Reinventing Leadership: Leading Beyond the Ego

By John Knights for Enlivening Edge Magazine

The journey of transpersonal leadership development

Frederic Laloux’s excellent game-changing book, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness describes a new standard for the kind of organisation needed for our future increasingly complex, fast-changing world. A key requirement for this to actually succeed is to produce leaders who enable the creation, development, maintenance and improvement of such organisations.

My colleagues and I wrote Leading Beyond the Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader, (published by Routledge, March 2018) in order to provide a journey of development for any actual or potential leader, regardless of seniority or experience, enabling them to engage in continuous personal development and learning while operating beyond their ego. Transpersonal leaders must be radical, ethical, and authentic while emotionally intelligent and caring in order to create performance-enhancing, sustainable cultures. This requires a blend of rational, emotional and spiritual intelligence as the diagram below illustrates.

The transpersonal journey is in two phases (see diagram below) but beyond the basic level of intellectual and rational development that is typically provided at business schools and traditional leadership programmes. The intermediate journey (Part 1 of the book) is one of increasing awareness (of self, others, and the world around us) and learning to understand and manage our emotions (emotional intelligence).

The advanced phase of the journey (Part 2 of the book) focuses on learning how to bring our core values to full consciousness in everything we do. We learn to lead beyond the ego for the benefit of our organisation and its stakeholders, develop a purpose, and construct a personal touchstone. Together with knowledge about four non-conscious brain processes, we can thus significantly improve our holistic judgment and decision-making.

My colleagues, Danielle Grant and Greg Young, and I have developed and now deliver this programme based on 20 years of research and experience in dealing with leaders of all kinds—from the heads of global corporates to heads of start-ups and social enterprises.

We have also been able to reflect on our own senior international leadership journeys, often using them as a mirror of how we could have been more effective leaders if we had known then what we have learned in the process.

A major UK pension fund with a soon-to-retire leadership team wished to develop the next level of relatively inexperienced management to take over as soon as possible, realising they needed different leadership styles and culture for future success. The Transpersonal Leadership programme over one year supported by individual coaching enabled the organisation and the individuals to transform and succeed as the world of pensions changed.

In one way, the transpersonal journey is a mirror of the adult development processes described by Robert Kegan or Ken Wilber, and in fact we have used that concept as one of the foundations of development.

However, what we have attempted to do differently is to provide a methodology to accelerate that “adult” development by providing leaders with the opportunity to proactively rewire their brains rather than leaving reconfiguration to be at the mercy of serendipitous experience.

At the root of the journey is the notion that we are born with stone-age brains that are then rewired throughout life as a result of our environment (upbringing, education, and experiences). This is a well-proven concept generally referred to as neuroplasticity.

However, there is always a pull to return to that default brain unless we can re-connect our neural pathways into new habits that have become hard-wired enough to resist the tendency to revert to default.

Reconfiguring neural connections is best done through repeated practice over time, preferably in small doses. A common comparable example is learning to drive a car. When we first sit in front of the steering wheel and have to consciously think of several different new things that have to be done almost at the same time, the experience is very difficult for the brain to handle.

Yet a few months later after regular practice, one can be driving down the Motorway (or Freeway or Autobahn) and miss an exit because everything is happening automatically and we are thinking about something else entirely. This is because our driving has become a habit!

So it is with increasing awareness, learning new behaviours, bringing values to full consciousness, and leading beyond the ego. It requires not only the knowledge about how to do these things, it also requires the practice of actually doing it.

Our journey is not unique in the outcomes it can produce; I have come across a number of fantastic leadership development facilitators who use their own unique approach to create dialogue, space, and the appropriate environment.

However, this uniqueness often means the process is difficult to replicate.

Our goal is to provide a process that can be made available globally (beyond our own personal limited reach) as easily as possible, and therefore we have focused on making it easily replicable.

This is achieved in a number of ways. Any leader can use the book as a manual, read it carefully, and complete the questions and exercises at the end of each chapter—although we would recommend doing it with the support of an appropriate coach.

Institutes of Higher Education and individual coaches and leadership developers can use the book as a core text to follow with their students. In fact, Part 3 of the book explains in detail how to implement Transpersonal Leadership development.

This process enables other leadership experts and institutions to use our methodology and tool kit without have to reinvent the wheel. Of course we still love running our own transpersonal leadership development programmes for our clients, and training partners around the world to do the same.

At LeaderShape Global we also offer Transpersonal Leadership Coaching for individual development, and we hope to make this process available to coaches around the world in the near future. And we are already working with several Universities to infuse Transpersonal Leadership into their leadership, management, and business programmes.

What makes this possible is the way we have developed a series of 30+ modules that can be selected (like Lego bricks) and built into a series of half-day or full-day MasterClasses for teams or groups, supported by proprietary assessment tools, online content (reading, exercises, videos, etc) with remote conference calls and 1-to-1 coaching.

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is the workplace practice participants undertake between sessions. The process can be flexed to suit budget and logistics and balanced between face-to-face and remote sessions to suit the client’s needs.

We hope that the Transpersonal Leadership development journey offered in its various ways will help proliferate the type of leadership needed in the 21st century to develop and maintain the type of organisations proposed by Frederic Laloux.

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.

Block quoting added by Enlivening Edge Magazine.