Are Leaders Experiencing a Restriction of Consciousness? By Terry Sexton

In ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ (1949) Joseph Campbell stated “every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid, in the end, to a restriction of consciousness”.  In today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world many of our leaders express they are now finding it difficult to cope with their work situation. They are literally ‘in over their heads’.  Is this due to a restriction of their consciousness?

To answer this question we first need to determine the level of consciousness of leaders in our organisations and to do this ‘Value Orientations Theory’ can provide a useful guide. Value Orientations are essentially a person’s ‘centre of gravity’ or ‘power centre’ in terms of their psychological integration within a particular environmental context.  They reflect an individual’s world view, their pattern of basic assumptions about life and how they establish priorities. It is essentially an expression of person’s values system.

Value Orientations theory was researched and developed by Dr. Clare Graves and made popular by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in their Spiral Dynamics model. Below is a table containing each Value Orientation.

Research studies suggest that the majority of organisations are currently being led from an ‘Orange’ perspective.  Leaders are encouraged to be competitive, ambitious, achievement oriented and driven.  To achieve the success they desire they must ensure their organisation continues to grow.  Whilst this leadership from this value orientation grows the economy it is unsustainable:

  • Leaders increasingly become individualistic and, as the problems we face today are too complex for one brain to solve, they quickly become overwhelmed in the VUCA world. Instead, leaders need to be able to collaborate to harness ‘collective intelligence’ of people.
  • The infinite growth of the organisation is not possible within the earth’s finite resources. It is widely accepted that our society, created by our leaders as they struggle with VUCA, is unsustainable.
  • Our organisations, in turn, cannot be sustainable in the long-term if the society within which they operate and serve is also unsustainable.

This suggests that the majority of the leaders within our organisations are indeed experiencing a restriction of consciousness.  To lead us to a better future in the VUCA world our organisations need more leaders who are able to lead from the green, yellow and turquoise value orientations. In their book  ‘Spiral Dynamics’ Beck and Cowan suggest that leaders, who have developed so that their centre of gravity is in the yellow or turquoise value orientation, display an understanding of the entire spectrum enabling them to appreciate a wide range of views.  These leaders have developed to the extent that their consciousness has expanded to enable them to cope effectively with the challenges of leading a complex organisation in a VUCA world.

About The Author

Terry is a Leadership Psychologist. He develops leaders across a range of different industries and sectors, from graduates to executives. As well as being a Director of Create Seven, he is also a Director of a business psychology consultancy, the Create Network, and a social enterprise, the Create Community Network.


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