Saturday, September 15, 2012

Matthew Kálmán Mezey on "Clumsy Leadership," Cultural Theory, and Development

RSA Chief Executive, Matthew Taylor, recently gave his annual lecture (on 12th September) with an accompanying article in RSA Journal. Matthew Kálmán Mezey, the RSA's Online Community Manager, wrote a fairly long and detailed response to the lecture, essentially (this is going for the nutshell summary) asking Taylor if he is serious about creating conditions for people to increase their development (and by this Mezey is generally referring to Robert Kegan's model of cognitive development, which is only one line among many), and if so, how he would envision doing so?

[Let's ignore, for now, the whole thorny issue of "development," such as what it is, does it actually exist, is it an inherent predisposition, as often suggested in integral theory, or is it an evolutionary adaptation to life conditions, and is it morally and ethically right to "develop" people without a full disclosure of the what, why, and how?]

Taylor spoke about Cultural Theory (he calls it the "theory of plural rationality") in his lecture (using the recent example of the Olympics) and the idea that we need "clumsy" leadership to get us through some of the incredibly difficult problems we face, what Keith Grint calls "wicked problems":
A Wicked Problem is more complex, rather than just complicated – that is, it cannot be removed from its environment, solved, and returned without affecting the environment. Moreover, there is no clear relationship between cause and effect. Such problems are often intractable....
Cultural Theory advocates for "clumsy solutions" to these types of problems, since normal solution-focused thinking is no longer useful at this level. A "clumsy" solution involves, by Taylor's account, "the three active rationalities of hierarchy, egalitarianism, and individualism (as well as recognising the fourth, passive, rationality of fatalism)." Furthermore,
Leaders who can be part of developing clumsy solutions to wicked problems are likely to have reached an advanced level of awareness not just of the tasks, context and stakeholders but of themselves and – crucially – of the perspectives of others using different frames of rationality.

But lest this seem merely like an elitist’s call for a new generation of enlightened leaders it is important to recognise that leadership is also about followership.

Mezey suggests that "clumsy" leadership is roughly equivalent to Robert Kegan's self-transforming stage (the highest stage he has identified, which exists in less than 1% of the population). Using Jonathan Haidt as an (flawed, in my opinion) example, he ponders whether the 16 years it took Haidt, by his own account, to move from an intellectual awareness of multiple perspectives to actually living a post-partisan perspective (again, his account - he appears to have a conservative bias when I hear him speak without a script) is a possible norm for "growing" people.

Haidt is a poor example for another reason - his life is that of an academic and author. Such a life offers much greater opportunity for growth, and time for speculation, than that of a government official or a corporate CEO. Nor do the rest of us who work for a living have the freedom Haidt likely enjoys.

Anyway. There are links to a lot of good articles and books in this article, and I highly recommend it (although, it assumes some working knowledge of leadership, integral theory (especially Robert Kegan, but also some Spiral Dynamics), and Cultural Theory (the links to Matthew Taylor's article provide a good foundation).

Finally, Mezey offers a variety of options for engaging programs that may stimulate growth in people, and solutions are what we need. Among his suggestions are the following:
  • Launch a research project to uncover how commonplace the Self-transforming/Clumsy mind actually is. 
Eg across the UK, in organisations, in different professions, in Government depts, in No. 10 Downing Street, in the RSA...
  • Undertake a literature review/metanalysis of all interventions which have fostered positive adult growth (towards 'Clumsiness').
How many have successfully fostered development to the Socialised (traditional) stage, how many to the Self-authoring (modern) stage, how many to the Self-transforming - Clumsy - stage? Which ones appear valid and replicable? Could we help any to become widespread?
  • Produce a template to help active citizens create ‘Clumsy’ solutions
A toolkit to help active citizens to uncover how each of the three Cultural Theory rationalities would view any issue, followed by guidance on how to mesh them together to build a powerful and sustainable ‘Clumsy’ solution. (NB Cultural Theory sometimes adds in Fatalism and the Hermit as additional rationalities).
  • Start testing out the collaborative/organisational approaches - such as ‘Future Search’ - that Cultural Theory has assessed as being most ‘Clumsy’
An excellent - though, of course, challengeable - Cultural Theory paper by Steven Ney and Marco Verweij is titled Messy Institutions for Wicked Problems: How to Generate Clumsy Solutions. It looks at a number of approaches to collaboration, strategising and decision-making in organisations to see which ones are most ‘Clumsy’/’Messy’(ie does it honour the 4 or 5 Cultural Theory lenses?).

Candidate approaches researched include Open Space, Soft Systems Methodology, Citizen’s Juries, Bohm Dialogues, Future Search, Wisdom Circles and the Learning Organisation. (It assesses 19 in all).

The most Clumsy/Messy - and potentially Self-transforming - is Future Search, with others like Design Thinking and 21st Century Town Meetings coming close too. Bohm Dialogue, Learning Organisation and Open Space are some of the approaches that only honour one of the rationalities, and so are far from integrative and ‘Clumsy’. (I’m not the only one who might quibble with some of this - but it’s a great step forward to scan the current tools being used in organisations, from NGOs to corporations, and to analyse which are most integrative/Clumsy).
  • Begin to assess government policy proposals to see whether they are integrative and ‘clumsy’, or not.
Use Ney and Verweij’s assessment approach - above - but apply it to proposed Government policies.

Another angle on this might be to undertake a before and after adult developmental stage assessment, to see if policies are fostering the growth of ‘Self-authoring’ minds (as the OECD said was so important in the 21st century - see Beyond the Big Society) or Self-transforming minds.
  • A booklet featuring the key proponents of the different models of plural rationalities outlining how their approach has successfully dealt with - or could deal with - a particular ‘wicked’ issue.
An edited collection of short articles could showcase approaches such as:
- Cultural Theory’s plural rationalities
- Jonathan Haidt’s moral matrices
- Prof Robert Kegan’s ways of knowing
- Prof Clare Graves/Spiral Dynamics’ ‘Value memes’
- Mark Williams’ ‘10 Lenses’ (actually there are really 11, as he has a clumsy/integrative one too).
- Pat Dade’s 12 ‘Values Modes’ (with its three Maslowian top-level categories of ‘Sustenance Driven’, ‘Outer Directed’ and ‘Inner Directed’)
- Torbert/Loevinger/Cook-Greuter ‘Action Logics’/Ego stages
- Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral stages
- Ken Wilber’s integral approach (though this is an integration, rather than a single model)

(And potentially many others too: Michael Commons, William Perry, Belenky et al, Hall-Tonna, Richard Barrett, King and Kitchener, Marcia Baxter Magolda etc).

I don’t think any publication like this has been attempted before - and it could be very helpful indeed to policy-makers - offering some really fresh thinking on ‘Wicked’ issues.

  • Support ‘Clumsy’ leaders, help them to stay - and grow - inside their organisations
A new ‘Clumsy’ leaders network might help, and I’m sure Jennifer Garvey Berger isn’t the only person who’s thought about how to support Self-transforming/clumsy individuals so that they don’t leave their organisations - where their input could be unique and valuable. (This might make a good topic for a research project). The idea that organisational culture often acts as a sorting mechanism to drive away the very people who might be able to succeed with ‘Wicked’ issues is pretty troubling.

Another place to look for ways to turn organisations into supportive and deliberately transformational institutions might be in the work on schools by Eleanor Drago-Severson. Her wonderful 2009 book
Leading Adult Learning: Supporting Adult Development in Our Schools is a pioneering look at how school leaders can foster the adult development of their staff by understanding developmental diversity, in order that their schools be the most effective for their students.

Ellie describes 4 practices that schools - and any other organisation - can use to support adult transformation and growth:

- Teaming
- Providing Leadership Roles
- Collegial inquiry
- Mentoring

Of course, it may even turn out that the late Elliot Jaques was right all along with his rather prescriptive and hierarchical vision of a ‘Requisite Organisation’ that is designed to reflect, engage and support the different stages of cognitive complexity of staff. (Part of the problem might be that Jaquesians have never properly reworked his model for the world of knowledge-based work?)

  • From Alpha Course… to Genesis Course - spreading transformation across the UK and beyond
The RSA’s Beyond the Big Society report called for ‘transformational learning hubs which run training exercises for community leaders’.
One way I envisage to do this would be to create a secularised, transformational equivalent of the Alpha Course, complete with shared meals - and an active citizenship focus.

The Alpha Course has proven hugely popular with its 'opportunity to explore the meaning of life': it has attracted 3 million participants in the UK, and 15 million worldwide. I think some don’t - initially - even fully realise its Christian basis. It now runs in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and elsewhere.

Could there be a way fuse citizens’ skills, self-development, effectiveness and community engagement (and ‘Social Brain’ reflexivity) into a deliberately transformational 10-week course, that could spread across the 100 countries that have RSA Fellows?
I particularly like the idea of "wicked problems" pamphlets with solutions offered by many or most of the folks Mezey identifies above. These white papers could be very influential if given enough publicity and put in the hands of sympathetic leaders in various fields.

I also like the idea of generating a template for local leaders or organizers to generate clumsy solutions for wicked problems at the local level, which maybe then can be scaled up to the next bigger level, and so on. Bottom-up approaches, at least in the U.S., tend to work very well (witness the highly organized GOP takeover of school boards, local government, state government, and then for much of the last 45 years, the White House).

One idea I would like to see is some way to identify those people with the most power to create change and cultural shifts, however many that may be - from 10 or 15 to possibly 500. Then create an assessment that could easily identify their stage according to Kegan's model, with the goal of identifying those who may be already in position, developmentally, to implement these "clumsy solutions" so that they can be given information and a meta-framework for understanding these ideas.

My sense is that there are thousands of people in powerful positions who, if they could be shown the importance of greater depth and wider span in their leadership methods, would already be in position to generate considerable change very quickly.

But I am, strangely, an optimist.

For more information

These are some of the links offered in the body of the article:

1 comment:

Matthew Kalman Mezey said...

Hi William,

So gad you liked some of the ideas etc in my long piece about 'Clumsy'/integral leadership - and thank you so much for finding space for it in your blog.

There are a lot of academics and educators around Marcia Baxter Magolda who might well develop a quick and simple Kegan assessment, they might even have already done it. Though I’m not sure they’re so bothered about ‘Self-transforming’ (level 5). Level 4, and transition from 3, is their focus.

Despite all my various wounds, idiosyncraces and pessimisms, I’m still an optimist – as you are.
I feel just like this too: “My sense is that there are thousands of people in powerful positions who, if they could be shown the importance of greater depth and wider span in their leadership methods, would already be in position to generate considerable change very quickly.”

These approaches are so damn unknown right now, that it’s no surprise that there is a lack of change.

I think a publication with, say, 10 analyses of social issues, done by 10 different models of plural rationality, could make a big difference – be a real catalyst.

There must be so many people – like Taylor, Haidt, me – who are on the look out for good models that make useful patterns of the world out there. OK, we’ve found them, so we’ve a bit further ahead than some. But I suspect many are receptive.

I went to an RSA lecture just now – about a new history of power. But it presented a model based around occupational value systems/castes. Pretty much another model of plural ratonalities. Here’s more about it:

Re Haidt and the 16 year gap, I only picked that topic as everyone knows Haidt and everyone trusts him and he clearly described these two turning points in his book for us all – and his experience somehow relates to his opening up to Spiral Dynamics’s ‘Second Tier’ of awareness of plural rationality.

What other thought-leader has made such a shift towards Second Tier so public? (I don’t understand why the Integral milieu doesn’t rush to embrace these developments – it so often appears to me to have an attitude of ‘We’ve got the answers for you!’, which I really dislike nowadays. It’s so early pre-conventional, for a start! ;-) ).

You say:
“[Haidt’s] life is that of an academic and author. Such a life offers much greater opportunity for growth, and time for speculation, than that of a government official or a corporate CEO. Nor do the rest of us who work for a living have the freedom Haidt likely enjoys.”
This all makes a lot of sense, but it might actually be diametrically wrong – in ways that are perhaps not very obvious.

Haidt told a group of us after his RSA lecture that he’d literally never bumped into a conservative until he was over 40, if I remember correctly.
So he wasn’t more open and growing than everyone else – he was in a remarkably closeted and ideologically closed domain, a contemporary US campus.

Most people aren’t able to live for decades without ever speaking with a conservative.

Also, I was struck by how constricted by his academic discipline he perhaps was – he’s never hear of Prof Robert Kegan, for instance.

So, actually, Haidt faces a lot of constraints – fine if he wants to reach and remain at ‘Green’. Very hard work if he wants to reach a post-Green, post-partisan viewpoint. No wonder it took 16 years – much longer than a typical Torbert or Kegan stage shift, surely?

You seem to be suggesting he’s a pre-Green conservative (rather than a more complex libertarian?). Hard to really know for sure on that topic. I’m happy to accept his own view that he’s gone from being a left-winger to being a post-partisan moderate. Not least as that is pretty much the same as what happened to me.

Best wishes,


(PS BTW, it would really help if you included a little widget on your blog showing new comments, so readers can actually find where the action is, on this blog.)