The term "Integral leadership" is a style of leadership that attempts to integrate other major styles of leadership. In "style" terms, integral leadership is an approach to influence that involves understanding 'where people are' (their mindsets, values, goals, capabilities and situational dynamics) and then interacting with them in a way that is appropriate and helpful given 'where they are'.
Integral leadership, in addition, can be considered the "gestalt" of an individual leadership occurrence that would include all relevant variables, whether observable or not. It can be construed to be a framework for consider the phenomena of leadership in a human system over time. Both of these approaches draw on the metatheoretical work of Ken Wilber and others. Thus, an integral view of leadership can include theory at a meta level and at the level of applied research.
In its treatment of the literature on leadership, generally, integral leadership seeks to find the value added in each contribution, building on Ken Wilber's observation that no one is smart enough to be wrong all of the time. Increasingly, there are growing numbers of contributions in the mainstream of leadership that are embracing approaches that contribute to a more integral appreciation of the phenomena of leadership. These include works by David V. Day et al., Barbara Kellermen, and Donna Ladking, and most recently, the book written by John Forman and Laurel Ross that Wilber calls "perhaps the best of the plethora of revolutionary books now appearing...a must read for anyone in business or anyone interested in leadership in general"(see bibliography below).
The term "integral leadership" was first used (in the 1980s) by Ken Wilber, who has written 30 books on integral theory. Since that time, many other scholars and practitioners have used the term in presentations, papers, books, and articles to refer to more "integral" (comprehensive) studies and practices of leadership. From the point of view of integral-leadership scholars and practitioners, most if not all leadership techniques (tactics) will work with some of the people some of the time, but no single approach works with all types of people all of the time. The challenge of integral leadership is to adequately understand all of the factors (individual capability, behavioral, organizational/social/cultural, and systems) to know which approaches to draw upon in a given situation that will produce the greatest positive results, usually a significant change for the individual or organization.
While it can legitimately be viewed as simply another leadership style, this is a limited view of the field of integral leadership. A more comprehensive way to consider integral leadership is to view it as a perspective (or understanding) of the entire arena of leadership studies and the myriad practices of leadership (in all their forms). This perspective or understanding is accomplished through an integral frame of reference that draws on the two interrelated fields of integral studies and practice.
There are at least two such "frames", the best known is provided by philosopher and integral theorist Ken Wilber and is known as AQAL Integral Theory. "AQAL" is an acronym for "all quadrants, all lines, all levels, all states and all types." AQAL Integral Theory centers around a four-quadant map that illustrates interior individual and interior collective, exterior individual and exterior collective phenomenon, as well as lines of development, levels (or stages) of development along those lines, states (which are temporary), and finally types (categories).
A second integral frame seeks to expand upon the AQAL Integral perspective by offering a somewhat modified model that treats individuals and collectives as separate holons that interface in leadership occurrences and may or may not co-evolve (as Wilber suggests). This treatment also differentiates between terms that are often confused, or used without clarification, in the field of leadership studies, as well as the popular leadership literature. These terms include: leading, leader, leadership. Russ Volckmann suggests in, Political and Civic Leadership (published by Sage in 2010 and edited by Richard Couto) that leadership encompasses both individual and collective in all their dimensions. The term "leader" refers to a role, a set of expectations held by stakeholders of that role, including the individual who seeks to fill this role (usually temporary since no one is a leader 24/7). The term "leading" is what the individual does when they step into that role.
Thousands of persons interested in integral theory and/or leadership theory have been exposed to the notion of integral leadership, and hundreds have attended conferences, trainings, and certification programs to learn about it. There are ongoing conferences and programs as well as an academic journal devoted to the topic. A series of international conferences were held by the Integral Institute on the subject of integral leadership during the early 2000s (decade) in Denver, Colorado. A number of integral scholars gave presentations and presented papers on various dimensions of integral leadership, including early pioneers of integral leadership such as Ken Wilber, Bert Parlee, Leo Burke, Barrett Brown, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, Jeff Salzman, and John Forman. Hundreds of integral leadership practitioners have attended these conferences from all walks of life, including large international corporations, consultants, business coaches, teachers and leaders in non-profits and NGOs worldwide.
- "A study of integral leadership and management competencies", NLA.gov.au, 2010, webpage: NLA-89.
- Wendelin Kupers and Russ Volckmann. (2009). "A Dialogue on Integral Leadership". Integral Leadership Review, Volume IX, No. 4 - August 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- Wendelin Kupers and Russ Volckmann. (2009). "Dialogue: Integral Leadership, Wendelin Kupers and Russ Volckmann, Part II". Integral Leadership Review, Volume IX, No. 5 - October 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- Forman, John P. and Laurel A. Ross. Integral Leadership : The Next Half-Step. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013.
- The End of Leadership. HarperBusiness. 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-206916-0.
- Wilber, Ken (October 16, 2001). A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. Shambhala. ISBN 978-1-57062-855-9.
- Jonathan Reams (January 2005). "What's Integral About Leadership". Integral Review. Integral Review. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
- Wilber, Ken. The Integral Vision. Shambhala. ISBN 978-1-59030-475-4.
- Kuepers, W. & Weibler, J. (2008), “Inter-Leadership - Why and How to Think Leader- and Followership Integrally, “Leadership” Vol. 4(4): pp. 443–47.
- Forman, John (2013). Integral Leadership: The Next Half-Step. HarperBusiness. ISBN 978-1-4384-4626-4.