The SPIRAL DYNAMICS Leadership Program

Humans have been struggling to understand leadership - the interpersonal dynamics that cause one person's behavior to influence the perceptions and behaviors of others - throughout the history of our species. There are many 'schools' of leadership, and almost all have contributed new insights about how Homo sapiens works. Books and conferences about the topic are endless. Leadership training is big business. What NVCC can contribute is an organizing principle for the various approaches because there are congruent forms of leadership at each level on the spiral. 

In our view, leadership is about interpersonal relations - whether in management, education, psychology, coaching, business, governance, or some other aspect of human affairs. Leadership studies seek to explain the interpersonal forces at work in a leader:follower relationship. Leadership of groups is a collection of one-to-one interactions with a common purpose, an intention which might be apparent or not, agreed or not. This influence occurs, both directly and indirectly, in particular ways in different vMeme systems. Whether dominated by sacrificial (communal) or expressive (individualistic) systems is a major factor. Aiming leadership at the wrong systems family, much less the wrong vMeme, is why leadership efforts sometimes fall flat; focusing in like a laser beam at the right place helps them to succeed. Sometimes the alignment comes 'naturally' and easily, and sometimes it is a forced fit that requires a lot of effort. Since both the leader and the follower are meeting needs, and the biopsychosocial systems at work are indicative of those needs, accurate recognition of both levels and the needs in their particular expressions is another chunk that application of SD can flesh out greatly. 

Basically, effective leadership is about congruence of both purpose and coping systems. There is no such thing as a universal leader or follower 'type,' nor are there traits of 'the leader.' In some systems, the line between leader and follower is sharp; in others, it is very fuzzy. Sometimes the roles reverse as situations change, and sometimes leadership must be no more than subtle facilitation lest to much authority trigger a backlash. Primitive efforts to describe leadership are like slivers from a spectrum - prescriptive catalogs of traits and behaviors that fit a narrow range. More sophisticated approaches factor in context and interpersonal skills, adding some flexibility. But few reflect the whole range of possibilities that shining the light of leadership through a Gravesian prism does. Most leadership models are niche-specific or else so general as to be impossible to apply concretely. Laying a good understanding of the spiral over them adds finesse and specificity. 

Leadership can be transitory. Existential problems (life conditions) might change, thereby taking a leader:follower relationship out of alignment. Sometimes one or both can realign to restore fit, sometimes not. And neuronal systems (mind capacities) might change, causing perceptions of circumstances and other people to be altered. In either case, what once was harmonious goes out of tune. Sometimes restoring balance requires a change of either the leadership or the followership, maybe both. Sometimes, a reframe of the conditions or an adjustment of the style is enough to get a fresh start. Leaders and followers come into alignment - and fall out of it - because of situations outside and capacities inside. This is driven by the double-helix forces in change

The simplest formula is to build a leadership system that operates 1/2 system ahead of people to be led if they are open or somewhat arrested. Build one that matches their level if they are largely closed. Providing leadership from a half step ahead demonstrates somewhat greater complexity without over-stretching, and allows for growth. Matching provides stability in a status quo with minimal threat when growth is unlikely. Operate with a style from too far ahead and people don't know what the leader is talking about; operate behind the curve and the followers ask what use the leadership is, anyway. To do this, you must be able to differentiate among the sub-systems with precision and know principles for dealing with people thusly centralized.     

The Design Question structures an analysis of appropriate leadership. This deceptively simple question is: "How should who lead whom to do what when? And why?" If you can provide a full answer to this question, you're closing in on what "leadership" needs to be.

How should... survey the tools, methodologies, means and styles to see what's realistic and available; determine that the How will fit the whom and is doable by the who; sort out the options that are available, accessible, and practical. Expanding this area might require training, hiring, or rearranging personnel so the requisite competencies are in the right spots. Leadership is an interpersonal relationship; ask if a good match in the leader:follower dynamic is feasible.

who... profile potential leaders and assess their own needs, as well as competencies to use necessary and congruent tools; is there openness to deal with the whom? Personality and temperament factors? The leader must have the capacity to both understand the needs of the follower and also to think a bit ahead, especially if the group to be led is open, capable, and interested in growth. The who might be considerably more complex in thinking and conceptual capacities, but must be capable of building a system which fits the follower:leader interaction at hand. Ideally, s/he (or they) can prepare for change. 

lead... differentiate the range of leader:follower relationship styles to see which is most congruent; leadership means different things at different levels; refine and align the form. There are so many philosophies of leadership and useful models that it impossible to sort for the right one, though determining a range of best fit is a good use for SD. The skill lies in finding an approach which is congruent with the people, work, and situation. It also means that leadership1 is not leadership2 is not leadership3. Use the spiral to sort out what "leadership" means in the particular context.

whom... profile the potential followers, those to be influenced and led, to spot their needs and drives; what is/are their worldview(s)? dominant coping systems? expectations? What are they looking for from 'leaders?' What are their coping strategies? What are their likely hot and cold buttons? This is where all sorts of temperament and personality assessments are appropriate so as to get the clearest picture of those to be led (or managed or taught or coached, etc.). The more accurate the picture of the client, the more likely a good frame to surround leadership.

to do what look at the complexity of the work, the thinking required, and milieu in which it exists; is the apparent task the real purpose? Different tasks and functions require different levels of thinking on the spiral. Ask the level of cognitive complexity required, the interpersonal and technical competencies, and the requisite capacities to deal with the demands imposed by the work. Ask who might do it naturally, who might do it with great effort, who might enjoy it, and who would find it punishing.

when? review the context and time initiatives to fit lifecycle stages and align with change states and transitions. Organizations are born, get excited, reach maturity, and fade away. Societies and governance models do the same. Assess the lifecycle phase of the organization and what its energy is, then adopt a leader:follower approach that fits with an eye to change, either in process or pending. 

Why? clarify strategy and intent, and ensure that what is being done is worth doing; ask what business are we really in? Before engaging in any kind of initiative to work on leadership, organization design, strategic planning, or management development, it's crucial to make certain that the objective is clear and that it is broadly understood. Otherwise, vast energy and resources can be squandered in generating 'noise' that ultimately neutralizes itself, fragments, and goes nowhere. If it's not possible to answer "Why are we doing this?" without thinking about it, job one might well be to figure that out.

Given this process, how might you apply the Spiral model to leadership? After asking the Design Question and fleshing out all of its parts, do some spiral analysis and apply the models expanded on in training by:

Differentiating - needs of potential followers and aspiring leaders
Building congruence - in systems and styles so leader:follower (L:F) align
     Interrupt that alignment if you want to create dissonance as a change condition
     Reinforce alignment if you want stability
Profiling - present state, desired state (if different), states of change, and the most
     likely and useful direction of change
Assessing life conditions in the milieu and mind capacities in the people in which the L:F
     relationship exists
Anticipating trends in people, markets, disciplines, and societies as whole ecological
Aligning leadership-followership relations to fit a context and the vMemes operating in it now
     and next
Knowing when to lead, when to follow, when to "facilitate," and when to do nothing

"Organizations which keep managing in the ways which made them successful in the first place are in danger of collapse" - Dr. Clare Graves

 Because conditions change
 Because people change
 Because markets change
 Because societies change
 Because ecological systems change
 Because human nature changes.

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