The Practice of Ethics – A Leadership Guide

Morality – A critical success factor for business and society?

Luke Andreski and Graham Williams

There can be little doubt that we have reached a point in our history which is marked by profound ethical issues.

We face the acceleration of AI, an environmental crisis, the potential for future conflict over resource, probable large-scale migrations and an ascendancy of populist authoritarianism in politics across the world.
In parallel with this, another disturbing change has occurred. Morality has become unfashionable. It is no longer cool – and now carries with it connotations of ‘moralising’, of self-satisfaction or superiority, of being ‘moralistic’ or ‘preachy’. It’s as if, in the world of realpolitik and commerce, ethics no longer matter. Effectiveness and profit have taken morality’s place. ‘What’s in it for me?’ has become our guiding principle.

Yet this is a guiding principle which places our world in jeopardy. ‘What’s in it for me?’ cannot provide a solution to the major challenges which our businesses, our economies and even our species now face.

In addition to compassion, truth is at the heart of any moral code. If we cannot see our world clearly, if we are unable to separate reality from fake news or ideology, then how can we navigate our way towards personal, business or wider societal success? The reverse is also true. As our society drifts away from honesty, so it increasingly attacks it: a vicious circle we see all around us. It is now common to say, particularly of our politicians, that ‘everybody lies’. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lying is normalised. We see this amongst some of the most prominent politicians of today’s world. A willingness to lie is no longer considered a quality which debars them from office. And the more they lie, the more they hate the truth. To quote George Orwell, “The further society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” A wonderful example of this is seen in this interview with Michael Gove, the British politician campaigning for Brexit and the re-election of the Boris Johnson government: It is also replicated in the many attacks we see from populist politicians on journalism and the press. Populism disdains experts and facts.

“To assert that everybody lies becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lying is normalised.”

In collaboration with Graham Williams, a writer and consultant based in Cape Town, South Africa, I’ve been looking at how we can reassert the value of morality, honesty and compassion in a business context, and also for society as a whole. In a series of articles for Phase3 Consulting and HR Zone I’ve argued for the value of ethics specifically within business. See:

In my book Intelligent Ethics I expand this argument to society as a whole; and in his powerful work, The Virtuosa Organisation, published by Knowledge Resources, Graham takes a similar approach. See:

There are so often situations in the marketplace where “business considerations” take precedence over ethical considerations – an either/or solution. Our contention is that this is a mistaken dichotomy. Business considerations (efficiency and profit) are in fact enhanced by adopting an ethical approach. Unethical practices exist in many toxic workplaces, including all forms of discrimination and exclusion, harassment, overt or unconscious prejudice and bullying – and tackling these can only benefit the performance, reputation and, ultimately, the profit of the business.
Leadership, training and coaching responses all too often fall into the ‘compliance’ and ‘rules’ category, when what is needed is:

  • Development of an intrinsic ethical maturity and value base
  • Encouragement of a learning, growth and mastery journey
  • Nurturing of appropriate application in the context of the situations faced and their community impacts

Thomas Moore agrees, sees ethics as a ‘soul’ matter, points out that “Ethics is a way out of confinement in a self-absorbed personality”. (Moore, Thomas 2003 The Soul’s Religion Bantam Books)

To assist with further understanding, we have drawn together a map of ethical best practice, outlining a set of cultural, process and human capital considerations for business leaders, a framework for:

  • Providing a quick overview of the ethics landscape
  • Moving from a rules-based to a values-based mind-set
  • Guiding people how to behave positively and effectively, overcoming a bystander mentality
  • Entrenching an understanding that ethics is an important bridge in aligning behaviours with core values

“Business considerations (efficiency and profit) are in fact enhanced by adopting an ethical approach.”

We hope you find this guide useful.


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CultureScan Quick Overview – Major Findings


Managing Culture

  • Only one-third of HR professionals think their organization manages the critical issue of culture well

  • The CulturesScan process is designed to assess and manage all aspects of culture and an be customised as needed

Measuring Culture

  • Most organizations do not know how to measure culture well, especially across different departments.

  • Cultural assumptions, values, artifacts are examined in detail and graphical analyses presented, broken down as specified by department/ level/ experience/ age … assessments are both quantitative and qualitative

A Top-Down Approach to Culture

  • Most organizations fail to evaluate culture as it pertains to the majority of employees or individual preferences, behaviours, thinking styles; the inter- workings of teams and bringing new and diverse talent into the organization.

  • CultureScan encourages the widest possible inclusion on an equals basis, and is championed by leaders, driven by employees. It is top-down and bottom-up. The process accommodates psychologically safe expression and diverse viewpoints

Budget for Culture.

  • Just one-fifth of HR professionals have a budget related to corporate culture

  • CultureScan is affordable, flexible, controlled by the user- organization throughout the process

Success with Culture

  • Participants who think they manage their corporate culture “very successfully” and “successfully” are more likely than others to report that they define their culture, value, diversity of thought, assess regularly, understand employee preferences, make everyone accountable for culture

  • With CultureScan everyone is included in the culture-management endeavour. Different aspects of culture may be regularly assessed as frequently as required.

  • When new culture demands emerge or existing aspects need strengthening, CultureScan provides what is needed (For example:

  • Shifting the diversity frame beyond equity and inclusion to belonging

  • Ensuring agility and resilience for the 4th Industrial Revolution

  • Revitalising governance and sustainability/ regeneration strategies and execution

  • Introducing improved communal and individual leadership approaches

  • Reinforcing psychological safety

  • Steering employee activism positively

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Organizational Overview

If you wish to see our use of terminology that is not yet mainstream, click here and see our conversations that lead change overview. If you want to connect and discuss any elemet of this, please email

For further reflection: The diagram below shows alongside each organisational topic included in the Culturescan assessment that you have completed, those special leadership characteristics and capacities that are required for success.  (It holds true that an organisation’s results/ success are a function of and mirrored by leadership character and competence.




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Eysenck’s Personality Inventory (EPI)

The Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) measures two pervasive, independent dimensions of personality, Extraversion-Introversion and Neuroticism-Stability, which account for most of the variance in the personality domain. Each form contains 57 “Yes-No” items with no repetition of items. The inclusion of a falsification scale provides for the detection of response distortion. The traits measured are Extraversion-Introversion and Neuroticism. Continue reading “Eysenck’s Personality Inventory (EPI)”

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Stories and the CultureScan process

Story intersects with the culturescan throughout the process. When an organisation’s leadership first approaches us this usually signals more than simply an interest – but a pressing need and a desire to shift into a new mode of leading and operating, a new culture narrative

The participants journey follows a story cycle of disruption/fear/problem to exploration/adventure/ exposure …. to harnessing difference …. to discovery/ catharsis/ overcoming what seems insurmountable, finding solutions …. On the way to a new birth and beginning.

Step One of the process, the topic assessment reveals the current organisational story being told and heard by its members; begins to surface hurts, difficulties, obstacles but also hero-characteristics, strengths, new possibilities. Following their submissions, the respondents are shown the bigger story that they are part of, one that may have been hidden to them

Step Two participants are immersed in new knowledge, a range of views and opinions, a chance to reflect, converse, make sense, imagine. The beginnings of lasting change are triggered by metaphor, archetype, imagery, story in many forms.

Step Three sees participants finding themselves and others, examining and reframing, sharing in the safety of expertly facilitated anecdote circles. They soon after receive analyses – the combined left and right brained story that has emerged according to their crafting

Step Four sees the start of the implementation phase of the process, where bonding and teaming has resulted in a shared ownership and commitment to living a new narrative

Ready for your journey?

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Key Soft and Hard Skills required in 2019 and beyond

Focused Skill Development

On new year’s day LinkedIn Learning Editor Paul Petrone posted an article setting out the work-place skills (hard and soft) most needed in 2019. One day later there were already over 3000 ‘likes’. LinkedIn obviously reach across continents, cultures, sectors, organisation types; so their needs analysis deserves attention. (Petrone, P. 2019)

He reminds us that “Strengthening a soft skill is one of the best investments you can make in your career, as they never go out of style. Plus, the rise of AI is only making soft skills increasingly important, as they are precisely the type of skills robots can’t automate”.

We compared Paul’s list to our offers, based on a conversational approach to skills development and culture change:

LinkedIn Identified Soft Skills Most Needed Offers
Creativity Stifled creativity and innovation
Persuasion Communication styles, language, jargon
Collaboration Communication styles, language, jargon
Adaptability Resilience and adaptability Organisation and individual members
Time Management Entrenching basic business skills Time, energy and stress management
LinkedIn Identified Hard Skills Most Needed Offers Comments
Analytical reasoning Entrenching basic business skills Focus; problem solving, decision making, sense making
People management:





Living the organisation’s purpose


Flourishing leadership, From values to virtues

I and We in teams, Masks that we wear, Escaping psychic prisons, Spirit of our workplace

Diversity and discord, Making our workplace more cohesive

Includes establishing individual motivational fingerprints


Accent on serving


Sales leadership Sales performance
Journalism Story in business Story includes imagery, metaphor, anecdote – competent use and application
Digital marketing Story in business
Competitive strategies: customer needs Superior customer and stakeholder service
Customer service systems Superior customer and stakeholder service

Offers that we highly recommend for your consideration, because of their high relevance to business today, not identified in the LinkedIn article, are:

  • Empowering Beliefs and Limiting Beliefs
  • Leveraging Knowledge Power
  • Achieving Organisation and Personal Mastery
  • Developing a Culture of Sustainability/ Regeneration
  • Spirituality (in governance, leadership, projects, organisations)


Conversations have great power but the art of good conversational practice is in danger of being lost in today’s digital, divisive, distracting, dynamic world. A world where change is frenetic, demands threaten overwhelm, trust continues to erode, keeping up with information and development is a huge challenge.

The development process that we have designed and applied in Africa and the USA thus far, result in inclusion, harnessing diversity, engagement, positive change and growth – which we believe are business imperatives. It is psychologically safe, participants feel valued and empowered, and own and drive resulting initiatives. “A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candour, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments” — Ed Catmull, President of Pixar

How the process works. Actual elapsed time is remarkably short and cost-effective:

Focused survey

Generation of an on-line survey (customised and focused as determined with the client) with immediate graphic analyses of existing knowledge, attitudes, perceived needs provides hard data. Specific and open-ended questions are also designed with the purpose of triggering new thinking around the survey topic.

It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question” – Eugène Ionesco. 

Topic immersion

Participants are able to access a range of opinion pieces, reflections and exercises – independently or facilitated as required – allowing a deep (but unpressured) dive into the learning. 

Facilitated anecdote circles

Following the knowledge gaining and preparation in the first two steps, constructive, open and confidential ‘group conversations’ are conducted using anecdote circle technology. The circles are designed and facilitated as safe and positive containers for sharing stories, feelings and perspectives, listening, surfacing valuable information and insights, (beyond the ‘edges’ of what they would previously have explored), and collective wisdom emerges. ‘Right brain’ qualitative information has been merged with the ‘left brain’ quantitative information gathered from the survey.

Implementation of changes

Buy in and implementation ensues naturally and automatically follows a typical appreciative inquiry set of principles and process. Coaching (individuals and teams), process redesign, training, culture change nudges and shifts, and other initiatives proceed.

For a PDF brochure providing more detail on the conducting of the surveys, topics covered, design options, content, and survey-combination possibilities, contact:

Steve  Graham

You may also wish to visit:


Petrone, Paul (2019) Skills Companies Need Most in 2019 – and how to learn them

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Leadership Development: Minding the Lifespan Gaps

By Graham Williams, CMC and Eva Cooper, Ed.D.


Throughout our lives we are shaped by influences that guide our leadership outlook, approach, values, capacities and behaviors – some of which remain unconscious. There are optimum times or stages where positive development may best be introduced, taught and applied. But a number of emerging approaches allow us to address these lifespan influences later in life. The Culturescan Leading to Flourish platform incorporates such approaches. (Culturescan) It is founded upon and goes beyond typical leadership training and development methods. We believe that this platform is essential in a time of severe environmental, social and economic stresses, continuous value disconnects, discontent with outdated leadership styles, a yearning for meaningful purpose and engagement, and a raising of consciousness.

Influences that shape us

As we go through life, as depicted in the diagram above, we are exposed to and conditioned by a number of complex, interrelated external influences that contribute towards shaping our physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual selves. These experineces in our homes, neigborhoods, schools, clubs, workplaces, churches, and wider communities, including those on social media, inform the development of our potential and disposition. They influence our outlooks, values, attitudes, fears, and how we build our identity, prejudices, stereotypes, and beliefs.

There is a paucity of research into the impact of these influences on leadership competence and effectiveness. For example, “Little exploratory research has been conducted regarding the childhood experiences, activities, personalities, and perceptions of successful leaders”. (Madsen, S. 2006) Hence there may be gaps in the completeness and methods adopted in leadership development efforts.

It is worth contemplating the importance of addressing these influencers during leadership development initiatives, and whether such attention is effective during such initiatives, or more effective and better applied at the appropriate time during the person’s growth and development and exposure to the influences at play. This importance is magnified given the perilous state of things in the world- environmentally, economically, and socially- coupled with a seeming lack of moral backbone, widespread pursuance of self-interest, undisciplined capitalism, rampant bad behavior at nearly all levels, and a drastic decline in respect for and trust of leaders in general.

People lie, the president lies, corporations lie and cheat… The world is ugly and not many people are willing to stand up to it any more”. (Connelly, Michael. 2017)

Nature or Nurture?

Genes (nature) play a role in determining certain persoanlity traits and temperament, proneness to stress, phobia. Our very gestures- the way we move our hands, walk, or curl our lips- may indicate our lineage. Nurture influences both positively and negatively. Circumstances, experiences, activiites, diet, parenting, to mention a few, influence our values, prejudices, fears, attitudes, aspirations, how we handle stress, and live our lives.

Parental nurturing influences children’s nature. We are affected by the type and nature of our family, birth order, size, gender proportion, perceived and real favoritism, age gaps, marital status, circumstances, parental absenteeism or separation, and our perceptions of ‘the other’. Parental understanding impacts on the needs of different personalities, intellects, approval and identity formation, dispositions, and roles of offspring. The amount and quality of affection, protection, nurturing, authenticity and trust provided all determine how children’s relational attachment styles and values are internalized, as do parental communicating and relating styles (Authoritarian, permissive, neglectful …) (Baumrind, D. 1967)

Nature and nurture both matter and are no doubt linked. There is a dynamic interplay between our genetics and our experiences. For example, Francis and Kaufer offer an integrative view: Both nature and nurture are the parents and offspring of stress. While this probably seems obvious to the average thinking person, it’s taken scientists fifty years to prove it. (Frances, D & Kaufer, D. 2011)

We are not constrained by our nature, but are also children of nurture by nature. McCallum asserts in his book Ecological Intelligence that in our reptilian-brain activity there are “ongoing emotional responses to our inner and outer environments … our entire existence is dependent on this interaction with the environment”. (McCallum, I. 2010)

Murphy and Johnson are of the view that genetics, temperament, birth order, parenting styles, and attachment all influence leadership behavior and development. (Murphy, S & Johnson, S. 2011)

Leadership Development Across Lifespans

Given that nurture (and its dynamic interaction with nature) occurs throughout our lifetime, the question naturally arises: Are there optimum periods when certan leadership traits, values, and skills are best introduced and developed? This may be age related, but is also development stage related.

As an example, consider ethical maturity. As individuals grow, they generally develop and mature along a self managed path of:

  • Self interest (reinforced by punishment avoidance, then later, reward seeking)

  • Meeting the expectations of others (for their approval, and later in the interest of law and order)

  • Being principled (adopting principles that promote societal welfare- a ‘social contract’ followed by entrenching principles that are arrived at through independent reasoning- a personal virtues framework and a level of responsibiility to self) (Oberlechner, T. 2007)

During this journey, we are all exposed to many influencing factors, including our unique experiences, conditioning and priming, our unique personality types, whether we attirbute happenings (and blame) externally or internally (which is related to our locus of control) and to the development of our moral imagination (which includes factors such as empathy) and ethical decision-making.

When major change, adversity, extreme stress and high temptation takes place, strength of character is tested and an ‘ethics – stretch’ is required.  Another maturity requirement is that there is no compartmentalization of (and thus no need to ‘balance’) work, family and social life.  Instead, virtues and ethical behaviors should apply seamlessly.  Merton refers to “infused moral virtues”. (Cunningham, L. S. 1996) Physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual factors all play a part in this integration, and in the maturity- progression of the whole person.  Where thinking, feeling and acting are completely and consistently congruent. Where we can detect and withstand overt and covert manipulations to depart from our ethical standards.

How the individual responds to any ethical challenge at any point in time is a function of their ethical maturity.

Closing the Gap in Later Life- Using New Approaches

Leadership development at precisely the right time (age and stage) is the exception. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Virginia State University have recognized the need to explore lifespan leadership development opportunities and adapt leadership programs accordingly. (Hanks, S.K. 2015) Thankfully, developments in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience provide ways in which we can build “catch-up” elements into our leadership growth, coaching and self-development initiatives. Leader development can include getting to know self, confronting our shadow side, and facing ourselves. This is no small task but neuroscience shows that what has been hardwired can be rewired. Values and behaviors best formed in childhood (like acceptance, care, and empathy) can ALSO be developed and enhanced later through emerging approaches such as mindfulness meditation, reflection, disclosure and feedback, priming and nudging, counter-attitudinal advocacy, uncovering and identifying unconscious biases, story reframing, psycho-synthesis, and the uncovering of one’s motivational fingerprint/ higher purpose in life.

These approaches are not outlined in this paper but to illustrate: professional observation of language patterns when people tell their stories could reveal that people with:

  • Avoidant, Ambivalent, Disoriented attachment style tend to talk too much or opt for silence, use too many words, show minimal facial expression, disconnect from communicating and relating interactions, lapse into push/pull conflict. They tend to be ‘left brain’ dominant, withdraw, dismiss, stress when approached ‘intimately’, and be protective of self

  • Secure attachment style often manifests in a melodic voice, kind eyes, use of touch, presence, other-orientation. Playfulness, curiosity, aliveness, empathy, listening and connecting happens. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ brains are integrated, they are welcoming, practice relationship repair, have well developed ‘social brains’.

This philosophy and related practices are built into the leadership approach, Flourish: Through Serving and Stewarding. Using Culturescan diagnostics the approach combines clarity of Purpose, raised consciousness, Leadership, and Mastery of deeper skills – (technical, relational, serving (kenosis) and higher – level thinking (metanoia). (Culturescan) It encompasses:

  • the principle that serving, stewarding relationships largely determine the quality of results that are obtained

  • an imperative of converting stated values to consistently displayed virtues

  • widening the notion of ‘customer’ (internal and external) to include serving of suppliers, citizens and other stakeholders (especially in the context of sustaining/ regenerating the economy, society and environment)

  • recognizing and accessing the huge character-reinforcing and character-building benefits of deeper mindfulness (in retreat and everyday settings)

  • identifying, unpacking, understanding and building the elements of spirituality (not religion), especially those of our interconnectedness, being plugged into a reality beyond self, and finding a higher purpose

  • utilizing advanced conversational and other means to guide individual and culture change skilfully and quickly (especially in a world of rapid, turbulent changes on many fronts)

  • developing “presence”

In outline:

The questions that direct the flow of our Flourish Approach align with Avolio’s model. (Avolio, B.J. 2005)


This cutting edge leadership development approach addresses essential existential questions that all successful leaders need to ask themselves and answer. For example, having open, outward, growth mind-sets (an aspect of What difference can I make?) requires the elimination of unconscious bias as far as is possible by learning to become present and aware, thinking differently, and establishing new habits. Unconscious bias can lead to unwittingly excluding certain people (from groups, opportunities, teams, promotion), something leaders should want to avoid at all costs, especially at a time when employee experience and engagement is a huge challenge. Servant leaders put primary focus on relationships. Hence, unconscious biases may be diametrically opposed to servant leadership principles.

The questions on the diagrams above cover both being and doing.(Williams, G. et al 2015) They also relate to work, home and social lives and focus on the positive without neglecting what needs mending.

We need also to discern and heed shifts in the grand narrative – this is the area where meaningful leadership operates. Humanity’s recent narrative (relatively speaking) has contained the elements of material abundance; simple and linear, direct cause and effect; the religious overiding the spiritual; the scientific overiding the religious; (patriarchal) order and control; the non-paradoxical, separation. Based on her biological observations, Elisabet Sahtouris paints a picture of beliefs along these lines of the elements mentioned above, shaped by the scientific worldview that became widespread a few centuries ago. This narrative includes dualistic logic such as the still prevalent struggle for survival of the fittest in every area of our existence. Societies and most businesses are “conceived, organized and run as hierarchical mechanics”. Self first. Even so-called ‘free’ markets are regulated to serve narrow interests.( Sahtouris, E. PhD 2005)

Humanity’s driving belief systems may be out of line with recent findings (ironically, mainly scientific) that indicate a slowly emerging new, and overarching grand narrative; containing elements of the holistic, of mutually dependent, interconnected and continuously evolving systems. Hence more voices are being raised to herald a ‘new consciousness’. Often these old belief systems manifest in workplaces with a prime focus on legislation, reporting and other compliance mechanisms, audit and risk management, ethics management, old style balanced scorecards, roles, duties, loaded appraisal systems, structure, responsibilities, “left-brain” strategies, reliance on intellect, cover-your-back and me-too mind-sets.

Our approach is founded on more value being added by adopting relationship – building, developing a larger “heart – mind”, ethical and spiritual maturity, virtues-driven behaviors, creativity, opportunity mind-sets, openness to new learning, new paradigm balanced – scorecards, detecting unconscious biases, narrative reframing, opting for a higher purpose, early detection and focused pre-warning and alerts, multi-level feedback, conversations, future orientation, intrinsic motivation, allowing vulnerability, showing love, appropriate decision-making and change – techniques, coping with ambiguity and paradox.

Clearly, arriving at answers to these questions requires wisdom, which is a search built into the intent,

content, and approach of the Flourish leadership development approach: Wisdom is a practice that reflects the developmental process by which individuals increase in self-knowledge, self-integration, nonattachment, self-transcendence, and compassion, as well as a deeper understanding of life. This practice involves better self-regulation and ethical choices, resulting in greater good for oneself and others”. (Trowbridge, R.H. & Ferrari, Michel. 2009)

These questions were for Tolstoy a lifelong quest:

In his turn, Tolstoy was of course aware that he was following in a long line of authors. In asking “Who, what am I?” he self-consciously echoed Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Rousseau. But he believed that ordinary peasants asked it as well. Tolstoy particularly loved a story about his old nanny. She would lie alone listening to the clock ticking on the wall; the clock asked: “Who are you – what are you?” (Kto ty_chto? Kto ty_chto ty?). Tolstoy echoed: “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?””. (Paperno, I. 2014)

Eva Cooper, Ed.D. is a consultant based out of Columbus GA (, and Graham Williams is a Cape Town-based independent executive coach and certified management consultant (

Avolio, B.J (2005) Leadership in Balance: MADE/ Born Taylor & Francis e-Library

Baumrind, Diana Parenting Typology (referring to (1967) Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs),’s_parenting_typology

Connelly, Michael. (2017) Two kinds of truth Orion Books, Great Britain


Cunningham, Lawrence S. (Editor) (1996) A Search for Solitude: the journals of Thomas Merton, Vol three 1952 – 1960 HarperSanFrancisco

Frances, Darlene and Kaufer, Daniela (2011) Beyond Nature vs. Nurture–Nurture/

(Watch This excerpt from the movie ‘Moving Forward’ utterly dispels the idea that we are at the mercy of our genes and contains interviews with: Stanford scientist Dr Robert Sapolsky (Prof of Neurological Science); Richard Wilkinson (Prof Emeritus of Social Epidemiology, Univ of Nottingham); Dr James Gilligan (Former Dir: Centre for the Study of Violence, Harvard Med School) and Dr Gabor Maté (Physician specialising in the treatment of Addiction and Attention Deficit Disorder)

Hanks, Sarah K; Kaufman, Eric K; Friedel, Curtis R; Cleghorn, Nicholas, A; Seibel, Megan M; Brunton, Kelsey C; Burbaugh, Bradley J A Model of Leader Development Across the Life Span Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication ALCE-104P Petersburg, Virginia State

Madsen, S. (2006) Developing leadership: exploring childhoods of women university presidents Journal of Educational Administration

McCallum, Ian  (2010) Ecological Intelligence Africa Geographic

Murphy, S and Johnson, S (2011) The benefits of a long-lens approach to leader development; understanding the seeds of leadership the Leadership Quarterly, 22

Oberlechner, Thomas (2007) The Psychology of Ethics in the Finance and Investment Industry The Research Foundation of the CFA Institute citing Kohlberg, L., Levine, C and Hewer, A Moral Stages: a current formulation and a response to critics in Contributions to human development, Vol. 10. 1983 Edited by Meacham, J.A. Karger, New York

Paperno, Irina (2014) “Who, What am I?”: Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self Cornell University Press 1st Edition

Sahtouris, Elisabet, PhD (2005) The Biology of Business; new laws of nature reveal a better way for business. An expanded version of an article that originally appeared in VIA Journal, Vol three, Number One, Summer 2005

Trowbridge, Richard Hawley and Ferrari Michel (2009, Research in Human Development) Cited by Massimo (the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York) in Sophia vs Phronesis: two conceptions of wisdom September 20, 2016

Williams, Graham; Fox, Peter & Haarhoff, Dorian (2015) The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business Knowres

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Corporate Story Competence and Application: An Assessment

Story has been around for a long time

“There have been stories and messages delivered across different media ever since Cro-Magnon man figured out that mineral pigments like iron oxide and black manganese could be applied to the sides of rocks and caves. Whether chronicling life, communicating with others, or creating an inspirational image, there were stories being told”.

“For well over 100,000 years before written language, humans communicated all key information, histories, beliefs, and attitudes through oral storytelling AND archived (stored/remembered) all of that information in story form in human memory. 100,000 years of relying on story architecture as our primary storage and communications system has evolutionarily rewired human brains. We are all now born hardwired to think, to make sense, and to understand through story structure and by using specific story elements”

Nigel Nicholson of the London Business School rightly points out that we find meaning in stories and narratives, not data. He refers to us as possessing a ‘fiction impulse’. And philosopher A. C. Grayling has said: “Throughout human history story-telling has been a central means of informing people about possibilities beyond their personal sphere, and inviting them to understand those possibilities better”

Story touches the whole person

Our lives are stories, and filled with stories. We are immersed in story from womb to tomb, cradle to grave, sperm to worm, ancestry to after-life. We’re touched by story emotionally, socially, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Story connects us to our higher and deeper selves, and to others. It gives meaning, provides context, frees our imagination and creativity.
“Stories have such a powerful and universal appeal that the neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them are probably tied to crucial parts of our social cognition”

Research shows that story is the way to establish rapport, engage and mobilise the disengaged; that listeners suspend disbelief, reality-testing and counter-argument during the telling; that people prefer reaching their own insights, and that well-told stories stick in the memory and stimulate big conversations and action. People respond far better to stories than they do to facts, figures, statistics, bar charts, bullet point presentations, jargon and business-speak. When a story is told we enter what psychologists term ‘narrative transport’. And “When we have made an experience into a story we have transformed it–made sense of it, transmuted experience, domesticated the chaos”.6 Facts tell but stories ‘sell’. They are catalysts to learning and improved performance.

Story plays a role in the development of important life skills – emotional intelligence, mindfulness, imagination. Jon Kabat Zinn, pioneer of mindfulness in the medical world and neuroscience, in a recent radio interview7 pointed out that “Those trained in mindfulness/awareness light up the narrative network in the medial region of the prefrontal cortex and harmonise with the experiential network grounded in the body”.
Jung wrote: “It is only when the human mind actively brings forth from within itself the full powers of disciplined imagination and archetypal insight that the deeper reality of the world emerges”. And the title of an article by PJ Manney needs no further explanation: Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy.

We relate emotionally to metaphor words in stories. Researchers at Emory University found for example that “when subjects read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active”.

We live and breathe story. And as “Novelist Edmund White once wrote, “When a person dies, a library is burned”

It’s natural. It happens without striving.

“There was a man living by the seashore who loved seagulls. Every morning he went down to the sea to roam with the seagulls. More birds came to him than could be counted in hundreds. His father said to him one day: I hear the seagulls all come roaming with you – bring me some to play with. Next day, when he went to the sea, the seagulls danced above him and would not come down”.

Small wonder that business is fast latching on to the power of story
So, not surprisingly, the story movement in business has really taken off. Hundreds of tertiary educational institutions offer programmes with story modules, a growing number of books on the subject are being published, many more businesses want to use story in their internal and external communications. Jamie Smart of Salad Limited, UK, international NLP practitioner and teacher says, “Stories are the ultimate covert communications technique”.Alas, not all use story ethically. Writer Dan McKinnon points out that ‘A halo has to fall only a few inches to be a noose’. Stories can choke, strangle us or free us, open up new possibilities. How we use them is important. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes has said, “Most (stories) are not used as simple entertainment …. (but) used in many different ways; to teach, correct errors, lighten, assist transformation, heal wounds, re-create memory”.

With wrong intention, tactlessness or deliberate misuse we can tell to win, impose, manipulate, serve self, and we lose credibility. We rob listeners of their freedom to interpret.

Far better that our stories be non-directive, open, honest, even show vulnerability. Then real sharing happens. Dialogue takes place. Snowden believes that “this is key to micro-narrative approaches, creating multiple interaction between many people and their stories”.

And too few realise the full potential of story to improve every part of their business. Narrative has a key role to play in every aspect of business – every department, every business process, in our relating to suppliers, stakeholders, customers. In brand enhancement, knowledge management, training, making sense of issues and challenges, communication, sales connections, scenario construction, change/transition endeavours, presentations, qualitative research.

Far too few understand, accept, internalise and apply this correctly in the new age of story. We’ve come to realise this during our consulting, training and coaching work using anecdote circles, appreciative inquiries, projective techniques, metaphor elicitation with clients and potential clients. Hence our development of this assessment instrument.

Using the Assessment

In these notes and within the assessment instrument, we have generally (in order to avoid tortuous and complicated descriptions) used ‘Story’ an all-embracing term that covers narrative, metaphor, personal anecdote; and biographical, historical, mythological, metaphorical, wisdom stories; past, present, future stories; fact, fiction. Nor have we taken pains to distinguish between oral and written stories. These distinctions are of course necessary in certain situations – but should not blur the principle that what matters more than categorisation or ‘academic accuracy’ is the integrity and appropriateness of the use of story. The assessment is in two parts:

  • Story competence consistently displayed
  • Story application deeply understood and used throughout the business

It reveals the organisations’ strengths, weaknesses and opportunities – in the area of using story in order to advance corporate goals. And its use spawns a number of corporate outcome-measures including level of competence (here we have also developed a further set of story competencies with related behaviour indicators for the individual), brand reputation impact, value of sense-making responses, training effectiveness improvement, development of emotional and social intelligence skills, assertiveness………..(The assessment is best completed in the presence of an experienced business story practitioner, so that the nuances and niceties of each of the questions is well understood before being answered).

Terms of usage

We hope that the diagnostic is used widely and wisely, adds to the professionalism of business story practitioners everywhere, and promotes and advances the effective and ethical use of story within organisations. Proper use of the assessment and monitoring takes place within this business scorecard framework:

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Why Boards of Directors Need a New Profile: insights from psychological and spiritual synthesis

Whereas the 20th century might be viewed as the age of management, the early 21st century is predicted to be more focused on governance”.  James McRitchie

Culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin”. Edgar Schein

 Ongoing Failures and Scandals

A scan of the literature, the internet and my interviews with a number of governance practitioners has revealed that when selecting and developing board directors (profit or non-profit), the focus is very much on what they know, who they know, and what they’ve done. 

Perhaps, given the awesome responsibilities of 21st century directors (both profits and non-profits), with business having a key role in overcoming probable mega-disasters in society, the environment and the economy; the focus should at least be equally on their character virtues, an other- orientation (not self-serving), and purpose …….. 

This is especially true in an era where there continue to be huge disconnects between stated principles and values, and actual behaviours – in both the public and private sectors.1

One does not have to think back too far to recall Banks that have rigged currency rates and chased excess profit because of the ‘banking culture’, Oil Companies responsible for a major ocean spillage after carelessly pushing the boundaries of safety, Coffee Makers using aluminium pods, Water Bottlers who will raid and deplete a community’s underground water supplies (and leave an unwanted plastic legacy as well), Car Manufacturers who design software to cheat emission tests, a Fast-food Retailer pirating unsustainable palm oil, the Furniture Manufacturer who fiddles “forestry stewardship” figures, or the Consumer Goods Marketer who uses plastic microbeads in its cleansing and toothpaste products (justifying this on the basis that the larger plastics are a bigger threat to ocean pollution, and that their customers enjoy using their products! (Notwithstanding President Barack Obama signing The Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015).

A recent case is that of Global Retailer, Steinhoff Holdings, with their impressive codes of conduct, corporate social responsibility programmes, sustainability initiatives and learning organisation claims. They stand accused of fraud exceeding US$ 10 billion and their larger shareholders include pension funds, retirement annuities and provident funds administrators.

We could add to this litany of uncouth and damaging behaviour those of sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual harassment, abuse and personal violations.

All of this amounts to a systemic rape of the planet, societies and individuals in numerous forms, by a few powerful, immoral leaders, including:

  • Deforestation

  • Stealing of tribal lands

  • Plundering of pension fund monies

  • Personal harassment and abuse

  • Depletion of underground water supplies

  • Tax legislation that favours the rich, disadvantages the poor

Expediency, greed, arrogance, disrespect and self-serving have all come into play. As has domination, violation, abuse and hurt, and the stripping away of others rights, self-esteem and happiness without their consent.

What has led to this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs?

All of our lives have been infiltrated over time by these behaviours.

There are complex and layered exterior forces that shape us and challenge both our egos and our souls. What we think, feel, believe is influenced by our families, communities, institutions, societies, nature and spiritual experiences.  Nancy Klein eloquently describes how the big brands have influenced and often conditioned every area of our being. How the system has spawned Personal Brands (ala the Trump brand), usually with incredibly strong needs to have and to show power, to control, be recognised and praised, to amass wealth. These needs of ‘hollow men’ can never be satisfied. They are products of the system that has been for too many years (consciously and/or unconsciously) driving our exploitive, entitlement-based, consumption- focused beliefs and life styles.2

Widely believed sentiments such as the following have contributed to the rise of deceptive, self-serving behaviour:

That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest.  That the natural world is there for us to pillage.  That the vulnerable deserve their fate and that the one percent deserve their golden towers. 

That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting.  That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own. That there is no alternative to any of this”.2

A New Director Profile is Required

A definite and sharp move is required when choosing directors from what they know, who they know, and what they’ve done – to who they are, what virtues they consistently display, and the purity of their motives.

 But how?  What Personal Growth Needs to Take Place?

 Ferrucci points us to these key dimensions of human life, dimensions that need to be synthesised in the makeup of Board Directors: The emergence of will and self-determination, The sharpening of the mind, , The enjoyment of beauty, The enrichment of imagination, The awakening of intuition, The realization of love, The discovery of the Self and its purpose”.3

In its most basic sense, Psychosynthesis is simply a name for the process of personal growth: the natural tendency in each of us to harmonize or synthesize our various aspects at ever more inclusive levels of organization. In its more specific sense, Psychosynthesis is a name for the conscious attempt to cooperate with the natural process of personal development.  All living things contain within them a drive to evolve, to become the fullest realization of themselves.  This process can be supported consciously, and Psychosynthesis is one means to do this”.4

Ophelia’s statement (used as his book title by Piero Ferrucci)) is a good basis for looking at such a growth journey for director – leaders. 

 We need directors who fit the profile indicated on the chart that I’ve drawn up below. The chart outlines a developmental/ growth model for modern Board Directors and senior leaders

Pain, meaninglessness and possible self-destruction occur when fragmented inner elements clash, hence the need to aim at integration of body, mind and spirit and to reach ‘wholeness’ – the da Vinci virtue of corporalita examined in The Virtuosa Organisation.1   As part of the process participants tackle their shadow side, harmful attachments, addictions, desires, converted fears (for example, prejudice), egoically-driven emotions (such as anger) …  and because of the neuroplasticity of our brains, we can edit, reframe and change our life stories by altering, growing new neurons, connections and pathways, get out of insecure-attachments, override limiting beliefs, develop compassion. We can literally rewire our brains over time. Change slowly but surely to who we need to become. 

The model fits Servant Leadership to quite a large extent. Servant Leadership has matured and is currently enjoying something of a resurrection. It embraces a number of the ideas contained in the above model, has been around for a number of years, and is currently gaining traction in the business world. It is transformational.

Hosted by Conscious Marketer, Ken Blanchard and Berrett-Koehler Publications, over 40 speakers were involved in the October 2017 Servant Leadership Online Training Summit that recently took place over 10 days.6

We believe that the model that we here present enhances the Servant Leader approach in six clear and important areas:

  • conversion of stated values to consistently displayed virtues (via behaviour indicators)
  • combining leadership + purpose + mastery
  • widening the notion of ‘customer’ (internal and external) to include suppliers, citizens and other stakeholders (especially in the sustainability arena)
  • recognising and accessing the benefits of deeper mindfulness
  • identifying, unpacking, understanding and utilising the elements of spirituality
  • utilising advanced conversational processes to guide culture change deftly and speedily (especially in a world of rapid, turbulent change on many fronts)

(The author may be contacted for further elucidation)

Underlying elements and practices in navigating the model, are metanoia and kenosis.

Metanoia and Kenosis

Part of the process is that of metanoia, which Bourgeault describes as the “larger mind”. “It means to escape from the orbit of the egoic operating system, which by virtue of its own internal hardwiring is always going to see the world in terms of polarized opposites, and move instead into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness”.  Integrated thinking, taking account of the six capitals (financial, intellectual, social, human, manufactured and natural), fits snugly into this description. 

Nothing less than kenotic loving will suffice – self-emptying for others. If we lack genuine compassion for the planet and society, we should not be serving on any Board. Bourgeault:

It’s almost completely spiritually counterintuitive. For the vast majority of the world’s spiritual seekers, the way to god is “up.” Deeply embedded in our religious and spiritual traditions—and most likely in the human collective unconscious itself—is a kind of compass that tells us that the spiritual journey is an ascent, not a descent”.7    Ozdemir cites Karen Armstrong: “We have been living in a time of great social transformation and unrest and ……. we should foster compassion, self-emptying and justice”, then speaks of the approach taken by, and the teachings of, Rumi and Confucius.8 

(We can add the philosophy, writings and lives of Henri Nouwen, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha (the sunyata tradition) ……) 

Metanoia and Kenosis both require a deep letting go. Letting go of egoic self-importance. Letting go during times of adversity and threat. Building inner strength, resilience. Serving outwardly and transforming through letting go. 

As we put the pieces together during the programme, “Out of the clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity”. (Albert Einstein) 

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, “The beyond is not what is infinitely remote, but what is nearest at hand”.

Daniel Goleman exhorts us to: “Finally, act now, in whatever way you are called to. Otherwise the toxic forces at loose today will define our time. But each of us acting in our own way can together create a stronger force for good”.

A detailed context for this article has been published by the Journal of Spiritual Leadership and Management:


  1. Williams, G; Fox, P and Haarhof, D  The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business   Knowres Publishing  2015

  2. Klein, Naomi   No is not Enough: resisting Trump’s shock politics and winning the world we need Haymarket Books Chicago 2017

  3. Ferrucci, Piero What we May Be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth through psychsynthesis    Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin  NY   2004

  4. Synthesis Center web site.

  5. Shakespeare, William The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark   Act IV, Scene V

  6. Servant Leadership On-Line Training Summit
  7. Bourgeault, Cynthia The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message     Shambhala   2008

  8. Ozdemir, Ibrahim   Rumi and Confucius: Messages for a New Century Tughra Books  NJ   2013; citing Armstrong, Karen The Great Transformation: the beginning of our religious traditions  First Anchor Books   2007

  9. Goleman, Daniel   How to be a Force for Good   Lion’s Roar   29th August, 2017

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