Get the Full Picture; Leaders See Multiple Perspectives in a Complex World

4Q's_v2Many of us are enjoying watching the Winter Olympics, cheering on athletes, witnessing the human drama of endurance, winning and defeat. And many of us are disturbed at the disjunction of human rights and sports in Sochi. Craig and Mark Kielburger  of Free the Children and Me to We  asked both experts and readers in a recent Globe and Mail column to respond to the question, “How do we enjoy the Olympic Winter Games without ignoring human rights issues ?”

I was struck by how the wide-ranging  points of view they include can illustrate  the four integral perspectives that we can bring to look on the world.

  • For people attuned to Awareness  and alignment with personal values and meaning – “I’m not watching. I can’t be authentic and still support an Olympics (hosted by a country) that arrests homosexuals and kills stray dogs…”
  • For people attuned to Actions and effective behaviours ; “Someone should produce a few thousand rainbow coloured wristbands for everyone to wear…”
  • For people attuned to Collective and community relationships – “Yell for your awesome athletes but also cheer for the brave Russian human rights defenders…”
  • For people attuned to Structural Contexts – “contact the International Olympic Committee who made the decision to bring the games to Sochi and tell them human rights should be among the criteria for an Olympic host country…”

While all of these are by themselves potentially effective responses to the challenge, we can easily see how adopting a multi-pronged response would be more powerful, and increase the chance of effecting sustainable change. So too does having multiple perspectives help a leader to make better decisions.

Perspectives are ways of looking at the world

Many of us are familiar with personality assessment instruments, ranging from Myers Briggs to True Colours to the Enneagram. I use many of these instruments myself, and I know that they often require deep expertise or a registered license to use effectively or legitimately.

So how can you see and better value diversity of your team or your stakeholders if you  are not trained or certified to do so? If you are a leader, or trying to influence change in your professional or personal life, familiarity with these four integral perspectives can bring you a simple and satisfying way to answer the question, “Have we covered all the bases here?” Based on integral theory, these four perspectives are so fundamental to mankind that we find them reflected in human languages globally. They reflect the individual and collective, subjective and objective aspects that make up our human experience.

  • Awareness – our individual inner world of meaning, value, intention, reflected in 1st person I language. In the above, ” I can’t be authentic…”
  • Collective – our collective inner world of shared values, relationships and mutual support, reflected in 2nd person WE language. In the above, ” also human rights defenders” are included in the circle of care.
  • Actions – our individual objective world of behaviours and doings, reflected in3rd person He-She- IT language. In the above , “wear wristbands“.
  • Contexts – our collective objective world of shared systems, policies, decision making structures, reflected in3rd person plural  ITS language: in the above “criteria for Olympic host countries

Each of us has a natural orientation and a way we naturally attune to: A way of privileging one or two of the four aspects. For myself, I tend to check in with my personal values and what has meaning to me, and then I  seek contexts that validate or allow for its expression (an Awareness – Contexts orientation). Someone else might begin with a shared meaning and direction from their workgroup, family or client groups and then jump into action to respond to those needs (a Collective- Action orientation). Any two of the four perspectives will be our primary worldview.

In the stress of tackling issues or managing change, we may be drawn to people who see things the same way we do, or who use similar language. Often this makes us feel good , “Yeah, he gets it!”, but without more of the four perspectives we are not getting the whole picture.

Practices to Attune to the Full Picture

We may tend to work harder and harder at what we’re good at, not taking the risk of bringing in what may at first feel strange. Yet having an integral perspective feels expansive, eye-opening and good for us! Here are some practices to help familiarize you with these four perspectives, become aware of your preferences and potential blind spots. Create a little reminder chart of these four perspective – like the one at the top of this blog. [Adapted from Integral Life Practice by Wilber, Patten,  Leonard and Morelli]

  • The next time you’re watching a presentation, , reading a paper or blog, or in a meeting  where your full attention is not required, listen to others to see if you can discern their use of language (I, WE, IT, ITS)  or where they tend to go to first in diagnosing a problem or proposing a solution.
    • Is he about meaning and purpose? (Awareness)
    • Is she about action and learning by doing? (Action)
    • Is he about belonging and a shared mind-set? (Collective)
    • Does she need to know the larger context to make sense of what to do next? (Context)
  • If you’re solving a problem, making a complex decision, negotiating a deal or managing a change, and you want to be sure to take multiple perspectives into account, ask yourself:
    • which of these four perspectives am I  relying on here?
    • which of these perspectives are under-represented?
    • with who, or how, might we get a fuller, or wider view?

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