Part 3 of a conversation with John Knights on Transpersonal leadership
Editor’s Note: This series is based upon a November 2018 video conversation between GRLI Executive Director John North and John Knights, lead author of “Leading Beyond The Ego” and Chair of LeaderShape Global. A key inquiry that emerged from this conversation is one that has been a rich source for exploration before: “How we might shift our focus from maximizing any one initiative’s capacity for impact towards optimizing its role within a larger system of change so that we create bigger collective impact?” To achieve this, what kinds of leaders, equipped with what kinds of capacities, understandings, and skills are needed? How might we support the development and resilience of these leaders, in order to achieve the changes our world requires?
We invite the GRLI community to explore the roadmap and resources offered in Leading Beyond the Ego, and how this might support GRLI’s Call for Global Responsibility in how we live, learn, and lead as whole persons.
John North: In the last part, you described six interrelated leadership styles and how important it is for leaders to learn about them and discover where they are strong and where they can learn new ways of leading. Can you discuss how transpersonal leadership can bring leaders to full consciousness of their decisions?
John Knights: Many experts, books and leadership programs will say, you should start with values, because that is at the core of leadership. I agree values are critical. Without the right values, you can never be a great leader or have a great culture or a great organization. But I disagree that values is where you start. Our experience is that we need to raise our awareness and improve our behaviours (which is difficult enough) before embarking on the even more difficult task of bringing our values to full consciousness in everything we do. It is no use having great values if we don’t use them.
I believe, and my colleagues believe, that most of the human race are good people in terms of their core values. It’s just that they don’t allow them to come to full consciousness and be used all the time. And that is, I think, a really important need living in this increasingly complex world where we need to cooperate, distribute leadership and be serious about sustainability.
In order to do that, we need to manage beyond our ego. That doesn’t mean to say, we don’t ever think about ourselves or about our own rights. But what often happens when leaders are making decisions is there is a conflict between the benefit for themselves and for the organization or for the planet, and it is left in the sub-conscious and never seriously considered.
What we’re trying to help leaders to do is to make sure that we bring all that to full consciousness, so that whenever a decision is being made, we are conscious about whether we’re doing it for ourselves, or for our organization, or for the community, or the planet or any of the other stakeholders of the organisation. If we’re aware that there’s a potential conflict, then we can make better decisions by discussing it with someone who doesn’t have that conflict of interest. There are solutions to these things. But most people are just not aware of that conflict at the conscious level when they make those decisions.
The next thing is judgment and the process of decision making. We have five decision making processes (see diagram below) in our brain, and we are generally only taught and learn about one of them, which is the rational decision making. What we tend to be taught throughout our education including business schools is to make our decisions rationally.
In my experience, very few decisions are actually made rationally or analytically. We use our rational and analytical thinking to understand, explain and often justify our decisions, whereas the decision making itself is at a much more subconscious or non-conscious level. It’s done through the processes of intuition, instinct, or insight, or our ethical philosophy.
In this model we have developed, intuition is about learning from our personal experiences, instinct is learning from our forefathers’ experiences or our innate beliefs, and insights are from external stimulus. So they’re all different things and should not be grouped together as they usually are. If we identify these processes separately, about how we’re coming up with decisions, it’s much easier to identify where the biases and prejudices are, and overcome them.
The final process is in our decision making is our ethical philosophy. A lot of work on this subject has been done by Prof. Roger Steare, the author of Ethicability. He divides ethical philosophy into three areas. The first is integrity, the second is personal conscience and the third is rules. He and his team have assessed hundreds of thousands of people around the world. And basically he has found that one in three people will choose each one of those three ethical philosophies as their prime driver to decisions. Our experience supports that. Just get any room of people and you’ll find a good spread of ethical philosophy. It’s really important to know your own ethical philosophy, and the ethical philosophy of the people you’re work with.
A very simple example is to think about negotiating a contract with someone for whom it’s very important to cross the T’s and dot the I’s, and abide by exactly what is written. Their ethical philosophy is rules based. On the other hand you may be someone who is more interested in the intent of the contract (integrity), rather than the actual words that are written down or how it will affect the people involved in executing the agreement (personal conscience).
And if you don’t have an understanding for each other, then you’re unlikely to get a win-win situation.
The transpersonal journey has a variety of methodologies, models and exercises in the program to enable people to bring their values to full consciousness, to make use of that capability and to make it actionable. And ultimately with practice it becomes a habit.
The outcome is that you get radical, ethical, authentic leaders who are conscious of and working for the greater good rather than just for themselves. They can look much more broadly at the whole stakeholder map of an organization rather than just the prime stakeholder which may in one organization be the shareholders or another, the senior executives themselves. Often in public sector organisations the actual major stakeholder maybe the employees as opposed to the public. In the private sector, it is frequently announced that it’s the customer that’s most important, but when you dig down it often is not.
This is all about the ego of the organization. Each has its prime stakeholder but it is really important to be thinking consciously about all stakeholders. One of the stakeholders that is often forgotten about are the suppliers to those organizations. And in that context it is worth remembering that we are all suppliers to someone!
John Knights is Chair of LeaderShape Global and lead author of “Leading Beyond The Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader”, published by Routledge in March 2018. After a career as a senior international corporate executive and serial entrepreneur, John’s life changed when he learned to coach and then facilitate groups of chief executives to support them continue their development. This, plus the experience and research of working with many other leaders over the last 20 years, as well as a reflection on his own career, provide the basis for John and his colleagues to develop the Transpersonal Leadership journey.