Monday, June 20, 2022
By Betsy Sheppard
“If we can be in the world in the fullness of our humanity, what are we capable of?”
--Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner Rogers, a simpler way
Many organizations today are fundamentally rethinking and reimagining their operational structure and management practices as described in popular business books such as Reinventing Organizations, Brave New Work, and Lead Together. There is a deep and growing recognition that current ways of operating are no longer working. Employees and leaders feel overwhelmed and exhausted, unable to keep up with the complexity and pace of change.
A new type of organization is emerging on the horizon, with a way of working that distributes decision making and authority in an environment that supports, values, and uplifts everyone. Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and comprehensive meta-map of human development informs much of this work. Ideally, Integral Theory can be applied to help organizations cover all the bases in large scale, systemic change initiatives.
Unfortunately, much of the attention is focused on the Integral map’s external System Lens of programs, policies, and structures to influence external behaviors. Leaders who try to transform an organization by implementing new programs and policies with little regard for the inner intangible aspects will most likely be disappointed in the results. Complex systems are difficult to change without alignment across all aspects of the system; changes in only one or two parts of the system are usually canceled out by hidden counter reactions elsewhere in the system.
One big challenge is a lack of understanding and coherent approach to organize, motivate, and energize inner work. How do you define wholeness for the individual and the organization? How do you guide individual and organizational development in the same direction? How do you allow both the individual and the organization, as unique but not separate living systems, to fully express their creative potential in service to a shared vision?
What Is Development?
The capacities necessary to deal with 21st century complexities require inner growth and development. Unfortunately, most leaders do not have a basic understanding of human developmental theory as evolutionary stages of greater maturity, consciousness, and complexity. Personal growth is usually seen as acquiring new skills and knowledge through training and on the job learning.
Development is about shifting perceptions, changing how you know, not what you know. It is about expanding what the mind notices, pays attention to, and values as important, enabling you to see yourself differently, see others differently, and see the world differently. I like to think of development as becoming more of who you really are by peeling away the layers of social conditioning to reconnect with your true nature and allow more of your unique essence to shine through. Wilber describes being “integrally developed” as having a more complete self-image.
Archetypes—universal patterns of instinctual human behavior—can play an important role in supporting development by reconnecting us with the basics of being human and defining what wholeness, or “integral consciousness,” looks like. There is deep wisdom residing in our bodies regarding what it means to be human together that we have suppressed and forgotten in our modern society. Archetypes provide a map and clues of the unconscious territory enabling us to bring forth this wisdom into conscious awareness.
In their most primal form, archetypes represent essential energies or elements of the human experience. They include the earth element (caring, connection, loving kindness); the fire element (determination, focus, discipline); the water element (resilience, creativity, intuition); and the light element (presence, playfulness, gratitude). You can consider these qualities as primary colors to mix and match, enabling you to express more of yourself in the world.
These core archetypal qualities are the source of the behaviors and capacities organizations say they need to thrive in complex, rapidly changing conditions. Leaders want to see creativity, adaptability, collaboration, passion, purpose, and deep accountability in their workforce. Unfortunately, today’s society tends to overemphasize the fire element's power qualities at the expense of these other essential qualities, stifling creative potential. There is growing recognition that power and competition must be balanced by and integrated with other human elements.
Aligning Organizational and Individual Development
A key aspect of moving toward this notion of integral consciousness is to view organizations as living systems rather than machines. With this objective in mind, it is possible to align individual development and organizational development in the same direction toward greater aliveness, vitality, and capacity to create.
What if you were to consider an organization as having a soul, an awareness, and an intelligence of its own? The organization’s sense of identity, its reason for being, would spring from its own unique essence and purpose. Who it is as a dynamic entity would transcend what an organization does, providing meaning, motivation, and energy to adapt and thrive. The organization’s capacity to sense and respond to ever changing life conditions would expand beyond the awareness of the individuals within it. In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek highlights “existential flexibility” as an essential principle for sustained success in today’s rapidly changing world.
Archetypal patterns can be applied at the organizational as well as individual level to guide development. The cultural lens or collective field of the organization is shaped and energized by the same essential qualities as the individual psychological lens. What the organization notices, pays attention to and values as important is then structured and guided toward wholeness, integrity, and higher and wider reaches of its own potential. The independent “we” of the organization becomes a catalyst for individual development by operating at a higher level of awareness and pulling all individuals along their own developmental journey.
A Natural Process
Development cannot be forced or coerced by external rewards and punishment. It is a natural process of self-discovery to first notice where your thoughts and reactions are programmed to go and then to unlearn and let go of limiting beliefs that constrain potential. Development occurs gradually, over time through direct experience.
The organization’s responsibility is to create an environment that provides employees with the freedom to experiment, to make decisions, to experience failure, to accept responsibility for mistakes, and to be open to aspects of themselves they have not yet uncovered. Micro practices to support individual introspection and interpersonal interactions can be organized around the same core set of essential human qualities.
Little by little, step by step these practices shift how the organization and the people within it experience the world. Over time, awareness expands beyond individual thinking and desires, to understanding the needs and perspective of others, to considering the impact of our behavior on larger social, economic, and natural systems. Wilber portrays this organic flow as moving from ego-centric (me), to ethno-centric (us), to world-centric (all of us).
When individual development is aligned collectively toward a more mature, more complete expression of shared humanity, the field of possibility opens up in unexpected and surprising ways.
A New Storyline for Human Activity
It is very difficult for organizations to move beyond patterns of beliefs and behaviors that have been successful in the past. Archetypes help us let go of old storylines and illuminate new possibilities and pathways forward. As we awaken part of ourselves that have been sidelined or suppressed, we are no longer frozen into rigid roles, types, and traits based on outdated perceptions and expectations of who and how we are supposed to be.
What if roles and responsibilities, the heart of how organizations operate, were viewed from a dynamic, living system perspective beyond narrow task lists and job descriptions? The roles we play would become more dynamic and impactful, with a deeper understanding of how to respond to what is happening within you, around you, and beyond you. Shifting how we think about and fulfill roles can significantly change outcomes and the impact of the work we do.
As our individual and collective consciousness expands beyond ego-centric desires as well as current cultural constraints and expectations, more evolved and balanced expressions of archetypal qualities come into play. Using the 12 archetypal characters featured in What Stories Are You Living?, it is possible to envision engineers with the optimism and faith of the Idealist integrated with the practical and grounded approach of the Realist. Or perhaps you’ll see entrepreneurial innovators who demonstrate the pioneering spirit of the Seeker integrated with the commitment and loyalty of the Lover. We certainly need leaders at all levels to embody both the kindness and compassion of the Caregiver with the boldness and determination of the Warrior.
Archetypes provide us with an operating manual to reconnect with what it means to be human. As we individually and collectively evolve toward wholeness, we develop the capacity to transcend our basest reactions for survival and manifest our highest evolutionary potential.
“Transformation of the world lies hidden within the undeveloped capacity of every person.”
--Carol Sanford, The Regenerative Life
Betsy Sheppard is the founder of Human Brilliance an organization that provides practices and tools for inner development. She is a member of the Teal Around the World Network, which co-creates and shares current thinking and practices related to the future of work. Betsy is one of the producing authors of Adventures in Reinventing Work: Tales of Pioneers from Around the World, a Teal Network collaborative effort. Her areas of expertise include systems analysis, process and organization design, developmental psychology, and experiential learning.
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