Beholding the Dynamic Whole

In the classroom, I often speak of personal growth and acquiring the ability see and understand the dynamic whole.  The dynamic whole is a difficult concept.  To help, we often introduce the competing values framework, which illustrates four central and contrasting views of how to organize.  Some of us are oriented to safety and predictability, and we seek to build orderly hierarchies.  Some of us are oriented to growth, and we seek to build fast-adapting, innovative adhocracies.  Some of us are oriented to achievement, and we seek to build hard-driving organizations that function like a competitive market.  Some of us are oriented to collaboration, and we seek to build cohesive teams.

As I explore the competing values framework with my students, it becomes clear at an intellectual level that a leader must transcend and integrate contrasting perspectives.  Yet emotionally accepting the idea and acting on it is another challenge entirely.

An executive named Marti attended one of our courses.  After several months, Marti contacted us to share an “aha moment”:

You talked about dissonance and how holding two opposing views in your mind at the same time is a great skill of leaders.  I have to confess I didn’t really understand this idea at the time, other than at a superficial level.  But I just read a really powerful short book by a gentleman named Richard Rohr titled Falling Upward.  This was an excellent read, all about achieving consciousness in what he terms the ‘second half of life,’ which many people never reach.  There in the middle of the book was a super explanation of what he terms ‘both-and’ thinking.  When I read it, the penny finally dropped. 

It’s now clear to me that this ability to handle dissonance gives one a deep perspective, since you can both hold a view and see the opposing view at the same time; hence you are able to make more informed and hopefully wiser decisions as a result, as well as showing empathy for all stakeholders, whatever their side of the argument.  Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.  Perhaps a concept many political leaders both sides of the pond could benefit from right now.



  • What does it mean to achieve consciousness in the second half of life?
  • What does it mean to hold opposing views and show empathy for all the stakeholders in a decision?
  • Why might seeing the dynamic whole lead to the co-creation of social excellence?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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