The Ultimate Leadership Mindset – Combining Sociocracy With Action Inquiry And Transforming Leadership

By Domingo Chabalgoity and originally published on

This article has been written in aim of taking one more step interconnecting some mindsets, theories, and practices that can, together, promote real transformation on both individual and organizational level.

This article focuses on how Sociocracy establishes a base for transforming leadership and on the other hand, how transforming leadership helps in the use of Sociocracy. 

The article is directed to people who are considering leading a transformation or that are currently involved in an initiative of change.

What is Sociocracy?

Sociocracy is an organizational model known for more than a hundred years.

The appeal of Sociocracy in the current societal and business context is that it solves the problem of hierarchical distribution of power, which no other model has solved when trying to change organizations. Traditional hierarchical structures mean organizations continue to have problems such as, lacking the engagement of their collaborators, making decisions far away from the operations, falling back after a supposed successful change, maintaining high costs of controland more.

The four fundamental concepts of Sociocracy are a circle model organization, double links between circles, the equivalence of collaborators, and decisions taken by consent.

What is Transforming Leadership

The purpose of Amara Collaboration(*) is to develop leaders with Transforming Leadership capability around the world. Much of what is done in Amara bases on the GLP (Global Leadership Profile) and Action Inquiry, created by one of Amara’s co-founders Bill Torbert (*).

GLP is an assessment tool reporting  the leader’s typical meaning making (his/her action logic) according to his/her level of leadership maturity. These developmental levels are Expert, Diplomat, Opportunist, Achiever, and post-conventional leadership styles Redefining, Transforming, and Alchemical.

The Amara Way is a mindset and  set of practices that help people and organizations to develop the above mentionedpost-conventional leadership styles. The Amara way consists of three pillars:

1) Constant learning: as the fuel to keep the I, the We, and the Whole co-evolving continuously

2) Mature and Healthy Power: a belief in the capability of each member of a community and frequently practised in a team context.

3) Think and Act Systemically: an approach which considers how our decisions and actions impact on the whole system.

The fourth element of the Amara Way is inquiry-in-action (Action Inquiry?), which is the essence of wisdom that permeates all three pillars. We frequently analyze a situation, decide, act, and then evaluate the results. But a lot of the time, we react on autopilot based on our education and past events, which we may regret later.

We usually get disappointed when we react to a specific situation without considering the awareness we already have. As I see it, we can say that inquiry-in-action is awareness in real-time. With inquiry-in-action, if we eliminate the gaps between analyzing, deciding, acting, and evaluating, and can do that in the moment, we can apply the best of us to, and learn from, each experience.

How can Sociocracy and Transforming Leadership support each other?

As I see it, there is a synergy between Sociocracy and The Amara Way of Transforming Leadership.

Sociocracy is a proven way of modeling an organization, but it is not easy to implement. Managers usually don’t lead a transformation that is going to change his/her comfort zone. There must be some transforming leadership in place to get Sociocracy on the road. But on the other hand, where Sociocracy is in use, it promotes new leaders to flourish and to evolve on the GLP to later action logics. Let’s examine some points of interconnection between them.

The following table is a synthesis of this close weave between Sociocracy and Transforming Leadership through the Amara Way.

What are we looking for? Sociocracy contribution The Transforming Leader
Equivalence The round meetings offer a real opportunity for everyone to participate in decisions making. Considers individual differences. Is aware of the potential value contribution of each member. Promotes open space. 
Visibility The circle model and the statements of purpose and domain of the circles. It is clear to the circle’s members where the organization wants to go. Helps on the implementation of the circle model by not being attached to the old structures of power.Succeeds in communicating the strategic goals and the intermediate targets. Thinks systemically and promotes the understanding of all the members.
Transparency The double linking gives to an elected member of the circle the opportunity to participate in the circle reports. The insights of the circle flourish. Recognizes the contribution other people can make in narrating the ongoing activities.
Self-development The autonomy of the circles in evaluating the personal development needs of its members Is conscious of member’s and also his/her traits, shadows, and development needs. Promotes the individuality, growth and fulfillment of each member. 
Communication The double linking between circles and the open space culture of each circle Thinks systemically and is engaged in a weave of internal and external interrelationships.
Collaboration Members help each other because they are all accountable for circle purpose achievement  Is not a command and control supervisor. Is goal-oriented and conscious that all members, as a team, are responsible for accomplishing the goal. Is always inquiring and open to feedback, contributions, and innovations.
Engagement Equivalence and visibility promote each member’s engagement. Although engagement is a natural outcome of the above behavior, the transforming leader has it as a constant goal valuing individualities and context situations. 
Wholeness All the behaviours above support people to be integral to the organization. Is aware of individuals’ needs and of the integral life of each member. 
Performance The organization’s performance increases. Is goal-oriented and aware of strategic targets. Obtains results through a co-evolving team, exercising power in a healthy way, and thinking systemically.

I’ve worked with many initiatives of agile, digital, governance, organizational, and educational transformations in companies. When looking at only the successful cases, I’ve seen that when the impulse by a consultant firm or by a specialized new department ceases, the company quickly falls back to the old concepts and practices.

I believe there are two main reasons for this to happen: 1) the hierarchical old fashioned structure had not changed and 2) the lack of transforming leadership. It is not a management problem. It is a leadership one.

People in charge of a transformation should not be afraid of the question: “what is in it for me, after this change?”. This kind of courage is not frequently found in a manager unless he/she is a transforming leader.

The hierarchical models seem to install some dogmas and comfort zones that make it difficult to make real change. The way I see it, Sociocracy offers a roadmap to change this problem. It opens the door for transformations to take place. But is it easy to implement? No.

Although its principles are simple, it does require the courage to step away from dogmas and out of comfort zones. It is necessary to have one or two transforming leaders. If you are in a big corporation, you may have to share the problem and prepare more leaders before beginning the transformation.

But what is fascinating is that once you start with Sociocracy, other leaders will flourish. My key point is that you need transforming leadership to start with Sociocracy, then you will see emerging leaders coming through in your organization.

In conclusion, applying Sociocracy supported by transforming leaders creates a new mindset, creating a governance model that does not focus on governing the past but on promoting peoples’ development and the organization’s cultural and innovative transformation.

Domingo Chabalgoity is an advisor in IT and management with four decades of experience, as well a GLP practitioner and eager student of Action Inquiry. During the past years of his career he has shifted his purpose to focus on helping individuals and organizations in transforming their journeys.

For more on these themes, I recommend the following books: 

Street Smart Awareness and Inquiry-in-Action by Jane Allen and Heidi Gutekunst with William R.Tolbert.

Many Voices, One Song – Shared Power with Sociocracy by Ted J. Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzales

To keep up the conversation, follow me on Twitter @dchabalgoity

Republished with permission.

Some paragraph spacing and Featured Image added by Enlivening Edge Magazine. Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay