Leadership as Consciousness – Elevating your world view to improve your leadership effectiveness

In working towards the ideal definition of leadership we have looked at three Cs:

• Character – the virtues and strength of a leader
• Competence – the effectiveness of accomplishing the mission and
• Change – the leaders’ ability to improve an organization through producing change, growth and dealing with complexity


Let me now add a fourth C to my concept of leadership: Consciousness.

By consciousness I mean awareness, perception and view. My understanding of leadership is not complete until you realize that the previous components of leadership I mentioned are really separate views of the world. And it’s the integration of these worldviews that brings about the most effective leadership needed in the 21st century.

This is a longer post so let me breakdown the major themes I will explore:

– Leadership properly understood “transcends and includes” the three worldviews behind Character, Competence and Change
– There is a hierarchical nature of human development, with distinct levels or stages
– The leading edge of leadership is actually a 2d tier development level, what I called the 4th C of Consciousness. This is significantly different than all other worldviews
– At this 2d tier of development we experience a truly integrated and balance approach to leadership with unique leadership abilities such as integrating character, competence and change.

Let me explain.

Transcend and Include Three World Views

Let’s return to our definition of leadership. A gradual realization came over me that each part of the leadership component was actually a separate way of viewing the world, based on a different level of consciousness and culture. Living abroad and traveling the world has taught me one of the most important pieces of wisdom – ‘you see the world not as it is but as you are.’

This concept is known as worldview, from the German weltanschauung. Writer Carter Phipps explains the following about worldviews in his book Evolutionaries, ‘’…we don’t have them; for the most part they have us. They are deep structures that determine the very way we make meaning in the closeted capacities of our own consciousness.”

To understand this concept well required a world view of great depth and consciousness. Using the three parts of my leadership definition required building upon and integrating the best of three different worldviews:

• The pre-modern world – The character and virtue to influence others as practiced by the great leaders, warriors and sages of the ancient world and traditional cultures.
• The modern world – The science, processes, strategies and behaviors of the modern world to design a system of success to accomplish the mission.
• The post-modern world – The view of 21st century organization and their stakeholders as an integrated body and their impact on improving the organization through people, profit and our planet.

Rather than excelling at one level of leadership, the 21st business leader will need to “transcend and include,” as philosopher Ken Wilber wrote, all three world views. As leaders reach higher levels of consciousness, of awareness they experience a new mindset; a truly integrated and balanced approach to leadership.

This is the challenge and opportunity of business leaders in the 21st century.

An upward ladder of human emergence

The concept of worldview and the development of human consciousness is an important point for leaders.

Don Beck, former psychology professor, has written that there is an “upward ladder of human emergence.”

Beck has developed the concept of Spiral Dynamics, from the same titled book,  which ‘…posits that the evolution of human consciousness can best be represented in this way: by a dynamic, upward spiraling structure that charts our evolving thinking systems as they are higher and higher through levels of increasing complexity.”

Spiral Dynamic focuses on levels of psychological and cultural existence called value systems or memes. He based his work on the humanist psychologist Dr Clare Graves who created the concept of an unfolding, spiraling process which introduces higher-order levels based on the problems that have to be solved – by an individual or group.

Graves was a peer in the 1960s of the well-known humanist psychologist Albert Maslow. Like Graves, Maslow’s work focused on the impact of unfolding levels of consciousness and how this affected people’s view of the world and their priorities. Concepts that Maslow created, like “Hierarchy of Needs” and self-transcendence, are now well-known in today’s management vernacular. But the ideas of Maslow’s contemporary are less known but equally, if not more, important for today’s leaders to understand and master.

“What I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process, marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to new, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change.” ~ Dr Clare Graves

The implication for leaders is that each successive level or ‘meme’ requires a different mindset and priorities to solve more complex problems.

“Each successive meme contains a more complex organizing principle, with newly calibrated priorities, mindsets, and specific bottom lines. It’s a way of solving problems. It’s a way of assigning priorities to what’s more important and why, formed in response to the Life Conditions.” Don Beck

This spiral model represents different levels that are unique value systems of looking at the world and its problems and priorities.

The First-Tier Systems – ‘Subsistence’

Beck, building on Dr Graves’s work, has identified eight specific memes or levels. Each of these levels is represented by colors to provide a cultural and social-neutral way to represent these ideas.

Before I summarize each level let me begin by sharing the characteristics common to all stager or value systems. Author Said Elias Dawlabani, in his book MEMEnomics, The Next Generation Economic System, does a great job a putting this framework in context:

• These levels affect individuals as well as societies.
• The interaction between life conditions and human capacities is the most important aspect that defines the emergent nature of this framework. An individual develops through various levels in their life as life conditions change.
• Different levels can co-exist at the same time in a person or society but we each have a center of gravity.
• No single value system exists on its own; it’s the entire ‘spiral’ or value-systems’ stack that determines the totality of what’s important for a culture and an individual.
• Each value system can exhibit both healthy and unhealthy expressions. Well see below that Orange represents achievement and self-interest. In the healthy form this level has helped to create the industrial revolution and our modern capitalistic economies. But equally important, there are unhealthy expressions of this worldview such as materialism and environmental degradation of our planet.
• “As a person or a culture moves up to a higher-level order system, they transcend and include all the lower level value systems.”
• “When a person or culture solves the problems of existence within their value system, they immediately create the problems that will trigger the emergence of the next value system.”
• Individuals and cultures cannot skip a development stage. This is still true in our 21st century always-on, social media and mobile technology culture. “Law and Order must precede Prosperity and Science,” explains Dawlabani. Countries like Iraq, or may ones in the African continent, cannot become Jeffersonian democracies (modern/orange level) without establishing institutions of law, order and free of corruption (pre-modern/blue level).

Now that the context is out of the way, let’s dive into the different levels or stages. The first six is a set of levels characterized by subsistence represent the spiral’s “First Tier.”

• Beige: the First-Level System – Instinctive/Survivalistic Meme. Do what you must to stay alive. “In the beige level all energy is directed toward survival through innante sensory abilities and instinctual reactions.” “This value-systems is uncommon today, but is seen in newborns, the senile elderly, late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and mentally-ill street people, ” according to Dawlabani.
• Purple: the Second-Level System – Magical/Animistic Meme. Keep the spirits happy and the tribe’s nest warm and safe. Beck wrote that at this level people “show allegiance to chief, elders ancestors and the clan.” Dawlabani explains that “thinking is magical and is a response to a mysterious and threatening world…and survival is achieved through the banding together of the tribe.”
• Red: the Third-Level System – Impulsive/Egocentric Meme. Be what you are and do what you want, regardless. “The world is a jungle full of threats and predators, “explains Beck. Dawlabani writes that “Red is interested in power and domination and enforces power over self, others and nature through exploitative independent action.”
• Blue: the Fourth-Level System – Purposeful/Authoritarian Meme. Life has meaning, direction, and purpose with predetermined outcomes. This is about Law and Order. Here “one sacrifices self to the transcendent Cause, Truth, or righteous Pathway. Righteous living produces stability now and guarantees future reward. Laws, regulations, and discipline build character and moral fiber,” explains Beck. This is the beginning of what most us think as civilization.
• Orange: the Fifth-Level System – Achievist/Strategic Meme. Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win. This level has been called the “Strive Drive,” which helped to create Prosperity and Science. Change and advancement are inherent within the scheme of all things. Beck suggests that “optimistic, risk-taking, and self-reliant people deserve success. Societies prosper through strategy, technology, and competitiveness.” The ideals at this level started in the West with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.
• Green: the Sixth-Level System – Communitarian/Egalitarian Meme. Seek peace within the inner self and explore, with others, the caring dimension of community. “Feelings, sensitivity and caring supersede cold rationality. Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus processes and refreshes spirituality, brings harmony, and enriches human development,” are some ways Beck explains this level. This is the last of the first-tier level. Egalitarianism and humanitarianism are example movements of this level.

The Leap to Second Tier – Making meaning and integrating previous levels

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

The next stage, Seventh-Level, called Yellow, is the first ‘being’ level. Clare Graves described this level as the point where humanity takes a “momentous leap.”

Combining Spiral Dynamics and the previous worldviews I addressed earlier, we start to see how these levels are actually stages of awareness that can correspond to our leadership ability.

• Leadership as Character (pre-modern world view); the healthy expression of Purple, Red and Blue levels
• Leadership as Competence (modern world view); the healthy expression of the Orange level
• Leadership as Change (the post-modern world view) the healthy expression of the Green level
• Leadership as Consciousness; the ‘momentous leap’ to 2d tier, to Yellow, integrating the best of all the previous levels

At this stage one can make meaning at all previous levels, integrating the healthy expressions of previous levels like Green, Orange, and Blue.

I call this level of leadership as Consciousness. The importance for leaders is that this is a higher level of awareness that integrates all previous level.
Attaining this level or stage of consciousness should the goal of all leaders. We excel as we take in more perspectives, realizing that we are ‘large’ and ‘contain multitudes’ as the American poet Walt Whitman writes.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45477/song-of-myself-1892-version

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