged list of “essential” qualities deemed necessary for solving all leadership dilemmas. To avoid such simplistic and reductionistic perspectives, leadership studies require more expansive conceptual openings and discourses. Leadership literature is currently characterized by competing approaches that emphasize different aspects of leadership. Each of these positions has both insights and shortcomings. Space constraints preclude a comprehensive review of these approaches here; however, the following discussion illustrates some of the main limitations of traditional leadership approaches. The more conventional approaches take a person-centered, dyadic perspective and follow a “heroic leadership” conceptualization. This understanding sees influence as unidirectional, flowing from the individual leader to the individual follower, and represents an entitative, egocentric, and mono-logical view. In conventional leadership-centered frames, leaders are positioned as knowing and structuring, and followers are positioned as subordinates of these processes. Consequently, little attention is paid to followers despite their co constitutive role in, and interdependence with, the leadership process. Moreover, leadership has not typically been considered as a collective phenomenon, and there has been a neglect of forms of group-level and organizational leadership, whereas, in fact, leadership is an inherently communal capacity and achievement. Recognizing that most people have, or may develop, roles as both a leader and a follower in the same organization becomes especially relevant for the increasing number of organizations using self-managed teams, executive teams, flexible structures, partnering, and joint ventures. Furthermore, both organizational and leadership discourse tend to underestimate human development issues—particularly those concerning the embodied and emotional dimensions—while privileging a disembodied rationality and cognitive approaches.

The impact of these underlying presumptions can be seen in the empirical focus on ratings of individual abilities, traits, characteristics, and behaviors via cause-effect relations and purely cognitive variables. These types of data reflect limited theoretical views that are inadequate for studying organizations and leadership as a dynamic processes embedded in turbulent and complex social and institutional environments.

The foregoing has identified some serious social challenges and theoretical shortcomings in the current state of organization and leadership theory and research. This calls for a more integral approach that will enable a more inclusive position for investigating and enacting the interrelated processes of leading and organizing.

An Integral Framework For Leadership And Organizations

One of the most important capacities for any metatheoretical framework is to be able to provide nonreductive understandings and explanations. The integral approach draws on the “holon” construct to achieve this holistic/analytical capability. Although they can be used to represent entities, processes, and events, holons are essentially abstract ways of representing integrative part/whole relationships (Koestler, 1967). They can be used to accommodate divergent and often opposing understandings within a single conceptual framework. Holons can be seen as possessing structure and as subject to processes that are simultaneously autonomous and dependent, characterized by differentiation and integration. For example, organizational change has been understood and researched in terms of individual agency, collective structure, and as combinations of both views. The holon construct can accommodate these varying conceptualizations within a non-reductive framework (Edwards, 2005). A holonic understanding brings together and utilizes the many different theoretical lenses that have been developed for understanding organizational and leadership phenomena. These lenses are the domain assumptions that theories within particular paradigms use to understand, explain, and research their “data.” Two very important and commonly applied lenses are the interior-exterior dimension, which considers subjective and objective worlds, and the individual-collective dimension. These two lenses can be juxtaposed to form a framework for connecting not only relevant practical domains, but also all those explanatory position using these dimensions (see Wilber, 1999-2000). The holon construct allows for the creation of complex models that have the conceptual power to accommodate many different practical and theoretical orientations for describing social relationships and behaviors.

On one hand, a great deal of the work of organizational members and managers involves managing and dealing with the dynamics between individual parts and collective wholes. On the other hand, “part” (the constitutive elements) and “whole” (the entire system) in organization and leadership are not separate, static structures, but actively co-constitute each other—that is, they are primarily enfolded and entangled. For example, leader(ship) is a holonic part of follower(ship), and vice versa: followership is integral of leadership. Therefore, both are interrelated phenomena best described as a holarchical process, which is a more accurate and comprehensive conception (Kiipers, 2007). Figure 81.1 shows the moment-by-moment “occasions of practice” that constitute individual and collective leadership.

As already mentioned, one of the most important lens combinations for exploring organizations and leadership is produced by bringing together the two dimensions of interior-exterior and individual-collective. The four resulting quadrants representing four fundamental aspects of any “occasion” (Wilber, 2006). These are (a) the interior of the individual, or the consciousness quadrant; (b) the exterior of the individual, or the behavioral quadrant; (c) the interior of the collective, or the cultural quadrant; and (d) the exterior of the collective, or the social quadrant. Because their importance to integral analyses, these quadrants will be described in depth as they apply to leadership in organizational studies.

integrating-plurality-research-paper-f1Figure 81.1      Organization and Leadership as Holonic Occasions

Quadrants As Spheres Of Leadership And Organization

The Consciousness Quadrant

This quadrant represents the interior individual aspects of organizational members. It involves the intrapersonal or subjective experiences of persons and their attitudes, intentions, meanings, unconsciousness feelings, cognition, volition, motivation, knowing, and memory. Importantly for the business context, it refers also to the readiness for motivation and commitment to self, to a goal, or to an organization. This inner world has specific relevance for leadership. For example, a longitudinal study carried out by Torbert and his colleagues (2004) showed that the success of organizational transformation efforts was dependent upon the level of consciousness of leadership. However, leadership development and practice are most effective when the individual interior dimensions are linked and supported by external action and tangibles. In this quadrant, the focus is on helping organizational leaders see what their leadership style might be so that they acquire more insight into themselves and their impact on others. It also deals with the psychological dimensions of an individual leader and how these impact on the organization and its development. Methodologically, this inner world of each individual requires disciplines like introspection, phenomenology to be uncovered. Practically, it is only accessible through using self-reporting techniques or profound dialogues with a person; access to her private writing, speeches, or other productions; or through interviews with her and her close associates.

The Behavioral Quadrant

The behavioral quadrant treats the external aspects of individual members and leaders, referring to all objective and behavioral activities. This is the performance domain of individual skills, competencies, and all those embodied actions of behavior that can be measured and refined. Training and development opportunities that support the development and enactment of competencies and peak performance are part of this quadrant, as well as coaching, communication, goal setting, and skills that develop effective practice. The role of leadership in this realm of performance management requires the management and monitoring of specific tasks, competencies, and actions to achieve the goals of the organization. In this capacity, the leader functionally manages material and substantive resources, human resources, and checks if goals are being met and tasks carried out. In terms of method, this quadrant is the domain of empirical observation and quantitative measurement. The methods of behavioral sciences are employed hereto measure and assess leadership performance via such methods as individual performance appraisals.

The Cultural Quadrant

The cultural quadrant deals with the intersubjective space of mutual recognition and internal collective aspects of organization and leadership. The intersubjective world of shared history, myths, stories, and values are all part of this quadrant. It is also the domain of unwritten beliefs, shared meanings, and worldviews; and it also includes taboos and informal customs that can be discerned from how people justify and explain what they think and do together. This domain considers the deeper significance of collective rituals, ceremonies and symbols, sociocultural purposes, and visions. Crucial ingredients for sustainable organizational success, such as collective morality and meaning making, are located here. This quadrant is characterized by a common language and signs that can be understood, communicated and shared with others. The focus here is on groups or teams as a collective of individuals, who are interdependent and interact on a face-to-face or virtual basis with one another. Leadership exerts various influences upon this aspect of organizational life and the social lifeworld of structure and roles also codetermine cultural identity. However, a leader cannot manipulate this sphere directly, because it is, to a large extent, determined and controlled by the collective cultural identity of the organization and its social environment. As a form of “people management,” leadership here requires coaching and working with employees to cultivate teamwork and communication. Furthermore, leadership here may take new collective forms such as those of shared or distributed team leadership. The personal modeling of values and integrity and their ongoing iteration from leader to follower(s) is also an important element here.

The methods used to disclose “data” in the cultural quadrant are interpretative approaches like hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation), interpersonal dialogue, collaborative enquiry, action research, and certain forms of anthropology, each of which focuses on some aspect or other of the human intersubjective realm. Corresponding interview techniques—like depth and narrative interviewing—serve to disclose multiple voices about collective meaning making.

The Social/System Quadrant

The social quadrant covers those aspects of organization and leadership that are collective and exterior, those aspects that are observable and shaped by the structural patterns of social reality. This is the world of organizational structures and systems of all kinds—managerial, financial, technological, and informational. It is also the face of the organization that is seen in job roles, procedures, and workplace practices. This aspect of organizational life is amenable to study by systems theorists and is often represented as quantities and qualities of inputs, throughputs, and outputs. In other words, this is where thinking about the organization as a performance system is important. The leadership-related focus of this area is on issues such as how to redesign or reengineer the organizational system so that it performs at higher levels. For this purpose, it covers managerial functions, such as the structuring of management and organizational processes, financial strategies, organizing means of production, techniques of marketing, information, and communication technologies. This domain involves the organizations’ relationships with the external world of markets and stakeholders. It includes relations and negotiations with industrial stakeholders to obtain resources and factors relevant for the organization. This includes keeping in contact with customers and ensuring that the services and products are meeting their needs. As this realm refers to the concrete collective world of that which is tangible, measurable, and quantifiable, it can be studied with objective research methods. The “new science” approaches of chaos, complexity, and system theories are relevant here. As the social system quadrant concerns the objective features and operational domain of the exterior world, fields such as structural functionalism and the ecological sciences, among others, provide methodological approaches for investigating this field. From this perspective, leadership and organizations here are more likely to be thought of as transforming systems in various states of dynamic (dia)equilibrium than as rigid forms of social “inertia.” As such, they are characterized by irreversible, progressive contexts within an emerging order. This implies that chaos and complexity are not problems to be solved, but the engines of evolution, adaptation, and renewal in organizations.

Interrelating Spheres And Theories Of Organizational And Leadership Practice And Studies

Each of the four quadrants depends on the others for its basic existence and sustenance. Integral theorist Ken Wilber (1999-2000) says that the quadrants “tetra-interact and tetra-evolve”—and an integral approach is sensitive to those richly textured patterns of “infinite interaction.” What is therefore needed is an approach that considers all quadrants, to show that organizational and leadership practices and developments are carried and played out within and between all these four domains. Thus, an integral approach explores the embeddedness of these various spheres within and between one another and the degree to which the levels mutually influence or constrain each other. Figure 81.2 shows the different spheres of integral leadership and organization, where the horizontal axis presents a continuum between “interior” and “exterior” realities and the vertical axis a continuum between “individual” and “collective” realities.

In our view, the question of what constitutes effective and sustainable organization and leadership practice and theory requires giving answers from different perspectives, compromising all of the domains and all the conceptual lenses that can be assembled within the integral framework. Various research traditions and developments of organization and leadership studies have made tremendous contributions to each of these different domains; however, each has limitations, particularly in terms of modeling, assessing, and developing of an integral comprehension. Due to its specialization and shortcomings, conventional approaches tend to perceive issues of organization and leadership from selective fields only. They often focus on a particular feature or causal process, and then either implicitly or explicitly assert that this is the main or only causal factor. In a way, each approach is “true,” but only partially. The task will be to figure out how to fit these partial truths together and how to integrate them inclusively, not how to pick one and get rid of the others. The exterior and objective perspectives on individual and collective behavior have become the prevailing canon in dominant functionalist approaches in organization and leadership studies. However, to understand organization and leadership as a holonic “four-quadrant affair” requires us to embrace the interior dimensions as well, including their inner meanings. Conversely, the often-neglected inner lives of organizational members and leaders and the collective spheres of leadership must also be seen as equimordially relevant and codetermined by behavioral and exterior dimensions. To privilege one quadrant over another is to disturb the delicate integration, coevolutionary relationality, and interconnectedness of effective organizational and leadership practice and theory. Recognizing the underlying principle of fundamental interconnectedness, an integral approach recognizes that pathologies in any quadrant will reverberate through all the others. From an integral perspective, all dimensions of organization and leadership cocreate each other and unfold and develop holonically. Thus, specific dimensions of organization and leadership are not narrowly located in one quadrant, but need to be studied from the perspective of each quadrant, as well as from their complex interrelations. Therefore, the different spheres between the individual and collective and subjective and objective identities need to be seen as an interwoven nexus as shown in the following figure.

An integral approach aids the exploration and facilitation of an understanding that is more in tune with the diversity and ambiguity of organizational life and with the corresponding intricacies of leadership practices. By applying varied lenses and perspectives, integral researchers are more adequately equipped to shed light on tensions that come along with organizational and leadership practices, e.g., by exposing conflicting demands as complementary, and by demonstrating that apparently opposing interests are actually interwoven in a process. But an integral conception is not a “harmony” model, as it does consider relations, disparities, and conflict. Although the framework can generate quite a degree of complexity (especially when other important conceptual lenses are combined with the quadrants framework), this does not exclude specific focus and investigation of particularities, for example, of disharmonious and conflict-shaped realities. To take an example, an integral understanding of influence and power in organization and leadership would include, for instance, a phenomenological analysis of this dimension on the subjective meaning and projections of individuals (Consciousness Quadrant) and empirical observations and measurement of the enactments of the individuals’ behaviors (Behavioral Quadrant), an interpretative ethnographic investigation of power within organizational culture (Culture Quadrant), and the functional and structural aspects or power as it appears in institutionalized forms within social systems (Social System Quadrant). The interrelationship among these different quadrants would reveal the interwoven complexities of influence and power processes. The same quadrant-specific and interrelational investigations could be applied to various other organization leadership- and followership-related phenomena. Additionally, using an integral inquiry of this type can diagnose various problems, pathologies, and conflicts, as well as provide ways for dealing with them.

As organizations make the transition to meet today’s challenges, they must consider which aspects of organizational members’ consciousness, their action, and the organization’s culture and social system are being impacted in order to set priorities and enact practices. With this an “all-quadrant” approach is an essential presupposition for effective organizational and leadership-related practice. Organizations and leadership that embark on comprehensive and sustainable change and development must address each quadrant and the holonic interrelation within and between them. Actual experience and practice always encompass not only all four quadrants as basic lenses that frame perception along certain perspectives, but also its evolutionary potentials as expressed in the integral lenses of developmental stages and lines. These dynamic processes—as outlined in the following—refer to two more important conceptual lenses that build on the quadrant framework for organization and leadership that we have focused on to this point.

integrating-plurality-research-paper-f2Figure 81.2      Interrelations Within Framework of Integral Leadership and Organization

Developmental Stages And Lines Of Leaders And Leadership Within An Integral Cycle

All four quadrants show growth, development, or evolution. That is, they all can be seen as transforming through various stages or levels of development, not as rigid rungs in a ladder, but as fluid and flowing waves of unfolding. Thus, the quadrant framework can be dynamically extended by a series of different developmental stages or levels of development of organizational members and organizations. Each stage represents a level of organization or a level of complexity. The word “level” is not meant in a rigid or exclusionary fashion, but simply to indicate that there are important emergent qualities that tend to come into being in a discrete fashion, and these developmental levels are important aspects of many natural phenomena. The levels of development refer to what is being developed (matter, body, mind, soul, and “spirit”) as generalized “waves” of existence. Thus, the levels are stages of development through which human beings proceed by transcendence and inclusion. The levels mark out new capacities and emergent qualities through the lives of organizational members and leaders situated in their specific context. Furthermore, these basic levels, though unfolding at different rates, can be seen as fluid, flowing, overlapping waves in an overall spectrum of transformation.

Developmental studies within psychology and sociology have focused on several developmental dimensions as basic components of individual and collective human functioning and overall growth. These different dimensions are what Wilber (2005) refers to as “developmental lines or streams.” These developmental lines reflect innate capacities and functions within the stages. As such, they codetermine a human being’s capacity to perform successfully in various circumstances. The developmental lines concern complex developments, such as cognitive (e.g., strategic thinking), emotional (e.g., emotional intelligence), interpersonal (e.g., social awareness, empathy), behavioral (e.g., managerial acting), knowledge, and learning developments, or ethical/moral lines of organizational members and their processes. Most of these lines develop in a relatively independent fashion at their own rate with their own dynamics. Some lines are necessary but are not sufficient for others, while some develop closely together (Wilber, 1999-2000).

Collectives such as organizations can be regarded as developing through these multidimensional capacities (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005). For organizations, these can include lines of education, medicine, technology, leadership, politics, governance, religion and spirituality, public morality and ethics, economics, international relations, law and legal process, media, and entertainment. All of these areas of social activity are subject to developmental growth in that they can be regarded as moving through regular patterns of systematic change. Edwards (2005) made the point that “as with individuals, the healthy organization will develop in a balanced way across a number of key lines” (p. 282). For example, an organization whose ethical line of development was severely out of step with its financial systems would evidence considerable problems across many important facets of its operations and culture.

As capacities increase in a developmental line, it moves to a more integrative stage in the overall spectrum. Accordingly, the lines develop over time through increasingly complex levels of maturity, education, and skill. But this is a very idiosyncratic process, and no two individuals or groups navigate their way through these developmental complexities in the same way. There are also “lagging lines” of development that represent specific weaknesses. These underdeveloped capacities may be a limiting factor for both leaders and organizations, and they may impact significantly on their overall behavioral effectiveness, state of well-being, cultural balance, and social functioning. Understanding the concepts of levels and lines of development can be beneficial for leaders in their own development, as well as for influencing and motivating followers. Comparing stage-based theories across different developmental lines shows that there is a tendency for individuals and groups to move from egocentric views (e.g., trait models), through ethnocentric views (e.g., group dynamics models), and to world-centric views (e.g., transformational or servant leadership model, organizational wisdom). An integral organization and leadership theory acknowledges that organizational agents, leaders, and followers as complex beings who mature and develop over time in relationship to physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual lines, and who recognize that they have desired transcendence-related work accomplishments progressing through the stages of human development. Unpacking the significance of “levels and lines” simply means that a leader, a follower, or a group or organizational system can be at a fairly high level of development in some lines (e.g., cognitive), at a medium level of development in other lines (e.g., interpersonal), and at a fairly low level in yet others (e.g., moral). This makes intuitive sense, as we all know persons or groups who are advanced in some skills (e.g., they are highly intelligent), but not as developed in other capabilities or competencies (e.g., they are less empathetic or ethical). As characterizations of organization and leadership capacities, the lines of development also influence how well members (e.g., leaders, followers, groups) and entire organizations perform. These developmental lines can therefore be measured using “levels of proficiency.” For example, a leader may possess a high “level” of proficiency in cognitive ability (e.g., high IQ) but may have a low level of proficiency at interpersonal skills (e.g., low EQ). With this there is the need to assess and identify levels of proficiency on each major line of development of leaders and of their followers. Having some understanding about the multimodal nature of human development can help leaders to be better informed about delegating, supporting, and coaching individual staff and teams in regard to their specific configurations of capacities, or to determine the need for training to strengthen proficiency on selected lines. In turn, these understandings may support the self-development and self-understanding of others. Furthermore, the levels, lines, and quadrants are energized by the dynamics of growth and integration within an “Integral Cycle” (Edwards, 2005), which keeps all of these elements hanging together in a coherent and dynamic system and coordinates the interaction between the four quadrants and the holonic developmental levels and lines.

integrating-plurality-research-paper-f3Figure 81.3  The Integral Cycle of Leadership and Organization

With its capacity to analyze, categorize, and synthesize, the concept of an integral cycle is a way of representing the mutual interpenetration of the quadrants. Furthermore, it covers their constituent structures and the integrative and growth dynamic relationship that exists between the domains and its involutionary and evolutionary pathways.

Each of the holons develops simultaneously through all four quadrants, coevolving in an intimate cycle of mutual interpenetration. To understand how these spheres are dynamically and “holonomically” interrelated, we would need to follow a processual turn. While such a task is beyond the scope of this research-paper, the issues of relationality and process need to be seen as core aspects of an integral approach to organizational and leadership studies.

Theoretical Considerations And Methodological Implications

As mentioned before, innovative metatheoretical positions need to be developed and described, which can build conceptual bridges between the plurality of constructs and models that characterize contemporary organization and leadership research. There are two general alternatives that have been put forward for dealing with the challenge of theoretical plurality. The modernist position is one that works toward unity and synthesis and it seeks a single consensus model based on empirical evidence and rational criteria for evaluating theory. The postmodernists’ position is one that supports this diversity and sees this state of affairs is healthy, desirable, and to be encouraged. Both of these alternatives have their merits and disadvantages, their potentials and limitations. Ultimately, however, these approaches end in either a dogmatic positivistic purism, where specialization reigns within a dominant theoretical paradigm, or an unbounded relativistic pluralism, where fragmented diversity holds sway. How to avoid the specialization trap and the fragmentation trap? In metaphorical terms, what is needed is a third alternative that is neither a sterile, overtended, monocultural garden, nor a scruffy weed patch where anything grows. We need grounded conceptual frameworks that elicit from organizational and leadership theory their complementarities and correspondences. We need a shift toward innovative paradigms that can transcend paradigm incommensurability and/or reductionistic narrowness. Such a shift requires juxtaposing and connecting partial understandings and representations so that various multiparadigm research combinations and integral connections can emerge.

As we have seen, integral methods for investigating theories of organization and leadership are multifaceted in that they utilize multiparadigm and metatheoretical research designs. Multiparadigm because they review and analyze extant leadership and organizational theory of all kinds, and metatheoretical because they build on that analysis to propose overarching frameworks that recognize the plurality of theoretical views. One important conceptual lens for multiparadigm review and metatheory building is the personal perspective. Integral methods for investigating leaders and organizations are pluralistic in that they can inquire into first-person subjective aspects, second-person relational aspects, and third-person objective aspects of these areas. Each of these perspectives (singular and plural forms) carries with it inherent methodologies or modes of inquiry. They can all help to inform the way research seeks out different approaches for understanding the complex dimensions of organization as well as leadership and its followership connection (Kiipers, in pressa). The first-person world of subjectivity includes the qualitative and experiential dimensions of life. First-person methods inquire into subjective awareness and the meaning of personal experience and action. Leadership theory here is concerned with the emotional, phenomenal experience and the existential realities of being in a position of leadership. First-person research methods such as autobiographical methods and journaling are becoming increasingly important in the academic study of leadership. The popularization of autobiographies in particular has contributed much to our understanding of how leaders experience their roles and how they cope with, and succumb to, the complexities and challenges that they meet on a daily basis. The second-person world of relationships includes all those interpersonal and group-based experiences that comprise so much of the day-to-day pragmatics of leadership. The capacity to communicate, inspire, and model integrity on the interpersonal and team levels are hallmarks of authentic forms of leadership. Relational methods such as 360 evaluation techniques, group process, personal and unstructured interview techniques, and peer-group feedback provide a window into the second-person world of relationality and a means for disclosing the multiple voices individual and collective sensemak-ing. The third-person world of objective methods focuses on the empirical, behavioral and outcomes-based methods of quantitative analysis leadership and organizational reality. Here, the emphasis is on the behavioral investigation of leadership through such means as psychometrics, situational analysis, and detailed observation. Third-person methods can be used for investigating quantitative data with rigor. An integral methodology recognizes the validity of behavioral, functionalist, and reductive analyses and quantitative investigations.

In turn, each of these first-, second-, and third-person methods can be combined with other paradigm lenses to develop overarching frameworks. For example, they can be combined with multiple levels of organizational structure to investigate relationality at the micro level of individual leadership roles, at the mesolevel of leadership within teams and committees and at the macro level of organizational leadership. These kinds of multiparadigm approaches are examples of what Ken Wilber (2006, p. 33) has called “Integral Methodological Pluralism” (IMP). It represents a metaparadigm that weaves together its many threads into an integral tapestry, a unity-in-diversity that slights neither the unity nor the diversity. An IMP provides a comprehensive framework for identifying methodologies for investigating basic “lifeworlds” that together form a comprehensive methodological framework for studying leadership and organizational life. Organization and leadership researchers, therefore, need to engage with ideas and standpoints from different inquiry paradigms that are characterized by different assumptions about actors and relations. The challenge will be to link the various elements of the spheres that have been so far separately addressed within an explicitly integrative context, for this integral theory does not assume that paradigms are incommensurable. Even if the underlying paradigms are based on a set of apparently opposing metatheoretical assumptions, an integral metaparadigm can accommodate conflicting knowledges and disparities. Using second-order constructs, integral metatheorizing provides a reference system for linking disparate representations (Gioia & Pitre, 1990). This position is in contrast to Burrell and Morgan (1979), who have advocated “paradigmatic closure” and “isolationism” between paradigms that they see as “mutually exclusive views of the social world.” In contrast, an integral perspective of holonic complementarities questions this assumed incommensurability and supports research strategies that transcend the incommensurability argument.

Multiparadigm methods of researching leadership and organizations require a close familiarity with the core characteristics of major theories in these fields. Such immersion and constant reexamining and questioning of foundational assumptions of various theories and practices enables experiential learning that further elevates “paradigm consciousness.” This in turn protects self-reflective researchers from becoming trapped within a peripheral vision or limited range of conceptual possibilities and to understand leader-ship theory from a more integral perspective. An integral paradigm imbeds and does not merely synthesize other paradigms and theories into some artificial unity. By accommodating various theories, methodologies, and insights holonically, they can find their place in a broader, integrative scheme. For example, the presence of the interior-exterior dialectic in the structure of a holon provides an opportunity for disclosing and integrating subjective, interpretive data, as well as objective, behavioral data in understanding organization and leadership. Additionally, with its multi- and metaparadigm capacity, the integral framework encourages greater awareness of theoretical and methodological alternatives. Thereby, it facilitates discourse and/or inquiry across paradigms (“paradigm interplay”), fostering greater understanding within pluralist and even paradoxical organizational and leadership contexts (Lewis & Kelemen, 2002).

In applying a multiparadigm and metatheoretical framework, integral researchers may develop multisided accounts that depict the diversity and complexity of organizational life. Even though integral theorists cannot shed their predispositions, they can contrast or relate their preferred representations to those of other paradigms. With this capacity, an integral perspective strives for an expanded range, allowing alternatives to coexist and engage in potentially more insightful and creative orientations and interactions. Being critically self-reflective, integral theorists learn to view and depict paradigms as detailing different layers of meanings, which also facilitates a more reflexive exploration of leadership and organizational practice. Methodologically, to grow into a more multi- and interdisciplinary endeavor, future organization and leadership research needs to break its largely univocal narrative and open up to multiple and innovative methods. Bringing these perspectives together highlights the different possibilities that exist for investigating how they might interrelate for a better understanding of organization and leadership. Furthermore, the outlined premises and arguments make it possible to view organization and leadership research as a process of social construction and practice itself, and to view this research as part of the investigated and narrated relational process. Hence, the research process can be interpreted as a way of going on in relationship, constructing knowledge and social validation. To facilitate heterachical ways of relating, the research methodology of participatory action research and the deployment of further qualitative and interpretive research strategies, with a strong “situational” and case study focus, seem particularly suitable. Moreover, from an integral perspective, quantitative and qualitative research can be mutually informative and illuminating in the study of organization and leadership. In a similar way to multiparadigm inquiry (Lewis & Grimes, 1999), an integral orientation may help theorists to gain an appreciation of new fields of knowledge and reduce their commitment to a favored and “provincial” point of view. An integral approach facilitates a shift from parochialism toward a more rich, contextualized, and multidimensional theory (building), offering a greater explanatory potential. For this, the complex framework needs of course to be methodologically operationalized in detail, in terms of determining constructs and variables setting and testing hypotheses, antecedents, moderators, mediators, outcomes, and their interrelations. Furthermore, considering the developmental levels of organizational members allows a more dynamic understanding of the processes involved. Exploring organization and leadership as a processual event implies a methodological focus on relations, connections, dependences, and reciprocities, investigating specific encounters, and relational issues or situations. Integral methods not only provide the possibility of a shared language for addressing the basic patterns and problems of organizational and leadership practices, they can also be used as a functional guideline that is careful not to reduce, oversimplify, isolate, or fragment our understanding of organization and leadership. By offering multidimensional perspectives and developmental orientations, integral frameworks can illuminate our blind spots, revive our otherwise reductionistic pictures of reality, and challenge our limiting assumptions about the nature of leadership and organizational systems.

Perspectives And Conclusion

This article has argued that an integral framework enables a more inclusive approach to the understanding and study of organization and leadership. An integral framework provides the base for a substantial theoretical advancement of the general discourse around these topics. However, researching and theorizing about organizations and leaders from an integral perspective means that corresponding practice and development is more complex and difficult to design and implement. To realize such an extended understanding and a corresponding sustainable practice of an integral organization and leadership requires an even deeper comprehension of the role of personal, interpersonal, socio-cultural, and systemic interrelations. While such demands are not unreasonable, they do put up considerable barriers to the ready appreciation of integral approaches. Because we are in the early stages of moving into an integral approach to the study of organization and leadership, there are many open questions and fields of applications to be explored. Further detailed mapping is required for moving through the conceptual landscape of an integral understanding. There is the need to examine the contingency between the interior dimensions of individuals (leaders and followers) and their external tasks and actions, as well as the relation to collective spheres. Further research will need to investigate ways in which diversely situated individuals and their behavior, as well as groups in various interrelational arrangements and systemic organizational settings, constitute experience, and enact, and process practices. Conversely, influencing conditions and factors of both sociocultural and systemic spheres—for example, relation between individuals or groups to formal organizations and the “space in-between” (Bradbury & Lichtenstein, 2000)—need to be thoroughly investigated. It would also be worthwhile to investigate the effect that power relations, sociopolitical tensions, and conflicts have on the connections between inner processes (e.g., feelings or emotional dissonances) and their external enactment at both individual and collective levels of leadership. Research could also examine how the interaction between individual and organizational priorities affects the character and development of various experiences and processes. These may also include communicational, improvisational, and aesthetic dimensions or ethical issues present in interrelated organization and leadership practices. The conceptual integrated framework as proposed here can support research along those avenues. Thus, the outlined concept of integral leadership provides only a “bedrock” for more rigorous theory building, further analysis, and empirical testing. As the new era of organization and leadership research tends and evolves more and more into one of converging evidence and integration, the challenge will be to synthesize accumulated knowledge and develop further knowledge in such a way that we can begin to construct hybrid and interdisciplinary theories of organization and leadership covering diverse perspectives. With this, researchers, and also organizational members, can not only categorize and connect existing concepts, but can also use the diagnostic, prognostic, and interpretative qualities and evaluative potential of an integral approach. Integral approaches are likely to serve as a helpful antidote to short-term, fragmented, and one-sided orientations. Even more, employing the proposed framework in an emerging integral theory and its corresponding practice will provide a base on which to build a more sustainable and rewarding lifeworld of organizations. In other words, effective and successful organizational members and leadership processes of the 21st century will be those that understand, foster, and help create and enact a more integral way of organizing, leading, and following. Moreover, an integral organization and an integral leadership will be one which realizes practical wisdom (Kiipers, in press-b). Such a “wise” organization looks to developing its staff, its teams, its culture, and its social systems toward more embracing forms of well-being. Forms that contribute to enhancing the leadership potential of all its members and the well-being and sustainability of the communities and stakeholder in which it operates. In addition to such contributions, the outlined integral framework offers challenges for developing a more comprehensive and adequate research methodology that can honor the many different theories and corresponding practices of the complex nexus of organization and leadership. In this way, we might be able to find our way around the bewildering complexities of organization and leadership practices and studies, and also rebuild and shape these lifeworlds in a more adequate way, fulfilling the task of genuine “economia” as the art of appropriate “housekeeping.”


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