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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Mark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory
Good For Business:
An Integral Theory Perspective
One of the hallmarks of successful organisations and community leaders of the future will be the capacity to develop more holistic and spiritual understandings of people in the workplace. This understanding of spirituality includes not only the personal spirituality of individuals but also of corporate ethics and morality, cultural diversity, organisational values, social responsibility, communal concerns and environmental awareness. Given the complexity of this contemporary understanding of spirituality in the workplace, how can organisations and leaders make sense of such a concept? Ken Wilber's Integral theory provides a framework for this task. Integral theory is an comprehensive approach to social change that is ideally suited to investigating complex social entities and constructs. Using the model, various definitions and perspectives of spirituality are presented in personal, leadership and collective contexts. Some implications of this new approach are discussed.
The recent interest in the place of spirituality in the work life of individuals and in the business life or organisations has a very pragmatic basis. To put it simply, it's good for business. As Warren Bennis says (Mitroff and Denton, 1999, p. xii),
Individuals and organisations that see themselves as “more spiritual” do better. They are more productive, creative and adaptive. The people in these organisations are more energised and productive because their work isn't solely about stock options and vacations and coffee breaks. Spiritual organisations are animated by meaning, by wholeness, and by seeing their work connected to events and people beyond themselves.
While it is widely recognised that common health problems among workers such as depression and chronic pain can impact on organisations in substantial ways, it is not so often acknowledged that issues such as meaning, purpose and spirituality in work also have a part to play in the life of every organisation. One of the greatest tragedies of contemporary life is the “dispirited worker” and one of the most important resources that any organisation can possess is a worker with spirit. The issue of spirit and the spiritual is fundamental to any discussion of meaningful work in contemporary life. Successful organisations and leaders of the future will be spiritual in the sense that they will create and support meaningful and rewarding workplaces that have strong connections with local communities and environments while retaining a “big picture” vision of their organisational goals. This also means that the issues of cultural diversity, personal values and communal concerns will be important players in the development of any progressive organisation. The growing requirement for responsible corporations and leaders to address the multiple bottom lines of economic, social, environmental and governance requirements opens up organisations to a whole new world of opportunities and responsibilities.
Spirituality is a powerful motivating force in people's personal and public lives. It is strongly connected to people's moral development and ethical behaviour, to their sense of meaning and purpose and to their need for rewarding experiences and relationships. All of these feed directly into how people feel and function in the workplace and ultimately into how organisations themselves operate and behave.
In their audit of the place of spirituality in corporate America, in which they interviewed and surveyed 1,738 corporate managers, Mitroff and Denton (1999) found that organisations that have a stronger sense of spirituality have employees who are “less fearful of their organisation”, exercise stronger values and ethical beliefs in their workplace, see their work as more rewarding and can more easily show “creativity and intelligence” at work. While we all acknowledge the crucial importance of these qualities in a successful organisation, their strong connection with spirituality is not often recognised. Mitroff and Denton (1999, p. xiv) go so far as to say that,
Today's organizations are impoverished spiritually and ... many of their most important problems are due to this impoverishment. In other words, today's organizations are suffering from a deep spiritual emptiness.”
We don't have to look to far to see the organisational and community wreckage that occurs when morals, ethical principles and behavioural codes are ignored. These codes and moral sensitivities are underpinned and generated by spiritual realities in all its many forms and cultural manifestations. These include not only the mainstream spiritualities associated with Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Aboriginal and indigenous religions but also the humanistic, secular, new age and personal systems of belief and meaning-making. The ethical and moral basis that supports all commercial activity is deeply connected to the spirituality and meaning systems that all people possess in both their individual and collective forms. That connection runs both ways. Spirituality informs and fortifies the working life and the workplace provides a place for the application and living out of the spiritual sources of identity.
Whether they know it or not organisations have a crucial role to play in the whole question of personal and communal spirituality. Many individuals make their biggest contribution to society through their workplace. As Jay Conger of the Harvard Business School observes (1994, p.1), “For many of us the workplace has become our primary source of community”. As social capital and community involvement diminish across much of the western world, the importance of the workplace as a source for personal meaning and community values is growing. It is often through their work that people today find ultimate purpose or at least the focus of their goals and values in life. And in many ways organisations have encouraged this shift to see the workplace as a source of meaning. The workplace is now one of the major educational environments in contemporary life. Perhaps the most significant change in the philosophy of business in recent times has been the move from the drive to increase profits alone to the inclusion of the drive to develop employees. A drive for “self-development, within the confines of the corporate work unit” (Fairholm, 1997, p.3). For many the workplace is now the main avenue for personal advancement as well as the “primary source of community” (Congar, 1994). Growth, meaning, development and purpose in life are not separate from spirituality and, whether it is openly recognised or not, the workplace is a critical venue for the expression of the spiritual in contemporary life.
SPIRITUALITY AS INCLUDING THE WHOLE PERSON
In its broadest sense, spirituality is about the connections between the whole person and the whole community. This idea of wholeness is also associated with perfectionism or at least high achievement. Organisations are expecting more from employees as much as individuals are wanting to improve themselves. The staff development movement is, in part, a reflection of this desire for wholeness and attainment. This need and expectation for wholeness cuts both ways. Here is a quote from one of the managers that Mitroff and Denton interviewed for their study (1999, p.4).
Organisations are constantly wanting and demanding more and more of us all of the time. But they can't have it both ways. They can't have more of us without getting and nourishing the whole person. Organizations must give back and contribute as much to the whole person as they want in return.
Organisations want their employees and their leaders to be enthusiastic and spirited contributors to the success of the organisation. Organisations want and need at least some level of inspiring leadership. But is the real source of this enthusiasm, spirit, charisma and inspiration really acknowledged? The words themselves betray that source. Enthusiasm literally means in the Latin the “god within” and “spirit” comes from spiritus meaning the breath of god. Charisma come from a Greek word meaning divine gift and willing comes form the old English willa meaning well-being. To inspire someone means to breath new life into them as God did with Adam in the first chapter of Genesis. All these terms which are commonly used in the business world have a spiritual source. As Mitroff and Denton (1999, p.6) note,
On the one hand [the corporate world] declares spiritual issues strictly out of bounds, then on the other it tries sneaking them in through the back door and drawing heavily on them with calls for the unbridled energy and enthusiasm of its workers.
So it is a rather daunting responsibility that organisations bear in our communities. How can organisations and leaders manage the scope and diversity of such broad-ranging demands such as the inclusion of spirituality at work? And how can agents of organisational change hope to achieve any level of success in their efforts to promote and support the presence of spirituality in the workplace?
Operating within such complex commercial and political environments will demand a much broader and more balanced framework for envisioning the place of spirituality in organisational life. Ken Wilber's Integral theory provides such a framework. Integral theory is an comprehensive approach to social change that is ideally suited to investigating complex organisational environments. In this presentation I will use the model to draw out the connections between the inner cultural life of individuals and organisations and the work that they perform within the wider social context. I hope to do this by taking a number of views of spirituality in work and see how Integral theory can bring some coherency to our understanding of this topic. As a result a broader and more community-oriented approach to the “spirituality” of work will be proposed. Some suggestions for how the model can be applied in areas such as leadership development, diversity issues and community involvement will also be presented.
AN OUTLINE OF INTEGRAL THEORY
Integral theory is a over-arching theory of development and evolution that covers the physical, biological and social worlds. Ken Wilber (1999, 2000a, 2000b) has been the driving force behind the growth of Integral theory and the following draws on his work as well as my own adaptations of his groundbreaking approach to human development. The theory attempts to integrate the central philosophies, scientific theories and cultural worldviews as they are appear across all eras, societies and places - hence the name Integral theory. These disparate worldviews and practices are brought together in what Wilber calls the AQAL model. AQAL stands for All Quadrant, All Level, All Lines, and I add All Dynamics. Let's start with levels.
The first fact that we know about the universe is that it develops. All physical, biological and human systems change and often that change occurs in dramatic and qualitatively new steps or levels. The developmental levels covered in the lifespan of the human person are, in many ways, the ultimate example of the developmental processes that animate our world. There are a great many models of human development and they all share one thing in common – people mature through a series of qualitatively different levels or stages. These levels of developmental life mark out new capacities and emergent qualities through life. The set of basic levels can be regarded as a spectrum of development through which all people grow. Of course there are cultural variations in the way these levels are expressed but this cultural variation is grounded on the basic levels of development. The number of levels that a model includes is quite arbitrary. However, the minimum will include a formative level of development, an average or normative level and a higher potential or advanced level. In this presentation of Integral Theory I will use around eight levels to describe the development of organisations and individuals.
Now, let's turn to the lines of development. All development is complex and multi-dimensional. Hence, there are models that deal with ego development, ethics and morals, interpersonal development, learning processes, stages of faith and knowledge development. Each of these facets of life can be represented as developing through the maturational levels of development. They are what Integral Theory calls developmental lines.
The quadrants or the domains or worlds within which development occurs. One of the great insights of Ken Wilber was to see that all the maturational levels and the various lines can be categorised according to two basic dimensions of development. These are the interior-exterior dimension and the individual/agency-communal dimension. The crossing of these dimensions gives us the Four Quadrants of interior-agency or consciousness, exterior agency or behaviour, interior-communal or culture and exterior-communal or social. These are four domains or quadrants in which the development of every social entity is played out.
Mitroff and Denton say of Wilber's quadrant model (1999, p27),
It is Wilber's particular genius to have first recognised each of these four orientations with regard to spirituality, and then analysed how a robust approach to spirituality demands the integration of all four approaches. In other words, not only is each of the four orientations incomplete without the others, but also, and more importantly, each depends on the others for its basic existence and sustenance.
The Integral Theory model of quadrants, levels and lines is shown in Figure 1.
Quadrants, levels and lines are energised by the dynamics of growth and integration and by what I call the Integral Cycle. The Integral Cycle is the thing that keeps all these elements hanging together in a coherent system. All learning and knowledge occurs through the activation of this Integral cycle. As we will see, these dynamics have a crucial role to play in how we can situate spiritual concerns in the workplace.
This AQAL framework of quadrants, levels, lines and dynamics can be applied to individuals, teams, leaders and large social entities such as organisations. In the following, I will look at some approaches to spirituality in the organisational development and leadership fields and see how they can be situated within the integral theory model.
The final aspect of the Integral theory model I want to draw attention to is that of the scope of application. The AQAL framework of quadrants, levels, lines and dynamics can be applied to the micro-level of individuals, leaders and teams all the way up to whole organisations and even larger social entities.
Integral Theory is eminently suited to looking at the complexity of such social topics as spirituality. If we are to include spirituality as a legitimate concern in working life how are we to define it. All the studies looking at this topic have battled with the definitional issue. I hope to show how Integral theory can shed some light on this. As a starting point for this process I will focus first on the personal application of the model. That is, I will bring to bear the integral “lens” on the various types of spirituality that belong to the individual life in both its private and public domains.
DEFINITIONS OF SPIRITUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE
First, there are definitions that relate to the personal spirituality of individual employees. Here are some common definitions and views of personal spirituality in the workplace context (Mitroff & Denton, 1999; Congar, 1994).
Individual Forms of Spirituality
- Interior personal spirituality: Spirituality is about the inner human person and is not about social or institutional religion. It has to do with inner peace and feelings of equanimity and calmness in different situations and on occasion peak experiences of a profound nature.
- Spirituality as virtuous behaviour: Here spirituality is seen as good deeds, and as following particular religious codes of virtuous behaviour. Spirituality is working towards the goals of a virtuous personal life and rejecting those things that threaten our human dignity.
- Spirituality as service: Performing the social roles of work colleague, supervisor, friend, co-worker and neighbour in a way that creates harmony and good relations.
- Spirituality as meaning in life: Spirituality as personal beliefs and ways of making meaning out of our work experiences and life circumstances.
- Spirituality as motivating energy: This refers to the energising power, the enthusiasm that spirituality inspires in individuals. It is a motivating esprit that turns thought into action and individual need into communal/organisational service. It creates the spirited worker.
- Spirituality as emerging growth and achieving potential: This is the evolutionary and transcendental drive towards the higher, the more elevated and towards the greater Kosmos. It can sometimes be associated with paths that focus on renewal of personal consciousness and behaviour through meditation practice.
- Spirituality as healing descent: This is the involutionary and integrative drive towards the more grounded, natural, and incarnated expression of the Spirit in the world. It can sometimes be associated with paths that focus on the renewal of personal relationships and awareness of the other through entering community and the nurturing of family and group.
Figure 4 gives an indication of how these forms of spirituality can be situated within the Integral model. Each of the seven types of spirituality bring out the differing definitional characteristics of spirituality has been associated with. The Integral models provides a framework for untangling these definitional forms and provides a basis for further clarity in discussion. Some of these forms have more relevance to the workplace than others. Some of them can be more easily recognised and catered for in the workplace than others. Some of them can be talked about and have a language that is more acceptable in some workplaces than others. However, each of them have their part to play in understanding how the spiritual can impact of the lives of people in the home, in their community and in the workplace environment.
Collective Forms of Spirituality
There are also many orientations towards spirituality that relate to collective identity and social action (see Figure 5). These include:
- Spirituality as collective consciousness and culture: Here spirituality is the stories, archetypes and mythologies of the community. It is the inner connectedness with land and with traditions and the cultural being of a community.
- Spirituality as collective devotion and ritual: Sacramental spirituality. Communal prayer and ceremony and rites of passage.
- Spirituality as social justice: Spirituality is the peaceful removal of inequalities and injustices that oppress and hinder the free development of people, families and communities.
- Spirituality as collective health: The health and stable balance of the community is the result of both culture and social systems and communal identity and collective action.
- Spirituality as social relationship: Spirituality is the connectedness that a community has with those around it - other communities and organisations. It is the mutual respect between communities and social entities that comes from acknowledging the larger whole. As Alan Nohre remarks (2001),
If you want your mission statement to reflect more soul, ask questions about the larger community. Ask how your company fits into the whole, as if we - our business, our employees, everyone in our community - were one. This is a spiritual perspective.
Figures 4 and 5 show that these individual, leadership and collective definitions and forms of spirituality can be accommodated within the Integral model in a simple and clear manner using the AQAL principles. Apart from these more general applications, the model also allows for very detailed analyses. For example, definitions of spirituality often refer to the experience of unusual states and particular levels of consciousness. The problem is that some of these states can be regressive and even pathological and others can be transformative and life-changing is a positive sense. I call this the ups and downs of spirituality and any discussion of spirituality needs to take these differences into account.
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF SPIRITUALITY
Many writers on spirituality differentiate between ascending or perfecting paths and descending or wholing paths. The ascending paths emphasise the striving towards spiritual growth, evolution and transcendence. The descending paths emphasise acceptance, healing and the inclusion of the body and the earth. Not only individuals but organisations too can evidence these two dynamics. The growth and evolutionary dynamic is seen in the need to expand and grow, in the phenomenon of corporate mergers and takeovers, in the push to exponentially increase profits and sales and in the strive to achieve and to be the biggest and the best. The integrative dynamics is seen in the need for stability and sustainability, in attempts to form connections and to resolve past problems, in respecting the traditions and loyal employees of the organisation and in the long-term goals to create community.
Often the proponents of each of these movements are fierce rivals and antagonists. In contrast Integral Theory states that both these dynamics are essential for long term development. Spirituality in both its personal and social forms is too often associated with only one or other of these two movements – with either growth and organisational evolution or with integration, involution and organisational healing. On the growth side it is proposed that spirituality is all about total transformation of the organisation and its leaders so that a new form of corporate identity and vision is achieved. On the involutionary side it is proposed that spirituality is only about recycling programmes or introducing stress management classes during lunchtimes or equity programmes. It is a basic principle of Integral Theory that real health is only found in the balancing of growth and integration and that development is only sustainable when our striving for bigger and better is matched by our desire to retain, include and respect what we already have and for the natural and human resources on which all growth is built.
In the personal sphere workplace this means that spirituality, as the ascending movement towards higher levels of peak experience and performance is balanced by the descending movement towards emotional and physical health, belongingness and nurturance. In the organisational sphere it means that the ascending drive towards achievement, change and transformation is balanced by the descending movement of environmental sustainability, community connection, respect It might be said that the ascending progressive elements of the organisation need to be acknowledge as much as the conservative elements. Integral Theory includes both in its understanding of organisational development (See Figure 6).
Table 1 presents one type of spirituality that corresponds to each particular level of developmental. These are not rigid associations but do give a sense of how the levels of development inform the expression of particular spiritualities.
Table 1: Levels of development and a corresponding form of spirituality.
Level of Development
A Corresponding Form of Spirituality
Transpersonal - integrated transformative spirituality
Holistic spirituality – dynamic evolutionary spirituality
Ecumenism – including all traditions
Secular Humanism – atheistic/humanistic service
Mainstream ritualism – "going to church"
Fundamentalism – obeying the One True God
Superstition and Magic – appeasing the gods
Animism – worship of nature spirits
SPIRITUALITY AND LEADERSHIP
The vital issue of the spirituality of leadership and how that impacts on the spirituality in the workplace is perhaps the most important single issue in this whole area. Once again the various models of leadership and spirituality can be gainfully represented through the application of the Integral model. Several authors point to common aspects of the spiritual leadership process (Congar, 1994; Eggert, 1998; Fairholm, 1997; Moxley, 2000). These include: 1) vision setting; 2) servant leadership; 3) task competence; and 4) moral standards. These functions operate with in context of 5) stewardship; and 6) continuous improvement and innovation. These elements correspond to the basic Integral theory principles as shown in Figure 7.
True spiritual leadership is the capacity to integrate these different elements of inspirational guidance. In particular, the inclusion of interior vision and moral depth with the exemplary behaviour are the true hallmarks of spiritual leaders. The educator Katherine Scott makes this point (1994, p.65),
Leadership that acknowledges and integrates the spiritual does not flee from the deep divide between the private and the public ... It is the integration of the inner and outer worlds that true spirituality can be distinguished from false.
Nancy Eggert (1998) has described a model of contemplative leadership that incorporates the four types of leadership spirituality identified in Figure 5. She calls these the paths of:
- Appreciation - of the material world (Integral Theory's behavioural quadrant);
- Detachment - by letting go and letting be (Integral Theory's consciousness quadrant);
- Creativity - and communicating insight (Integral Theory's cultural quadrant);
- Compassion – by means of social justice (Integral theory's social quadrant).
These four types of contemplative leadership are based on the assumption that “the contemplative leadership style is not an accomplishment but a gift, an ever deepening awareness of oneself and the situation” (Eggert, 1998, p.265). In the end spirituality in leadership is a mysterious but unmistakeable quality that arises out of the interplay of the interior life, the social milieux and the demands and crises that beset individuals and organisations and societies.
The foregoing has translated some of the more common perspectives on spirituality in the workplace into an Integral theory framework. This enables a more pluralistic and integrative vision of spirituality to emerge. There are several important implications of this more inclusive understanding for organisations and change agents who wish to raise the profile of such issues.
First, the Integral approach recognises the diversity of types of spiritualities in individuals, leaders and collectives. It also brings these diverse elements into a coherent picture that makes sense and which is communicable in ways that people can identify with. Everyone, for example, can relate to the ideas of an interior life of experience and consciousness and an exterior life of behaviour and social roles. Everyone responds to the notion that development is about integrating and sustaining what we have as well as growth and innovation. As shown here, these Integral principles are also easy to present in graphic terms for those more visual learners.
Second, the model present a framework for taking positive steps in achieving the goal of a more spirited and inspiring workplace. All the types of spiritualities presented here are valid and each can contribute to the revitalisation of organisational life. The Integral model can identify gaps and opportunities for introducing a range of strategies aimed at encouraging enthusiasm and generosity of spirit in it leaders, employees work teams and decision making bodies. One particularly useful aspect of the model is that it can be used to identify aberrant or pathological forms of spirituality of which their are many. These include fundamentalist, dissociative spiritualities, and materialistic or consumerist spiritualities. Although Integral theory is pluralistic, it does not support the contention that spirituality is all things to all people. It recognises the validity in the diversity of views and assimilates them into a rigorous framework where the limitations, vulnerabilities and strengths of each are acknowledged.
Third, the model provides a strong rationale for using measures of organisational culture, worker satisfaction levels and leadership values. The assessment of current practices and attitudes leads directly to an appropriate planning and goal-identification process. Once some idea is gained about the actual state of spiritual development that the organisation and/or workplace operates from, realistic and meaningful aims and objectives can be set. For example, many organisations have poor levels or no communication between management and staff in areas such as ethics, staff relations, community responsibility, personal beliefs or leadership values. From such a position it is unlikely in the extreme that any support would be forthcoming for implementing strategies to bring true spirit into the workplace.
Finally, the Integral approach respects the worldviews and needs that exist within organisations and individuals but also provides some idea about the direction that development in this area can take. This also assumes that a balance is required for stable and healthy development. Growth in interior culture generates and is supported by growth in exterior behaviours and organisational systems. Raised awareness and enthusiasm in individuals and generates and is supported by that of leaders and the decision-making bodies of the organisation.
Spirituality is a whole that has many faces. The Integral model of All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines and All Dynamics helps us to see those faces in their many guises and manifestations. In so doing it creates a way of considering the rightful and appropriate place of the spirit and the spiritual in the workplace. Successful organisation of the future will recognise where that place is. Mitroff and Denton (1999, p.7) make the strong claim that,
Unless organisations become more spiritual they cannot reap the benefits of the full and deep engagement of their employees, their so-called most valuable resource. In the plainest terms, unless organizations not only acknowledge the soul but also attempt to deal directly with spiritual concerns, they will not meet the challenges of the next millennium
Spirituality in contemporary life will only flourish if it gains a place of value within organisational life. The growing complexity and global nature of today's world demands a very great deal of people and organisations and one source of energy for meeting that demand will be the well-spring of the human spirit. One final quote from Mitroff and Denton (1999, p.14)
This age calls out for a new “spirit of management”. For us the concepts of spirit and soul are not merely add-on elements of a new philosophy or policy of management. Instead they are the very essence of such a philosophy or policy. No management effort can survive without them. We refuse to accept that whole organizations cannot learn ways to foster soul and spirituality in the workplace. We believe not only that they can but that they must.
As the 21st century proceeds spirituality in the workplace will become a regular feature of our working lives rather than an oddity. It will have many forms and guises, some of which have been presented here in the coherent and comprehensive framework of Integral Theory. All of these forms of the human spirit will have the potential to enthuse and inspire organisations and community leaders and as a result be “good for business”.
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© Mark Edwards, 2004