1. Introduction: The Call of Integral Leadership


Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions – rearranges itself…We are currently living through such a time. – Peter Drucker

The purpose of this manifesto is:

  1. To lay out a new vision for leadership, one that is both integrally informed and adequately accessible for today’s leaders; and
  2. To offer a compelling “call to action” to inspire and guide leaders who are serious about changing things for the better.

I understand that this manifesto makes some bold assertions. However, in the evolution of any idea, philosophy, or field of study, every few decades or so, a tipping point occurs.  The paradigm of leadership has reached such a point.

This manifesto—and the accompanying Integral Leadership book my colleagues and I are working on—is about how we as leaders can leverage this emerging paradigm to help us become more effective, potent forces for good.

This manifesto is for two types of readers:

  1. Readers who are serious about becoming more effective at influencing people and organizations in the service of positive change.  (Age, background, and station in life do not matter. What matters is a willingness to learn and grow, and a dedication to practice.)
  2. Readers who are already interested in integral studies who want to move beyond theoretical ideas to leveraged action in the real world.1

Leadership theory, as it has been conventionally taught for the past century, has been primarily the domain of gray-haired, conservative white males. I want to change that. I don’t care if you wear Armani suits or camos to work. My desire is to help bring leadership theory out of the ivory towers of academia and stodgy boardrooms of public corporations and put it into the hands of scrappy entrepreneurs, youthful visionaries, and gritty revolutionaries that need it.

In Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin insists that everyone can be a leader and that anyone who wants to make a difference can. He implores readers, “You’re a leader. We need you.” I agree. You don’t need to be an employee of a large corporation selected by committee to be a “high potential” in a company-sponsored “Leadership Development Program” to learn to lead.2 And you don’t need any particular title or sanctioned authority to drive change in your organization or community.

Your group needs a leader. Why not you?  If you want to create change, and you are willing to put in the practice it requires to develop your Integral Leadership skills, you can learn to lead as well as or better than any CEO.

Which Style of Leadership Works Best?

There are as many styles of leadership as there are types of leaders and diverse people and situations in which the phenomenon of leadership emerges. The approach described in this manifesto works in any situation where human beings are involved. Not because Integral Leadership is a one-size-fits all approach. Rather, the opposite. One-size-fits-all approaches rarely work with any consistency. Integral Leadership does work consistently precisely because it transcends and includes all the other styles (or schools) of leadership.

Abraham Maslow famously stated, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Leadership as it is conventionally taught is made up of different schools. There’s the Hammer School…the Plier School…the Crescent School…and the Screwdriver School.3 Historically, the pundits of each of these various schools were perfectly content to enthusiastically, and exclusively, advocate their singular approach.

Why insist that a hammer is the tool of choice for every leadership job? Why didn’t these brilliant scholars offer an approach that could adapt to the diverse psychological makeups and environmental complexities of different situations?

The reason is that, up until very recently, there was no practical way to adequately assess the intricacies of a situation and reliably know if it required a hammer, pliers, crescent wrench or screwdriver.4 In fact, situational assessments of this nature are very difficult to do accurately. However, user-friendly, practical methods now exist. These approaches have been field-tested with hundreds of leaders and thousands of employees. The verdict: these methods work. The goal of this manifesto and the book is to make these valuable insights available to a more mainstream audience.5

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

      — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity

For those not familiar with it, we should first clarify what we mean when we use the term integral. The dictionary definition of integral is “possessing everything essential or significant; complete; whole.”

Integral approaches (whether to medicine, education, psychology, ecology, politics, etc.) seek to incorporate all of the essential perspectives, approaches, and schools of thought into a unified, comprehensive, inclusive, and empirically accurate framework.6

Most conventional leadership styles (schools of leadership) work with some people some of the time. Few, if any, work with all people in every situation. An integral approach to leadership seeks to incorporate the enduring truths while drawing on a broader and more sophisticated model of human interaction to provide overarching guidelines for which approaches will work consistently with which people in which situations.7

There are many books on conventional theories and practices of leadership. And there are many books on Integral Theory and methodology. There are even a few pioneering texts that are beginning to explore how these two fields might be usefully combined into this emerging practice of “Integral Leadership.” While these are all excellent resources for our friends and colleagues who are involved with leadership theory and integral methodology as part of their profession, these publications are generally less accessible, and less useful, for the general public due to their perceived “complexity.” The field of Integral Theory is often experienced by newcomers as highly technical, at times difficult to understand, and frequently difficult to apply.

My goal is to offer a way to put Integral Theory into action in the real world while simultaneously popularizing a new, superior model of leadership.

This manifesto draws on my direct experience of more than 10,000 hours teaching Integral Leadership to hundreds of CEOs and executives in the original Integral Leadership Program (a rigorous, intensive 52-week, practice-based executive education program now in its 10th year).

The result of this multimillion-dollar decade-long experiment is a uniquely effective approach to Integral Leadership that many view as simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Apple’s ubiquitous iPod provides a useful analogy to help explain the expression simplicity on the other side of complexity.

As you may recall, back in 2001 the late Steve Jobs led Apple into the crowded portable digital music (mp3) player market by introducing the iPod and iTunes. Within a few years, Apple dominated the portable music player market, decimating more than 50 competitors, and achieved a 74% market share for his iPod player. Even more significantly, he transformed the way music was distributed and used by consumers. He went on to leverage his success with the iPod to create a halo effect for the entire Apple product line, spurring unprecedented traffic into Apple’s retail locations, and ultimately leading to the dominance of the iPhone and more recently the iPad.8 Prior to its release, experts, pundits and manufacturers of portable music player technology emphasized the technical capabilities of these remarkable little devices. They would speak of transfer rates in megabits per second, IDE hardware breakthroughs, mp3 vs. mp4 audio compression schemes, and remarkable miniaturization manufacturing innovations. And they believed that consumers cared about these things.

We recognize a very similar phenomenon with our friends and colleagues who are experts, pundits and providers of Integral Theory and Methodology in and around Integral Institute (and its various satellite organizations), Stagen Leadership Institute, and even our own publication Integral Leadership Review.

Those of us who are enthusiastic advocates for applied Integral Theory can be a lot like the early mp3 player manufacturers. We often speak of the technical capabilities of this new “technology.” But rather than talk about transfer rates, megabits per second, and miniaturization, we speak of quadrants, lines, levels, states and types. We rave about remarkable innovations such as integral methodological pluralism. We are enthusiastic advocates for second-order adaptive change methodologies that move sentient holons out of gamma traps, through flex states into new alpha configurations.

As integral enthusiasts, like the early mp3 manufacturers, we sometimes naively believe that consumers care about those things.

Its not that Steve Jobs didn’t care about the technology as much as his peers. Clearly, he possessed a deep and nuanced understanding of the technology that he intended to use to transform his industry (and other industries, as we have now seen).

What set Jobs apart was his understanding of what consumers cared about.

The people who would really benefit from an iPod didn’t care about file compression, transfer rates, or IDE miniaturization. They cared about music.

What Jobs understood was that if you give people something they can use, something easy and enjoyable to use, something they can begin using immediately, then they will use it!

As anyone who owns one can tell you, the design of the iPod is elegant: form meets function at the next level. For me, the iPod is a good illustration of simplicity on the other side of complexity.

My purpose for writing this manifesto (and the book with Russ) is to provide leaders and aspiring leaders something useful, something easy and enjoyable to use…. something you can begin using immediately.

So what about all of our technical friends and colleagues who share our passion for leadership theory and integral methodology?

In my experience, computer geeks love iPods (and iPhones and iPads) just as much—maybe even more—than the average user. They pore over the spec sheets, marvel in the design details, and revel in the innovative application of emerging technologies.

For all of my beloved integral friends (and fellow integral geeks) reading this manifesto, let me be perfectly clear:
My goal first and foremost is to provide a description of Integral Leadership that you can proudly share with your clients, your employees, your minister, and even your mom. None of them will have to learn a thing about the integral equivalent of file compression, transfer rates, or IDE miniaturization. And it is also my hope that when you pore over the endnotes, dig deeply into the accompanying book, and reflect on what’s really going on here, you can appreciate the skillful application of Integral Theory. Then I hope you, too, will regard this gift to the world—like the iPod—as simplicity on the other side of complexity.

As you read this manifesto, please keep in mind that this is merely an introduction… a high-level overview of an approach my colleagues and I have spent more than a decade developing. And now I’m distilling the most essential ideas (minus all the case studies, stories and leadership templates found in the book) into this brief online manifesto. I look forward to reading and responding to your comments.

[ Continue to the next section: The Problem with Leadership Theory | Or Return to Table of Contents ]


  1. There are several approaches to integral studies but the most comprehensive is the AQAL Integral framework pioneered by Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute.
  2. While readers don’t need to be a CEO, be enrolled in a leadership development program, or be in an elected or appointed “leadership position”, its certainly fine if you are!  I have worked with hundreds of CEOs and other senior leaders in positions of authority and have designed countless corporate leadership development programs including co-developing and co-facilitating Integral Leadership programs with Ken Wilber at the Integral Institute as well as the gold standard Integral Leadership Program at the Stagen Leadership Academy.
  3. The real names of these schools are suggested in the following sections of this introduction and will be elaborated on in my forthcoming book.
  4. Another reason these authors exclusively advocate their own school is, as we shall see in The Problem with Leadership Theory section, most of these authors are not integral, and therefore, they are subject to their respective worldviews.
  5. My Integral Institute colleagues and I published the first description of Integral Leadership in 2005 in the (now) prestigious Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Volume 1, Number 1. See Integral Business and Leadership: An Introduction by Brett Thomas, Leo Burke, John Forman, and Michael Putz.
  6. Ken Wilber and our colleagues at the Integral Institute have developed integral approaches to medicine, education, psychology, ecology, politics, business, and dozens of other domains building on the All Quadrants, All Lines, All Levels, All States, All Types (AQAL) framework.
  7. My colleagues and I at Integral Institute have spent the past decade applying the clarifying and synthesizing perspectives of integral theory and methodology to update biases, make new connections, and illumine blind spots of the management and leadership theorists who have gone before, including: Drucker, McGregor, Kaplan and Norton, Senge, Hammer, and Collins, et al. The Integral Leadership framework is sufficiently robust to incorporate all previous explorations into leadership and management. For a summary of how various schools of management theory fit into the Integral Leadership framework, see Integral Business and Leadership: An Introduction by Brett Thomas, Leo Burke, John Forman, and Michael Putz in the  Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Volume 1, Number 1. Winter 2005
  8. In 2005, in an effort to explain what the Stagen Leadership Institute was doing in our pioneering Integral Leadership Program, my partner Rand Stagen and I authored a white paper entitled “Next-Level Leadership” which details Steve Jobs’ leadership of Apple during this transition. It is available at http://www.stagen.com/perspectives/next-level/


  1. Neelesh says:

    The first attempt at 2-1 conversation, I think, as opposed to a 2-2?

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