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We hold events for our alumni, friends, and the general public for people to connect with the important conversations in leadership.

Subject matter experts and prominent New Zealand leaders share their knowledge and engage with the audience, sparking new ideas and innovation as minds from different backgrounds converge and focus their energy on a salient issue or theme.

Integrative Leadership


Talofa Lava

At the end of 2016, leadership changes and startling decisions made on the world stage (e.g Brexit, US Elections) stunned and polarised citizens not only in the UK and USA, but also around the world, and here in Aotearoa. Many of us over the summer break talked about the paradoxes that arise for us out of these global leadership changes.

We became curious about how – in the name of leadership, sovereignty, nationalism and societal wellbeing – certain democratic leaders can promote policies that are exclusionary, separatist, racist and divisive; how positional power and authority in the highest office can be so blatantly manipulated for personal gain, and fame and notoriety become drivers for decision-making. 

We started talking about the challenges that arise from the polarities, paradoxes, dualities and dichotomies inherent in leadership practice. Depending on the sector, community, organisations we work in – different value sets can dominate in the leadership present in that context. In some companies, power, position, authority, command and control, masculine, transactional, rational, black and white thinking, linear structure and hierarchy, competitive highly individualised modes of leadership prevail. In other spaces influence, relational, social, egalitarian, collective approaches, complex “in-the-grey’ thinking styles, feminine and collaborative styles of leadership are seen as critical for building innovative, creative and successful leadership cultures and high performing teams. Too often, leadership is seen as an either-or proposition fraught with trade-offs, compromises and a win-lose mindset.

The reality is that in our complex, ambiguous, contradictory world, we need to look at new literacies, leadership competencies that will enable us to effectively integrate, and adapt our leadership to the ever-changing context. We think that this requires Integrative Leadership – and this is the theme we have chosen to guide our conversation and thought leadership in 2017.

What is Integrative Leadership you ask?

Let me start with the concept of Integrative Thinking. In 2007, Professor Roger L. Martin [1] coined the term Integrative Thinking to describe a form of reasoning he observed in highly successful leaders. These leaders demonstrated an ability to hold and work with two competing ideas – to constructively face the tensions of these dualities and instead of being reduced to choosing one or the other (either/or) – to generate a creative 'new' solution that contains elements of the original ideas, but is superior to each. 

He believes that when responding to problems and challenges, seemingly impossible choices; those who respond with conventional thinking seek simplicity and are often forced to make either/or trade-offs whereas integrative thinkers welcome complexity that allows them to craft innovative solutions.

An example: A business model versus a civil society model – we must make a profit or deliver public good (i.e. you can’t make commercial revenues from public service broadcasting).

In a past life, I was CEO of the Pacific Media Network (PMN) from 2003-2008. PMN was a broadcasting organisation set up to deliver public service programmes to 9 Pacific communities, in English and in 9 Pacific languages. As a start-up new venture, a mixed model broadcaster only partially funded by the government we also had to generate commercial income from advertising revenues, which meant we had to compete in the most competitive media market in Australasia. People in the industry didn’t believe we would be able to do this, as many of them liked to tell me in the early stages.

PMN was situated in a very fragmented, constantly evolving broadcasting media environment which included a proliferation of ethnic-specific media, print and TV, as well as the convergence of new and emerging technologies such as online streaming, podcasts, cellphones, iPods, and digital platforms. On top of that, the expectations of the radio services were unique: we had to try and meet the very diverse broadcast needs and aspirations of Pacific communities broadcasting 24/7, with programming catering for at least nine Pacific ethnic groups in English and languages for nine Pacific ethnicities, and all other New Zealanders, for all ages and groups with diverse interests and varying degrees of connection with or disconnection from Pacific cultures. And we had to do all of that within the context of all publicly funded services, subject to a high level of public and community scrutiny and political monitoring and accountability.

In the six year period I was CEO, our PMN team did, in fact, demonstrate successful integrative strategic thinking in our approach to the complex challenges that arose: we developed and delivered high-quality public service language programming to multiple audiences across the country, generated significant commercial revenues from programming, and we developed innovative breakout programme formats and were an early adopter of online streaming technology that expanded our audiences globally.

“Modern leadership needs integrative thinking. Integrative thinkers embrace complexity, tolerate uncertainty, and manage tension in searching for creative solutions to problems” [2]

So let's consider how we extend this integrative approach to thinking to cover a way of being in leadership – Integrative Leadership. Human beings unconsciously create and build mental models, based on our personal knowledge system (Who am I in the world? Values, beliefs, purpose? The tools we use to organise our thinking, and the experiences we engage in to build our skills over time). The limitations and rigidity of these maps, models, can lead to opposing ideas that stifle our ability to strategically lead. I think Integrative Leadership is about applying an adaptive lens and developing our leadership literacy, leadership competencies that enable us to handle the paradoxes and tensions of leadership.

What are some of those dualities, dichotomies, paradoxes and tensions we face in leadership?

If we take a both/and view of these, and consider them on a continuum (not an either/or choice in the way we lead), integrative leadership will look at how – given the particular setting, context, set of circumstances/challenges – we consciously/intentionally become ‘literate’ across a range of competencies and learn how to adapt our leadership to be most effective, to respond to a given complex challenge, a wicked problem, that’s landed in front of us. Integrative leadership will ensure we take a more holistic view of a situation, consider multiple casual links, non-linear aspects and multi-dimensional relationship, opening up the possibility of innovative unconventional solutions. 

Last week the world celebrated International Women’s Day: it really brought into sharp relief the issue of gender inclusivity, gender equity, of creating communities and workplaces that celebrate and value the contributions of women, and a more feminine style of leadership (not just for women but for men). Research shows that the dominant masculine traits that were once held up as exemplars in leadership are less relevant and helpful for modern high performing diverse teams – significant mindset change is required. So on that continuum, for many leaders, the integrative leadership challenge will be to be open to a different way of being – to embrace feminine leadership styles – and altrocentric leadership, human centred holistic leadership. How can we get meaningful change and close the gender pay gap? It requires integrative leadership connecting business, public and civil society to actively address the issue.

In the past 4 years, the leadership themes guiding our work have been: disruptive, creative, fearless, and mindful leadership. This year we realised that actually, we need to be all those things and more – hence our focus to actually think about how we integrate all those approaches to leadership, to think about the multiple ways of being and doing leadership to achieve our goals and aspirations as individuals, teams and companies. Thinking about integrative leadership from an organisational perspective – this absolutely strengthens the case for having diversity in our leadership pool and in the strategic conversations. As individuals we can work to develop a more integrative mindset and approach – but being inclusive of diversity across our organisations would ensure we have different thinking in the mix in every strategic arena and challenge us to think more broadly, be more open to multi-dimensional perspectives, to be creative and innovative as we meet the leadership challenges of the 21st century.

I look forward to engaging more with you all on Integrative Leadership through our programmes and events.

Love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the theme, and to hear how you might be taking a more integrative approach to your leadership.


Kind regards



[2] Martin, R & Austen, H 1999, “The Art of Integrative Thinking” in Rotman Management, Fall: 2-5