Frictionless and natural integration of three elements: head, heart and gut.
No leader on the planet would deny that leadership plays a fundamental role in shaping the culture, performance, and success of organizations. But in recent years, the ‘how’ of leadership has shifted fundamentally and an approach known as Integrative Leadership is gaining prominence. Fast. And for good reason.
The impact is powerful – inspiration, innovation, deeper relationships, and sustainable growth are just some of the measurable outcomes observed. And then layer in a host of very real ‘hidden value’ elements - lower attrition, attraction of best of breed talent, business continuity, operational IP, and more.
With a suite of value-based benefits like that, the growing interest in this approach is easy to understand. But perhaps less easy to understand is the concept. The how and the why. It can be too easily dismissed as “fluff” (despite the research facts). And it can be challenging to grasp and apply amidst a slew of commercial pressures. Whilst some go wholehearted, others pull up short and compromise.
This article draws on BME’s extensive experience in this space (eg. our Generous Leader model) alongside other published research studies and articles. It sets out to unpack some of the layers for you. Explore the what, the how and the why this is important for you.
And bring to life, as always, why leadership truly matters.
More than ever, the world is relying on you – our leaders – to deliver. And more than ever, you are needing to operate in a context that is fluid, complex and complicated, intense, and profoundly disrupted on a daily basis. From broadscale geopolitical tensions and supply chain risk to climate change impacts; from the explosion of AI to ‘The Great Resignation’. From short-term shareholder demands to long-term stakeholder value.
What’s in it for you:
The Benefits of Integrative Leadership
1. Enhanced Creativity, Innovation and Competitive Advantage
…by encouraging individuals to think outside the box, explore new ideas, and take calculated risks.
2. Empowered and Engaged Teams
…fostering a sense of ownership, autonomy, and engagement which in turn results in higher levels of motivation, productivity, and job satisfaction.
3. Improved Problem-Solving and Decision-Making
…by promoting diverse perspectives and collaboration, it allows for a broader range of ideas and insights, leading to more effective and well-informed decisions.
4. Continuous Learning and Development
…resulting in personal and professional growth for both individuals and the organization as a whole.
5. Stronger Organizational Resilience
…by fostering adaptability and agility, they enable the organization to respond effectively to challenges, disruptions, uncertainty and change, leading to greater resilience and long-term success.
A lot of that is out of our control. But leaders can – and must – step up to the challenge and tease out the maximum potential trapped in their organizations to navigate a way successfully, profitably, and sustainably through the quagmire of disruption.
At BME, we spend a lot of energy unpacking these systemic changes and understanding the impact and response options. And put a lot of focus on supporting leaders to go beyond traditional leadership models in the pursuit of performance and sustainable growth.
Leaning into an approach that focuses on creating and generating new possibilities, as well as enhanced outcomes is essential. Unlocking the potential and value within individuals, teams, and organizations has become pivotal. Driving an OS where leaders inspire and empower others (as well as themselves) to foster a dynamic culture of continuous development.
“Imagine a business that recognizes that while our planetary resources are limited, human creativity is unlimited and continually fosters the conditions in which its peoples can rise to their extraordinary, almost miraculous potential.” ‘Conscious Capitalism:’ by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia
And to that, enter stage left, the concept of ‘Integrative Leadership’.
Long story short, ‘Integrative Leaders’ strive to leave the world in a better place than when they found it. In small ways. And large ones. This demands going beyond short-term shareholder dividends and instead puts stakeholders at the core of their business – their employees, their teams, their customers, communities, society, and, yes, even the planet.
No small task, then.
And to make it harder, many leaders believe – mistakenly – that there must be a trade-off between shareholder value and this approach where stakeholders are front and center. Yet, numerous studies consistently prove a strong and positive correlation between companies’ commitment to
all their stakeholders and their financial performance – by as much as 40%.
In the current climate? 40%? You’d take that, right?
The ’What‘ of Integrative Leadership
The integrative leadership approach is built around three interconnected – and critically, integrated – elements.
First, integrative leaders seek to continually reimagine and reinvent their businesses. Blue sky. Big picture. Stripping all limiting beliefs. Instead, thinking with breadth and depth about the future they aspire to create and focusing on the crucial strategic, operational, and behavioral priorities required to reach it. Baby steps and big leaps.
Second, they build an inspiring and enriching human experience for their people. They lead with purpose. They work to motivate and empower people at all levels of the organization. They stimulate engagement, even passion in the workplace.
Third, they ﬁnd ways to execute and innovate through high performing teams that function with agility across verticals, silos, and boundaries. They align and integrate their people around the work to be done. Effectively. Efficiently.
In short, integrative leaders lead equally with their head, their heart, and their hands.
A recent study by BCG shows the greatest value is unlocked when these three elements are working together – integrated and balanced. That requires self-awareness and humility, an appetite for growth and access to professional coaching support to help realize that development. Drivers that remain uncommon despite the proven ROI.
Exploring head, heart and hands.
Simply, integrative leaders relentlessly champion bold visions for the future. They seek to reinvent and reimagine their business and to drive sustainable beneﬁt for all stakeholders.
They cultivate and reward creative thinking in their teams. They empower. They nourish high performance with a purpose. They pursue new technologies vigorously and, open to failure in the pursuit of success, they make ideas that once seemed impossible, happen.
But that’s the easy bit.
Next come the areas that are less naturally embraced in the business world.
Integrative leaders strive to enhance the human experience by building deeply motivating cultures and inspiring workplaces where people can do their very best work.
This workplace “experience” is not about free taxi’s, micro-kitchens, or free beer on Fridays, but developing, honoring and living a much deeper suite of attributes. Employees value recognition, a sense of belonging, a clear purpose that is bigger than themselves, authentic and care-led relationships, and so much more.
The days of a CEO grappling alone with the complexity of a constantly changing world and the ever-shifting sands of the business context are way behind us.
Instead, integrative leaders relish the mindset of team sports. Going level up to compete effectively by harnessing and optimizing each and every asset at your disposal. Sum of the parts. Cumulative impact. The old adage of, ‘two heads are better than one’ has never been more relevant.
But don’t underestimate this dynamic – these are powerful levers if used sensitively. That same BCG survey shows that ALL of the top four qualities that employees they look for in their leaders relate to the heart, and 4 of the next 5 qualities are ‘hands’ based - indeed, only 2 of the top 10 are in the more traditional ‘head’ space.
We have seen repeatedly that this requires consistent investment in people, relationships and connections. As well as developing high levels of empathy, selflessness is fundamental – leaders need to give of themselves without any tangible expectations. Engaging authentically within their teams, not standing above or apart. Prioritizing developmental coaching and support and building ‘soft’ skills to help people fulfill their potential are critical actions. Celebrating success and failure in equal measure and focusing on progress rather than perfection.
Leaders Who Are Walking the Walk
These leaders exemplify the principles of integrative leadership by inspiring others, fostering collaboration, promoting innovation, and driving positive change within their respective organizations.
Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO transformed Microsoft's culture and focus with his leadership style. His empathy, collaboration, and growth mindset has fostered innovation and empowered employees to drive success.
Mary Barra (General Motors CEO) promotes a culture of accountability, collaboration, and continuous improvement, encouraging employees to embrace change and drive innovation in the automotive industry.
Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX CEO): a visionary leader who has revolutionized the automotive and aerospace industries. He inspires his teams to think big, take risks, and push boundaries, driving innovation and sustainable technological advancements.
Indra Nooyi (Former CEO of PepsiCo) is known for her integrative leadership style at PepsiCo. She values diversity, promotes inclusivity, and nurtures employees to bring their whole selves to work, fostering a culture of collaboration, and sustainable growth.
Alan Mulally (Former Ford CEO): created a culture of transparency, collaboration, and accountability, enabling cross-functional teams to work together effectively and drive innovation, resulting in the company's successful recovery.
These leaders truly, deeply, honestly care about people because it’s the right thing to do as well as being good for an array of business dynamics. And improving the human experience is where many leaders trip up by devaluing it in terms of effort priorities compared to ‘head’ oriented focal points.
We all know the playbook but how often do we roll it out?
A focus on crafting high performing, cross-functional, empowered and dynamic teams that can intuitively conceptualize and execute with deep innovation and agility becomes a huge competitive advantage. The teams adapt, morph, flex. They anticipate and get ahead. They fail. They learn to succeed. They soak up resilience and develop unbeatable performance levels by balancing sprints and recovery.
Leaders in this space, supported by skilled coaches, engage directly with their teams and ensure they work together in the best interest of the overall strategic purpose. They cede decision making but retain responsibility and accountability.
More, they role model the behavior they demand. They know leadership matters. They are open, curious, vulnerable, humble…human.
The following provides a great snapshot of each element and is followed by a slightly longer narrative for each.
The journey from theory to practice
The pivot of leadership from an intellectual discipline to one that is “whole body” and integrated doesn’t happen organically or without effort. It requires several important dynamics to be locked in place, from trust and endemic team behaviors to continual feedback loops, reflection windows and the active, consistent use of focused developmental coaching.
It doesn’t happen overnight either.
Those of you that know me, will know of my passion for the Enneagram as a platform to support growth and development – for individuals, teams and organizations.
One ‘stream’ of Enneagram teaching focuses on the ‘Three Centers” – i.e., head, heart, and hands…21st century leadership best practice loops all the way back to ancient wisdom of the Enneagram – which be traced back to 800BC.
BME uses the Enneagram as both an assessment and a development platform to support the evolution of high performing teams and individuals. Reach out if you’d like to understand more about this unique, powerful approach.
This is a long journey and requires deep habitualization and conditioning. Much like athletic performance or healthy living, it’s about locking in a permanent lifestyle change, not episodic efforts of training or dieting.
When it comes to driving understanding and insights as well as embedding behavioral change, supporting practices focused on development and integration of heart, heart and hands also make a critical difference.
BME would suggest a few questions and practices as the foundation for this provocation. Fire starters, fuel for thought. They are not ‘the’ answer (a ‘one-size fits all’ approach doesn’t work in this domain). You know leadership is situational and contextual, so each approach needs to be uniquely tailored to the specific organization, the people and personalities within it, the operation and more.
Which disruptive technologies, such as AI and deep tech, could you leverage?
With whom would you need to partner?
Do you know the deep skillsets of each employee and their motivating interests?
How do the pieces of that jigsaw fit together, where are the gaps, who can stretch (and be motivated in the process), where do you need fresh blood?
What platforms can a coach bring to the table to help unpack this complexity?
Is there value in an unconventional ‘advisory board‘ that includes select customers, suppliers, employees, and societal stakeholders to solicit suggestions on how to further improve you?
How could that impact proﬁtability?
What are the tried and tested dinosaur practices that you can disrupt? What do they look like? How can you reshape and reimagine?
Who can help deliver this in terms of mindset and attitude as well as operationally?
If you had to start the business, the sector or the category from ground zero tomorrow, what would you change, what could you change – blue sky, no-holds-barred thinking? People. Process. Systems. Structures.
Reserve a few minutes at the end of team meetings to reﬂect on the purpose of your organization:
Be intentional about recognizing the achievements of your teams and how they contribute to the overall purpose – even the failures have successful elements to learn from so don’t neglect the messaging that it’s ok to “fail”.
Seek feedback on how helpful the meeting you just had actually was—and how to improve it next time – no stone unturned, no sacred cows.
Spend at least a few days each quarter on the frontline with employees. There is no better way to understand their daily work and listen to their concerns and challenges.
Create a plan to make your beneﬁts and support for team members and their families best in class. Start by ﬁnding out what your team members truly need and value. What resonates with them as humans. What makes them smile. Then identify actions that are meaningful and can be taken quickly to give visible, immediate improvement.
Block out an hour a week to check in one-on-one with team members — juniors, peers, or partners — human stuff, not work. Throw away the agenda and just listen.
Which of your priorities could be better achieved by increasing cross-functional teaming both inside and outside of your organization? How can you break down the silos?
How can you move from groups to teams? How can you shift effectively from ”forming” to “high performing” (Tuckman Teams Development model)
Where do you need more people working across current team boundaries? What are the hurdles? How can you break them?
Bring in fresh perspectives by either inviting an objective third party for their view or by bringing a diﬀerent set of team members into a task.
Do your team members have the right data to make informed decisions? Are their tech tools helping or hindering their performance ability?
Intentionally and visibly upskill yourself in visible areas for each of head, heart and hands to help motivate and inspire the teams around you.
In this moment of tremendous and accelerating change, the world is calling for leaders who can stand up and make a lasting diﬀerence. I am drawn to quote the old saying:
“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
The bottom line? Leadership matters…like never before.
We love discussion and debate so if you’d like to chat through this topic or any other Leadership challenge you are facing, don’t hesitate to reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Research Evidence Fostering Sustainable Innovation: Amabile and Khaire (2018) found that by empowering individuals, creating a climate of psychological safety, autonomy, and by fostering a culture of experimentation and risk-taking, integrative leaders established an environment conducive to integrating and implementing new ideas, leading to greater innovation and a competitive advantage. Enhancing Employee Work Outcomes: Xu and Loi (2019) demonstrated the positive relationship between integrative leadership and employees thriving at work leading to higher levels of job satisfaction, engagement, and performance. The research suggests that the emphasis on empowerment, autonomy, and support, creates an environment where employees felt able to unleash their full potential. Differentiating Integrative Leadership from Transformational Leadership: While both integrative leadership and transformational leadership have positive effects on organizational outcomes, research by Hannah et al. (2017) highlights the distinct impact of the former. The study found that it uniquely predicted higher levels of employee innovation, knowledge sharing, and organizational commitment. Integrative leaders, through their visionary thinking, empowerment, and promotion of collaboration, inspire employees to go beyond their current capabilities and contribute to organizational success in novel ways. Promoting Work Engagement and Well-being: Jung et al revealed the positive relationship between integrative leadership, work engagement, and work-related well-being. The environment created fosters employees' psychological empowerment, leading to higher levels of work engagement. This, in turn, positively impacts employee well-being, job satisfaction, and overall performance. By emphasizing employee development, and autonomy, integrative leaders create a sense of purpose and fulfillment in the workplace. Driving Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB): OCB refers to discretionary behaviors that go beyond formal job requirements and contribute to the overall organizational effectiveness. Xu et al. conducted a study that revealed the mediating role of psychological empowerment which enhances employees' psychological empowerment. This, in turn, predicts higher levels of OCB. Integrative leaders, through their trust, support, and encouragement, inspire employees to go above and beyond their formal roles, contributing to a positive organizational climate and success.
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