Conscious Leadership For Sustainability: How Leaders with a Late-Stage Action-Logic Design and Engage in Sustainability Initiatives
Ph.D. Dissertation on Conscious Leadership in Action
some of the highest stages of human development. Combined with his terrific commentary and superb
analysis, this is must reading for all those interested in leadership, development, spirituality, or integral studies.” – Ken Wilber, The Integral Vision
What does conscious leadership look like in action?
I’ve spent the last two years researching this question, specifically exploring how change agents with complex worldviews design and lead complex change initiatives.
The bottom line is that these individuals represent less than 5% of the population, and in some cases, less than 1%. They are true outliers in how they see and understand not only the world around them, but also their own inner experience.
The leaders I researched in my Ph.D. dissertation have achieved a level of development that represents the farthest reaches of what science can currently measure. I was curious to discover how these people actually lead. What do they look like in action when they engage with today’s intense societal challenges?
In my work, I focused specifically on the context of leading sustainability change initiatives. In the process, I interviewed and assessed nearly three dozen leaders from business, government, and civil society. This group includes senior executives from global companies and the UN system, as well as NGO directors and consultants.
The long-term purpose of this research is to support the creation of advanced leadership development strategies that can help address the global economic, social, and environmental challenges humanity faces. If humankind is to succeed in crucial objectives such as those articulated by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, we will need to employ some new strategies.
We know that some of our change efforts toward this more sustainable world will work, while many will not. Amongst the success drivers for a change initiative, a key one is the design of the initiative itself. And one of the most important influences on the design of change initiatives is the worldview of the designer. It is this leverage point – the actions of those with a “conscious” worldview – that I studied.
As it turns out, leaders with a more complex worldview have access to enhanced and new capacities that others don’t. This strengthens their ability to respond to sophisticated challenges.
Research indicates that such leaders are perceived as more effective, for a whole variety of reasons. While this isn’t uniformly true – context and personality also really matter – there are real advantages that these folks have.
I wanted to understand more; I wanted to look into their minds and actions and see what insights they might offer to other leaders and change agents. Ultimately, by better understanding how these individuals respond to complex challenges, I think we can help more leaders develop the sophisticated, and at times, powerful capacities offered by complex worldviews.
This study has significant implications for leadership practice. The results provide the most granular view to date of how very rare and “conscious” leaders and change agents may think and behave with respect to complex change initiatives.
The leaders in this study appear to: (1) Design from a deep inner foundation, including grounding their work in transpersonal meaning; (2) Access non-rational ways of knowing, and use systems, complexity, and integral theories; and (3) Adaptively manage through “dialogue” with the system, three distinct roles, and developmental practices.
Additional results include: 15 advanced leadership competencies; developmental stage distinctions for six dimensions of leadership reflection and action; and 12 practices that differentiate leaders with a unitive perspective from those with a general systems perspective.
If you are a leader, change agent, or someone who helps to develop either, I think you’ll find these results not only deeply useful, but even potentially transformational.
In the months to come, I will be blogging about these findings, offering insights about how you can use them to improve your own ability to lead. I hope you’ll tune in.
* Update: A paper on this research was just accepted for an upcoming conference at Ashridge Business School in the UK. This conference is linked to special issues of the Journal of Change Management and the Journal of Management Development.
Below you will find links to download the following files:
(1) an executive summary of the research and results,
(2) a PowerPoint about the study and results, and
(3) the full research thesis itself.
Brief Overview of Dissertation (Excerpt with some of the key findings)
PowerPoint Presentation of Dissertation Research Results (Showcases some key findings)
Full Unabridged Dissertation (Highly recommended, especially Chapter 5 which summarizes all findings)
For more resources, click here.
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About Barrett Brown
Since 1995, Barrett has worked in nine countries as a consultant and entrepreneur in the areas of leadership, organization development, communications, and sustainability. He has helped launch a dozen organizations, led executive teams through strategic alignment, developed multi-year leadership development programs, delivered leadership initiatives for Fortune 500 executives, and briefed high-level officials at the United Nations Development Programme headquarters and the US State Department. He specializes in the intersection between organization development, leadership development, and global sustainability.