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Interview Of Innovator In Leadership Assessment

Interview Of Innovator In Leadership Assessment Image
In the June issue of ILR, Russ interviewed Bill Torbert, one of the innovators in leadership assessment and coaching using action-logics and Developmental Action Inquiry. Good stuff.



I first interviewed Bill Torbert in 2002.

In fact, he is the only person I have published in "Fresh Perspectives" twice in Integral Leadership Review. In part this is due to the respect with which I hold him and his work. It is also a reflection of the fact that in the last year or so Bill's life has gone through some significant changes, including retirement as Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Earlier he served as the school's Graduate Dean and Director of the PhD Program in Organizational Transformation. During his tenure the School of Management experienced considerable growth in numbers of students, as well as reputation among graduate schools of business. Bill is one of the early members of the Integral Leadership Council. His work on Action Inquiry and research of developmental levels of individuals and organizations has been unique and important as contributions to our understanding of Integral Leadership. His models help us identify stages of development in collective, as well as individual holon models and maps.

You Can Read More About Bill At and At torbert/ Where Many Of His Writings Are Available For Download.

Russ: Bill, it's great to have a chance to talk with you and to explore the Developmental Action Inquiry work that you've done. I'm really looking forward to this conversation.

Bill: Great, me too!

Russ: One of the things that strikes me about Developmental Action Inquiry is that there seems to be more than meets the eye on first encounter. Mark Edwards has compared it, or at least contrasted it, with Ken Wilber's work, and treated it as a metatheory. In the years of having read your work, I've never thought of it in those terms, so it caused me to reflect in some different ways. One of the things that really struck me is that it addresses something that I've always struggled with in terms of Integral Theory, which is the attention to process. It seems to me that one of the things about Developmental Action Inquiry is that the attention on process is so vivid and I'd love to hear more about that.

Bill: Yes, well, that's a really nice way of pinpointing an issue, because in several ways, I think Ken is missing the second-person in his theory. He has the individual (first-person) and the collective (the third-person), in the kind of static, two-by-two table I've never liked (except for the purpose of computing the very important chi square statistic on nominal level data). As if that isn't non-processual, non-dynamic, and non-second-person enough, Ken also claims that developmental theory doesn't operate at the social level, which is as completely wrong as I've ever found him to be. (He talks about this in Integral Spirituality [in the chapter on "We"].)

I particularly want to contest the fantasy that Ken presents about how Friday night poker games work and how they do not go through distinct developmental action-logics (pp 150-151). I call his example a fantasy because he makes it up. He is not claiming to describe the history of an actual Friday night poker game. His general claim is that if all six members of the poker game scored 'blue' on the values line, then 'blue' would be the dominant mode/ language/ resonance of the group from the start, but that if four of the members left and were replaced by 'green's, then "the dominant mode of discourse will quickly shift" to green "skipping all sorts of stages." But there are many reasons why the group may not shift so quickly in spite of the new majority. For example, the primary 'blue' organizer may still be the leader and primary culture-arbiter; or various 'blue' rituals may exist within the group that inhibit rapid cultural evolution.

Moreover, even if a group "quickly shifts" more than one action-logic, that does not mean that there have not been interventions and events that shifted it one action-logic at a time (if someone were to actually look closely, rather than simply make up a story that fits their point). Since I myself am someone who generated a developmental theory of group and organizational development based on the close empirical study of actual situations and then tested it in consulting interventions for forty years, Ken's construction of evidence to support his point seems a little flimsy to me.

From my point of view also, although third-person research on the past is the primary form of social science research practiced in universities and summarized in Ken's vast literature reviews, and although first-person research is the primary form of research passed through lineages of spiritual inquiry, I view the primary mode of social science research as the second-person present. It is a process that's going on right now, with more or less mutual awareness and influence, between you and me in this conversation. This is where the leadership dynamics frequently occur that help to transform first-person and third-person action-logics. And in my view, the most significant forms of validity-testing in social science lie in triangulating among first-, second- and third-person types of research.

Now as to whether my theory of individual, organizational, and scientific development is a metatheory, in a certain way developmental theory is-per se- both a theory and a theory of theories (each action-logic is a theory of how the world works). I've extended that notion to organizational reality or grou reality, which Ken thinks doesn't work, but I think does. And I've extended it to scientific paradigms. So I think it's fair for Mark Edwards to call it a metatheory.

RUSS: Historically, much of your work has been about the interplay between the individual and the collective, you being the individual and the rest of the world being the collective.


Bill: Well, right, except that the scenario was always a second-person scenario, right? It was always me trying to run the Yale Upward-Bound Program and seeing what happened day-to-day and seeing whether the theories actually operated in second-person reality. Or it was about me trying to run a 400-person class at SMU. I didn't name it first-, second- and third-person until somewhere in the 1990's. I realized in retrospect I had been doing it since the beginning. I had been engaged in first-person spiritual practices. I'd been engaged in second-person transformational educational processes-T groups and Tavistock groups and so forth. I'd been trying to learn some form of third-person transformational action research through my PhD program at Yale. These were always clashing with one another. Nobody else was trying to do all three, so it was always very difficult to explain what was going on. It took me about 30 years to get the right words.


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