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The Holistic Leader: A Developmental Systemic Approach to Leadership

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The Holistic Leader: A Developmental Systemic Approach to Leadership
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  The Holistic Leader: A Developmental Systemic Approach to Leadership By Julie Orlov, MAOL, MSW Leadership is to the twenty first century what management was to the twentieth. As more research and training programs are conducted that address leadership, it  becomes imperative for professionals to continually redefine and expand their understanding of leadership. This article presents an overview of  Holistic Leadership , a model that I developed by integrating various theories, concepts, and writings on leadership. Holism is defined as “a theory that the universe and, especially, living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes (as of living organisms) that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, 1999, p.553). Therefore, to be a holistic leader, one must be able to not only understand and lead others from this vantage point, but also must be able to understand oneself in terms of how their own intra-interacting aspects create a whole that is greater than their sum. Holistic Leadership is defined as: a) being able to lead from the mind, the heart, and the soul; b) to apply a methodology that encompasses a developmental systemic approach in order to impact oneself as leader, others as followers, and the environment; and c) lastly, this  process should reflect a journey that leads toward transformation at the individual, team, and organizational/community levels. In the article “A new neuroscience of leadership”, Robert Cooper (2000) describes how the human fetus’ three brains  are developed. First the brain of the heart is developed, followed by the brain of the gut, which leads to the final development of the  brain in the head. This article demonstrates not only the differences between these three Copyright © 2003 The Widsdom of ASTD-LA 2003  by The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD-LA), Los Angeles, California  aspects of human intelligence, but also the importance of these three brains working collectively. Therefore, it is imperative for leaders to continually develop insight and awareness into their three brains. The Leader’s Mind Understanding yourself, and knowing how you perceive and interpret the world is vital to becoming an effective leader. How one goes about this inner journey is as unique as each individual. Exploring the brain of the mind enables one to recognize, understand, and assess how this brain contributes to one’s perceptions and subsequent behaviors. Leaders need to understand how they and others perceive, gather, organize, and make decisions regarding their world. Holistic leaders also understand that all varying styles, approaches, and personalities are valuable and necessary complements to one another in any group setting.  Mental models. A significant aspect to the brain of the mind is recognizing and working with our mental models. Mental models can be defined as the way we view the world, our assumptions, beliefs, values, etc. that help create our own reality and the pictures one holds in their mind (Senge, 1990). It is human nature to make leaps of abstractions. The cognitive part of our conscious mind has limitations that make it necessary to develop short cuts, generalizations, and pictures so that we can absorb, categorize and organize data more efficiently. In addition, our history, personal experiences, and personality contribute to the development of our own set of mental models. Leadership requires one to develop strong reflective and inquiry communication skills. By doing so, a leader can understand their own, and others’, mental models and Copyright © 2003 The Widsdom of ASTD-LA 2003  by The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD-LA), Los Angeles, California  make any necessary adjustments. One sign of holistic leadership is the incorporation, integration, expansion, and communication of new and old mental models.  Diagnostic skills. Utilizing analytical abilities enables leaders to cognitively assess, understand, and formulate strategies for change. There are several theories and approaches from which the holistic leader can draw. Judith Gordon (2002) describes a four step diagnostic approach to systematically analyze and prescribe actions for change: description  (collecting data), diagnosis  (analyzing and identifying key factors),  prescription (identifying solutions to problems), and action (implementing and evaluating solutions). Other diagnostic skills include understanding and working with systems, identifying driving and resisting forces on change efforts, and formulate strategic interventions. By developing good diagnostic skills, a leader has powerful tools from which to approach individual, team, and organizational development. The Leader’s Heart For too long it was thought that human beings in the workplace should leave their feelings “checked at the door”; that somehow feelings could be separated out from the rest of the person. Ignoring the existence and importance of a person’s heart leads to increased negative conflict, depression, and underperformance. The heart is at the core of what motivates, inspires, and drives us. Our feelings provide us with invaluable information. When we listen, we demonstrate respect and value for others and ourselves.  Motivation. Understanding what motivates oneself and others is one of the core building  blocks to effective leadership. There are several motivational theories from which to draw – e.g. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Herzberg’s motivators and hygiene factors, and McClelland’s achievement motivation theory. Regardless of what motivation theory, or Copyright © 2003 The Widsdom of ASTD-LA 2003  by The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD-LA), Los Angeles, California  theories, one draws from, understanding, assessing, and then, working with these concepts is fundamental to effective leadership in organizations and communities. Personal visions. Personal visions put form to what the human heart holds. They result in leaders and followers who are more committed, take more initiative, learn faster, have a broader sense of responsibility, and learn beyond work-related skills and competencies. This results in organizational benefits that include high performance, service, profits, employee retention, and many other measures that lead to higher returns on investments (Senge, 1990). Holistic leaders enable themselves and others to take time to reflect and continuously reevaluate and redefine visions. By doing so, the power of the heart is fully recognized and utilized.  Emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman (1996) defines emotional intelligence as the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in our relationships. His framework includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. It is easy to understand just how important emotional intelligence is in regards to effective leadership. A holistic leader understands this and works diligently at developing higher levels of emotional intelligence, both in oneself and others. The Leader’s Soul The holistic leader plays particularly close attention to matters of the soul; for this leader knows it is at the core of creating a new era of leadership, a new story. Margaret Wheatley (as cited in Spears, 1998) challenges us to begin to tell and thereby create the new story. She states “We observe a world where creative self-expression, and embracing systems of relationships are the organizing energies, where there is no such Copyright © 2003 The Widsdom of ASTD-LA 2003  by The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD-LA), Los Angeles, California  thing as a separate individual, and no need for a leader to do it all” (p.344). Wheatley speaks directly to and from the soul; the collective energies that we can both emerge from, and tap into. She speaks of the need to release control, allowing the natural states of chaos to transform into creativity and growth. Palmer Parker (as cited in Spears, 1998) emphasizes the need to release our control, to find the power that resides within our spirit, and to create community. He challenges us to reach down into our souls in order to confront our shadows, our deepest fears. It is through this deep inner journey that we come  back into the light and find true empowerment. Transformational Leadership and Servant Leadership theories both incorporate the significance of the soul and its role in leadership. They encapsulate the concept of transformation of both leader (or servant) and follower in respect to moral, ethical, and spiritual development. The leader does not hold all the wisdom or power. It is through the act of service and attending to the needs of the entire human being that both individuals reach higher levels of empowerment, enlightenment, and motivation for growth.  Developmental-Systemic Methodologies The true power of the holistic leader comes from the integration and continuous development of all three brains. The holistic leader applies these concepts and skills by utilizing methodologies that are developmental and systemic in nature. Situational leadership model. The Situational leadership model, developed by Hersey and Blanchard (as cited by Northouse, 2001), is both developmental and systemic in nature and takes into account the leader, the follower, and the situation. It has a Copyright © 2003 The Widsdom of ASTD-LA 2003  by The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD-LA), Los Angeles, California
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