Leadership Theory — can’t live with it, can’t live without it! Or at least that’s how it feels sometimes, when theory waxes theoretical, and practice waxes pragmatic, and the bridge between the two feels pretty rickety! I believe it’s worth the struggle to build an exploratory place for the two to connect — praxis, as many call it. Why? Because the two processes can’t be separated for long if we’re to take effective action in response to the paradoxes and challenges of real-life leadership today.
Today’s case study playing with praxis is “Holistic Leadership,” defined by K.Candis Best, Ph.D., for the Journal of Values-Based Leadership. She writes: “Holistic leadership proffers seven fundamental assumptions about the nature of effective leadership:
- Successful outcomes result from an orientation toward development.
- The healthiest and most productive development is done collaboratively.
- The leadership unit shapes the context of collaboration.
- The core leadership unit is the individual, which makes every participant a leader within his or her own sphere of influence.
- The intrinsic desire for meaningful purpose suggests that every individual wants to realize his or her best potential.
- Holistically-led collaboration requires that the participant’s right to self-determination be respected.
- The exercise of self-determination in a way that realizes the individual’s best potential, results from an iterative process that must be supported.”
Best argues that organizations that adopt this way of working are learning organizations, with characteristics explained by philosopher practitioner Peter Senge:
- Systems Thinking – the ability to perceive complete patterns of interrelated events for purposes of producing more effective outcomes.
- Personal Mastery – the ability to harness, hone, and develop one’s psychosocial capacity on an ongoing basis.
- Mental Models – the conscious and subconscious forms of mental imagery used to shape one’s understanding of, and relationship to, his or her environment.
- Shared Vision – An ideal future state that is collectively prized and pursued as a goal.
- Team Learning – Engagement in collective dialogues that produce deeper insights than can be achieved individually.
So, how does Holistic Leadership praxis look? The space between theory and practice for holistic thinking is in relationships, and the ideal place for these relationships to flourish is stable, with clear accountability structures, and a connection with mission, not just task. Sound familiar? It’s the motivational wholeness of effective teamwork, easiest under these conditions, and necessary all the time.
So, where are some of the places where your organization will benefit from holistic ways of thinking, being and doing? Where are your teams flailing, failing or languishing? That’s the place where this theory can support a valuable shift in leadership practice, if the ideas percolate into a meaningful experiment!