Leadership decision-making with a four-dimensional lens

“Leadership for the twenty-first century needs a perspective with sufficient depth and breadth to allow a broader view of the complexity in which we now find ourselves.” — authors John P. Forman and Laurel A. Ross, Integral Leadership, The Next Half-Step

Conscious leadership provides a new perspective for leaders to make meaning but also for more effective decision-making. Philosopher Ken Wilber first introduced me to the concept of AQAL – all quadrants, all lines. Wilber created a comprehensive and inclusive map of how to look at the world and at any situation.

Forman and Ross are correct to highlight the fact that to be effective leaders in our complex 21st century we need a sufficient perspective that allows us the breadth and depth to solve the problems of our organizations.

Wilber writes that we need to start by the four fundamental perspectives of any occasion. These perspectives are the inside and outside of the individual and the collective.

Try this experiment. Draw a circle or a square and split it in half with a vertical line. On the left side you label it interior (internal) while on the right side you label it exterior (external). Draw now a horizontal line across the square labeling the top half individual and the bottom half collective.

What you have now [see diagram below] are four quadrants. Let’s look at each quadrant to get a better glimpse of its meaning.

• The upper right is the behavioral quadrant (individual/exterior). This is the area of an employee or colleague’s individual behavior. Forman and Ross write that this quadrant “anchors the specific actions that people take in the production of a product or service.” These are tasks that can be observed and objectively measured allowing us to create performance objectives. When we make forecasts, analysis of our products and inventories, we are operating out of this quadrant.

• The lower right is the social or systems quadrant (collective/external). Forman and Ross explain that this quadrant “anchors the systems that produce the products and services.” When leaders speak about processes, procedures and systems they are working out of this quadrant. How a company is structured and what their departments look like is a reflection of this social quadrant. This has also been called systems thinking: ‘concerned with recognizing and managing the whole and its parts simultaneously by understanding interdependent influences, relationships and processes’

• The upper left is the intentional quadrant (individual/interior). The authors of Integral Leadership say that this quadrant “anchors the interior of each person” in an organization. When we talk about thoughts, feelings, emotions and desires we are speaking about this quadrant. This is the area of interior landscapes rich with notions of purpose, values, meaning, inspiration and motivation. Most leaders won’t even acknowledge this area and if they do it’s probably thought of as an ‘intangible’ dimension.

• The lower left is the cultural quadrant (collective/interior). This represents the collective culture of the company. The important insight here is that organizations, like individuals, have interiors. When leaders speak of how things are done in the company, modes of communications, how decisions are made and workplace style they are acting in this quadrant. The authors Forman and Ross explain that “culture is to an organization what personality is to an individual – its collective values, attitudes, habits and experiences.”

The beauty of Wilber’s model is that it allows us to reframe our situation allowing us to see in new ways. For leaders this means we can use this ‘four-dimensional’ lens to take into account all perspectives to be more effective and skillful leaders.

Let’s look how this would work in practice:

– To facilitate the right actions by individuals in our organizations (upper right/behavior quadrant),
– leaders must understand and make meaning with individual’s interiors (upper level/interior quadrant),
– look at how they make decisions and interact with each other (lower left/cultural quadrant) and
– assess the processes, systems and communication that facilitate their decisions and actions (lower right/social quadrant).

The benefit of this approach to leaders is that “they give themselves the benefit of the total picture view: not just of the systems view, or the numbers view, or the ‘touchy-feely’ view, but a view of the entire company “life” in it is current iteration,” as Forman and Ross explain.

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