Barrett C. Brown, ‘Conscious Leadership for Sustainability: How Leaders with a late-stage Action Logic design and engage in sustainability initiatives’, Integral Thinkers, April, 2011
Barrett Brown has worked extensively as a consultant and entrepreneur with a focus on the intersection between organisation development, leadership development and global sustainability. He is a leading thinker in the application of Integral Theory to business and management and this article is a summary of his Doctoral thesis on the same topic submitted in 2011 at Fielding Graduate University in California.
The purpose of Brown’s research is to better understand how to address the biggest social, environmental and economic challenges by looking at how advanced sustainability leaders design and engage with sustainability initiatives, so that existing and future leaders can be taught to become more effective in solving these complex problems.
His thesis identifies some unique characteristics of great sustainability leaders and importantly, moves beyond the traditional traits, competencies and frameworks that are the usual approach in this field and highlights three main points:
- Leaders design from a deep inner foundation;
- Leaders access powerful internal resources and certain theories for the design;
- Leaders adaptively manage the design.
His insights show how spirituality or SQ sits at the core of many of his propositions. Brown finds that great sustainability leaders view sustainability as a spiritual practice and work in the service of others and/or for a higher spirit/being. Leaders also call upon other sources of information beyond rational or emotional thinking – which they access via contemplative practices such as meditation and journaling. As Brown states, ‘any leader who is not able to regularly complement their rational thinking with intuitive insight is severely handicapped’(p.235).
Brown identifies another common attribute of these leaders – namely the use of Systems, Complexity and Integral theory – in order to engage with Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). Here lies another parallel with SQ, as Zohar and Marshall identify SQ as a complex adaptive intelligence where the brain’s complex adaptive systems interact with the field of meaning. Complex Adaptive Systems are poised at the edge of chaos and are able to undergo deep transformation. As Zohar & Marshall state, these transformative principles give SQ its paradigm-breaking abilities and these principles will ‘underlie any attempt to shift human motives and therefore behaviours’. Solving complex sustainability challenges will require a transformational shift in consciousness to shift society’s current mode of thinking which at times leads to negative societal outcomes.
Brown calls for a new model to develop sustainability leaders that can truly address complex problems – one that moves beyond simply identifying competencies. His model requires that leaders develop a new SQ framed perspective that allows them to draw meaning and information from other sources beyond traditional rational or emotional intelligence. SQ is the key to enable leaders to access deep inner resources to further develop themselves, the people around them and be able to design more successful sustainability initiatives. A new framework for sustainability leadership based on SQ principles can provide the pathway to equip leaders of organisations across all sectors to better solve intractable problems.