Devolutionary Leadership

OK, here we go. Feels like the start of a whole new domain of practice…

The first book I wrote was called “Evolutionary Leadership” (currently out in Dutch and looking for publishers in English and other languages), and focused on what an integral approach to facilitating emergence into integral evolutionary consciousness in self, culture and organisation might look like. It focused on the emerging second curve in this graphic:

s-curves of emergence


The book synthesised WilberSpiral DynamicsTheory ULaszloArt of HostingPeter Senge etc.

During our recent Art of Hosting Integral in the Netherlands, the following thought crystallised, which had been hovering in the background for a while:

The manner in which our dying paradigms, behaviours and systems are let go of is going to have a major impact on the quality of the space in which the new grows.

When an apple is not picked,  it falls to the ground and rots, fertilising the soil and potentially seeding a new apple tree.

As people in positions of power in our established institutions become increasingly aware that the paradigm on which those institutions have been built is largely inadequate to deal with the rapidly evolving and intensifying challenges of the world around us, there are essentially two paths we can take:

  1. We contract into a fear of the unknown, digging ourselves into denial, and lashing out around us to fend off anything that may prove to us that which we do not want to accept, holding on to our old ways for dear life (ironically)
  2. We relax into the inevitable, and open up to the opportunities that that may offer, letting go of what needs to be let go of, in order to take the next step

It has become clear to me that an essential part of our Work that does not seem to have been given much attention, is to find out how we can best nurture the natural decay of that which wants to die in such a way that it fertilises and seeds the soil for the new, rather than poisoning the soil with toxic sludge (so the descending curve in the graphic above). This is very different to attacking and trying to destroy the old. It will go of its own accord. It comes from a place of deep compassion and concern for the energetic dynamic-balance of the whole.

As our conversation about this unfolded, I was reminded of much of the great work that we have done in supporting individuals in their dying process, and someone put me on to the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She identified five phases that people go through when they know they are going to die, and also that those around them go through in their grief. The five phases are :

  1. Denial: The initial stage: “It can’t be happening.”
  2. Anger“Why ME? It’s not fair!” (either referring to God, oneself, or anybody perceived, rightly or wrongly, as “responsible”)
  3. Bargaining“Just let me live to see my child(ren) graduate.”
  4. Depression“I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”
  5. Acceptance“It’s going to be OK.”

What I am interested in is how these could play out at a collective level. I remember reading an article once where someone said that individuals when they realise they are going to die get very clear about their life. The author pondered if it would help humanity if we woke up to the fact that we were part of the Sixth Great Extinction on this planet and that our survival was far from guaranteed. Would we then collectively get much clearer about our priorities?

I still notice a lot of denial around me in the formal institutions, and until we start to notice the anger I guess it means we’re not far beyond that denial. However, when the anger sets in, it may not look very pleasant. So how do we develop the capacity to help those in relevant positions to flow through these stages in such a way that they leave more fertiliser than sludge behind them? Clearly practices such as Tonglen have a role to play at individual level. However I would love to hear from people who have experience of or ideas about nurturing the natural decay of established and outdated institutions and practices, and ways of supporting leadership in this process go through a transcend and include process.

A part of the context for this for me is the approaching Fifth Night of the Galactic Underworld (as per the Mayan Calendar work of Carl Johan Calleman) – the phase that in all previous eras has heralded the collapse of the dominant civilisational form. The main difference being that in this Underworld it will happen over a period of 360 days (starting mid-November) rather than hundreds or thousands of years. All the signs are lining up so significantly that for a pattern-scanner it would be irresponsible to deny the building evidence.

So thoughts, links, references please, on how we might facilitate devolutionary leadership…