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What is whole leadership?

By Ginny Whitelaw

If you are reading this post you have likely heard the term ‘whole leadership’ and are wondering what in the world we are talking about. You also likely care enough about leadership to wonder in the first place. Fear not, you are in the right place.

Picture these scenarios, the leader who…

Do these people sound like the next successful leader? The next great CEO?  Our research says most likely they are not. Why? They are all partial leaders.

Although leaders should know their strengths and use them to reach desired goals, those same strengths can also get in the way of success when overused. For example, you could have a real strength of breaking down big processes, analyzing all of the individual parts and get stuck in those details, not seeing the forest for the trees. Or you’re a great innovator but you spend so much energy creating that nothing gets done. Whole leaders know how to use their strengths AND know when something else is needed.  Recognizing that AND often means a paradox. Whole leaders know how to strike the right balance between leveraging strengths while not becoming a victim of them.

To further describe whole leadership, let me concentrate the discussion on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of whole leadership. First the ‘what’. One thing that is certainly not new about leadership, or personality in general, is that we take on preferences in how we show up in the world. These preferences have been call personality types, cognitive modes of thinking or behavioral tendencies. From our research, and similar to many models in the past, there are four main preferences, which we call energy patterns of personality:

Our research has found that although we tend to favor one or two of these patterns, which we call Home Patterns, the most successful leaders are those that can easily access all four and are able to use the best fit pattern at the right time. These whole leaders are able to thrive with their strengths, while not getting stuck in them. They are able to recognize what the situation demands, what pattern is best aligned with that demand and effectively enter into that pattern to approach the situation with the right energy. Whole leaders know their strengths but have also developed a full tool box so that when their home pattern isn’t best, they can flip into what pattern is.

This brings us to the ‘how’. To become a whole leader means developing your whole self. As models on personality have evolved, we now know that patterns of personality are actually impacted by a range of interconnected elements such as cognition, behavior, communication styles, our environment, our emotions and how we physically move. The whole leader uses all of these elements collectively to develop these patterns. We have developed a tool called the FEBI (Focus Energy Balance Indicator) to measure these energy patterns and help leaders develop their whole self.

Ginny Whitelaw is the Founder and CEO of the Institute for Zen Leadership.

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