Natural Born Leaders. Playful Leadership and Complexity Resilience

Elaboration, 2015

29 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents

A. Literature Review: Leadership & Environmental Ethics
1. Leadership
a. Status Quo Leadership & Conventional Leaders
b. Alternative Models of Leadership
i) Spiritual Leadership
ii) Adaptive Leadership
iii) Stewardship Theory of Management
2. Ethics
a. What are Ethics?
b. Hattingh’s Environmental Ethics Typology
i) Criticism of Hattingh’s typology
c. Worldview’s Typology
d. Applying the worldview Typology to (Environmental) Ethics
3. Bringing the threads together: Worldviews, Ethics & Leadership

B. Personal Case Study: Who am I? What kind of Leader do I want to be(come)?
1. Heading a Start-up that Creates Societal Change and Inspires Individual Behaviour Change
2. Learning from the “Best” – Children as Role Models for “Playful Leadership”
a. Flow – Playfulness & Creativity
b. Born as Leaders
c. Entrepreneurship & Frugal Innovation
d. Intuition – Giving voice to immersive, holistic Beings
e. Conscious Irrationality – Being aware of the Rationality Myth
f. Forgiveness & Vulnerability - “Failure is Just a Way of Learning”
g. Ecological Empathy: Biophilia & Ecological Literacy
h. Further research potential with regards to children’s leadership potential
3. “Playful Leadership” –Pitfalls & Redemption
a. Pitfalls
i) Recklessness
ii) Childishness
b. Redemption
i) Complex Systems & Adaptation
ii) Reiteration
iii) Trust

C. Playful Leadership in Practice
1. Meet “Project 90 for 2030”
2. Interview with Tina Schubert
3. Principles of Playful Leadership visible at P90

D. Conclusion

E. Annex
1. Bibliography
2. Personal Journal
3. Creative Products from within the week
a. The Throne of the Dragonfly (A Haiku-poem)
b. Who am I? (incomplete)

List of Figures

Figure 1: Hattingh's Environmental Ethics (2015, Snapshot from Presentation)

Figure 2: Worldviews Typology (Adapted by Author from De Vries)

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

A. Literature Review: Leadership & Environmental Ethics

1. Leadership

a. Status Quo Leadership & Conventional Leaders

Conventional Leadership has been mainly informed by Agency Theory; the notion that the diverging interest between actors in particular system have to be overcome by a strong agent who takes decisions into his hands. Donaldson (J. H. Davis, Schoorman, & Donaldson, 1997) comments

“Organization theory and business policy have been strongly influenced by agency theory, which depicts top managers in the large modern corporation as agents whose interests may diverge from those of their principals, the shareholders where both parties are utility maximizers.” (p. 20)

Leaders are understood to provide a clear and stern vision and direct all managerial decisions towards that goal. Leaders are considered good leaders, when they can convince or persuade a great number of people to do something for them. Max Weber’s understanding of power springs to mind: “ the ability of an individual or group to achieve their own goals or aims when others are trying to prevent them from realising them” (Weber, 1978)

In defining charismatic, traditional and rational-legal authority, also known as the tripartite classification of authority, Weber coined an analytical tool for the study of power (Gerth & Mills, 2014). Leaders in the modern world are indeed mostly measured by their amount of followers or more commonly, employees, and achievements in terms of achievements. The hierarchy in a conventional system is usually steep and coined by rewards and punishments that increase the degree of intra-organisational competition.

Even though Zalesnik (1977) introduced a distinction between Manager and Leader already in 1992, where the leaders are described as visionaries and the managers as executors, the boundaries nowadays are not as clear. The lack of empathy in managers, risk-avoidance and coercive behaviour makes them less desirable than what Zalesnik describes as a leader. Attracted to ideas, fresh approaches to problems and motivational personalities make them seem more ideal figures of authority. However, even leaders with Zalesnik’s understanding in mind are ill-equipped for the complexity of today’s world. Two dimensions unfold: Internal and external inadequacies.

Internally, the focus on individuals is more pronounced than the focus on collectives or teams. In the reality of organisational management steep hierarchies have prevailed. With high costs for monitoring and reward systems extrinsic motivations are thought out, because employees lack motivation and engagement. The old tools assume laziness and apathy to be the reasons for the unintended behaviour. In contrast, social psychology (Fogg, 2009) points out that productivity is highly dependent on intrinsic employee motivation. Feeling included in creative and design processes, increases willingness for contributions and sacrifices out of the ordinary.

Externally, both types are mostly concerned with the entity’s success. And success is defined solely in monetary terms. Hardly any attention is given to impact or happiness as measures of success in our current system. Be it a company or an NGO, an individual or the public sector, the greatest emphasis lies on financial stability measured by profit, revenue, funds and growth rates depending on the sector.

A need for a modern understanding of leadership is apparent.

b. Alternative Models of Leadership

i) Spiritual Leadership

In her article “Leadership in turbulent times” (Wheatley, 2001), Margaret Wheatley argues that Leadership over the years has been complemented with spiritual elements. This is also stemming from spirituality growing in prominence in general. The purpose of schools of thoughts of spirituality, e.g. religious traditions or ideologies is to simplify insolvable questions and challenges. Religions always gave answers where answers were hard to be found. Globalisation and the emergence of global economic integration with deeper integration and interdependence increase the uncertainty of the system of systems that the planet and the species is involved in. As these conditions also increase the difficulty to make predictions and decisions, leaders are allowing spiritual thoughts into their practice. The complexity and feeling of overwhelmedness has brought the necessity of answers back into the business discussion. Vocation, purpose and calling are concept that have gained more and more importance and are certainly embedded deeply in the spiritual discourse. The conventional leadership works well when the challenges are only of an epistemological nature and when therefore a decision can be taken fully based on knowledge and experience. As Wheatley puts it:

“Leadership through command and control is doomed to fail. Command and control leadership came from an era when we could plan for the future, when we could plan for the future, when we could determine ahead of time what roles were needed, what work was to be done.” (p. 21)

Adding the perspective of complexity to the mix, the logical progression is adaptive leadership, given that adaptability is the only ‘remedy’ against overwhelming complexities.

ii) Adaptive Leadership

Embedded implicitly in the concept of adaptive leadership is the notion of complexity. Complexity and complexity theory to distinguish which looks into systems being either complicated-linear or complex-adaptive. In the same way, Heifetz, the father of the term (Heifetz, 1998) makes a distinction between adaptive and technical changes. Technical changes can be created and accompanied by classical leaders with a linear mindset, basing their decision-making on linear assumptions. In contrast, if adaptive changes are intended to be caused and induced, the tools and approaches require a more substantial and reiterative approach. Trying to create change in a complex system with a mindset catered for technical-linear changes is bound to fail. A vivid metaphor used in book review “From Status Quo to Success” by Spence (n.d.) is a captain that order the rearranging of the chairs on the deck when the boat is sinking. With a recurring pattern in mind to address the issues in daily activities, this leader fails to recognise the need of a responsive approach to the new condition of the sinking ship.

Staying in the realm of metaphorical nautics, a third approach worth mentioning is the stewardship theory of management.

iii) Stewardship Theory of Management

Introduced by Donaldson (1991), it fundamentally departed from classical understanding of management as it is based on a more collectivist understanding of human nature. Whereas the Homo Economics is understood to be fully rational on his own accounts, being coldly egoistic after calculating the highest utility of his actions, potentially harming someone in his way, the notion of humanness in Stewardship Theory embraces collective organisation, pro-organisational thinking and self-motivated commitment.

Taking up the metaphor of a ship – which is ironic in the light of the term leader-ship – stewardship theory imagines a crew whose objectives are aligned with the objectives of the captain. The dependence is mutual. To contrast it; in an army both, leading individuals and subordinates, have a greater flexibility of will and a hidden agenda can be played out or the leading commands can be defied. The fate on a boat is inseparable.

“Stewardship theory defines situations in which managers are not motivated by individual goals, but rather are stewards whose motives are aligned with the objectives of their principals.” (J. H. Davis et al., 1997, p. 21)

Cooperatives like the Basque Mondragon (Forcadell, 2005) can be considered the newest form of institutionalized Stewardship. With every stakeholder being a stockholder a high sense of responsibility is infused into the workforce. Thereby, the economic success and especially the resilience during times of recession emerged. Similarly, the Italian Marcora Act (Roelants, Dovgan, Eum, & Terrasi, 2012), that allows nine or more unemployed worker to receive their unemployment grants in advance as a lump sum to found their own cooperative. With this instantaneous necessity to live up to leadership challenges and full responsibility, the law has been very successful in creating better livelihoods. Wolff points out that the workplace – where we spent 30% of our lifetime – is the least democratic place in a democracy and also appeals to a better integration of alternative business and organizational models (Wolff, 2012)

Every leader has to be aware that he functions as a role model for the entity he is leading. Any action that he pursues as an individual will be understood to be in some way linked to the e.g. institution he is heading. Values and attitudes, norms, actions and behaviours will reflect back on the entity. Therefore, the ethical embedding of the individual is an important component of Leadership. The next chapter looks at how ethics are defined, expand on the definition by informing it with the Worldviews concept and finally show how they can be applied to the realm of Leadership.

2. Ethics

a. What are Ethics?

Ethics are a) norms and values that undergird decision-making and lifestyle and b) the science thereof.

In this paper, the first understanding is mostly referred to when using the term. For every action that an individual undertakes, an ethical internal framework can be held responsible. This is not supposed to say that there is a unitary, monolithic entity in the mind of every individual that checks every action upon compliance, but rather that there a different ethical checkpoints that might compete depending on the context of the decision. This can lead to the so-called Cognitive Dissonance, a phenomenon where you feel uncomfortable because an action allegedly does not comply with your perceived and self-prescribed ethics (Festinger, 1962). However, it can be argued that your action still relied on some form of ethical justification on a more subconscious level. As an example, you might be inclined to lead an organic and environmentally-friendly lifestyle which complies with your environmental ethics. Yet, under economic pressure you might go for the unhealthy, but cheap alternative. A competition of your personal and your environmental ethics framework took place.

With this example, it shall be made clear that the ethics engrained in an individual can have multiple dimensions and applications. Environmental Ethics, the concept that is focused on in this paper to inform leadership contemplations is thereby only one dimension or domain of each person’s ethical compass. Another important note to add at this point is that ethics or the word “ethical” do not have a self-value or eigenvalue. Thereby acknowledging that someone made an “ethical decision” is a conceptual misnomer, because most decisions are ethically motivated, and it rather depends on the ethical background that allows each other individual to determine whether he considers it ethical. In other words, Ethics are a personal choice relying on upbringing and experiences. When it comes to intersubjective ethical values, they are subsumed under the term “morals”. Clearly, yet again, these concepts are not eternally fixed, but rather fluid and potentially overlapping, as something that has been ethically embraced by a minority can evolve to be the moral standard (e.g. War is not seen as a valid means of national strategy anymore and is glorified, but now neither codified ethically nor morally) as well as something that once was morally defined is now only ethically motivated to a limited number of people (e.g. premarital intercourse).

b. Hattingh’s Environmental Ethics Typology

In his paper “Protection of the Environment, the Biosphere and Biodiversity” Johan Hattingh proposes a typology of environmental ethics, defining three categories of ethical frameworks depending on the value in the center of attention, that is Human, Nature and Radical. These categories can be considered anthropocentric, biocentric and progressive. In the anthropocentric category, a clear prioritization of the human species is visible . The biocentric ethics are circling on the intrinsic value of the biosphere and natural environment. The progressive types according to Hattingh try to reform the entire system with a holistic approach and have a transformational agenda. These three are visualised in a circle with three compartments, where the touching edges always represent conceptual proximity. The different types within these categories shall not be discussed in detail, because they do not form part of this argument.

i) Criticism of Hattingh’s typology

The author has some doubts about the conceptual clarity and logics of the visualisation. While anthropocentric and biocentric are fully descriptive, qualitative and unitary in concept, progressive/radical has a numerical, quantitative component as it describes the intensity of an endeavour and the willingness to propagate change. Radical, coming from the Latin word radix for ‘root’ only describes “by the root”. Therefore it fundamentally differs from the categories anthropocentric and biocentric. Both, the anthropocentric and biocentric ethics can have a progressive, change-prone nature. Similar to the conceptualisation of weak and strong sustainability (Haughton & Hunter 1994), progressive only describes the intensity that comes along with the proponents of a particular ethical conduct.

The author rather proposes an integration into a more comprehensive typology. It shall allow a more encompassing insight into the distinction of the different ethics. As there is only one dimension/axis of ethics in Hattingh’s suggestion, that is centre of consideration (Human/Nature/Radical), another typology shall be cross-referenced. Lending insights from Hopwood’s “SD: Mapping Different Approaches” (Hopwood, Mellor, & O’Brien, 2005), the worldviews-typology creates not only a qualitative grid as Hattingh’s proposal, but instead allows for quantitative commentary and a more sensitive mapping.

c. Worldview’s Typology

De Vries et al. (de Vries & Petersen, 2009; van Egmond & de Vries, 2011; Vries, 2012) were the first to create a systematic typology of worldviews[1]. Worldviews are defined as “a combination of a person’s value orientation and his or her view on how to understand the world and the capabilities it offers” (van Egmond & de Vries, 2011, p. 555). Worldviews are modelled along two axes: a) Ideology that juxtaposes idealistic and materialistic tendencies and b) Scope, that juxtaposes a focus on global or local/individual entities. Four types emerge: A1: Objective Materialism, A2: Subjective Materialism, B1: Objective Idealism and B2: Subjective Idealism.

Initially developed to plot the relative location of organisations, institutions and entities, it can also be applied to individual mindsets. The fact that each human-made system in its smallest entity is composed of individuals yet again, allows to cross-apply the institutional matrix to individuals. Even if worldviews often get engrained into the organisational character of an institution via documents and frameworks, these are ultimately set up by individuals as well, as they representative of all their individual worldviews amalgamated.

The most important distinction to be understood between ethics and worldviews is the level of consciousness. Ethics lie on the same level like attitudes and are therefore more or less conscious (even though not always involved in the decision-making and acting process, see attitude-behaviour-gap, e.g. Kollmuss & Agyeman 2002). In contrast Worldviews lie below this conscious level of understanding and are subconscious. They are developed throughout the entire life and are thus a factor of the ethical compass and attitudes. While ethics are often culturally framed and coined, and thereby often collective in nature, worldviews are ultimately individualistic conceptually.

In the further course of this paper, the focus will mainly lie on components of good Leadership and develop a new Leadership rationale. As much as leaders are dependent on fellowship that consider them as leaders, the individual perspective is especially relevant in the discussion of Leadership. This justifies the greater reliance on worldviews as opposed to the collectively shaped ethics.

d. Applying the worldview Typology to (Environmental) Ethics

The worldviews typology tries to cover the entire spectrum of beliefs of “how the world works”. Thus, a direct, conceptual translation of the worldview diagramme to the concept of environmental ethics would be inadequate as is contrasts Hattingh’s specialised take on ethics. By definition, at least in Hattingh’s typology, all 11 types he identifies are concerned for the environment in one way or the other. The worldviews space also allows the depiction of an entity/individual to whom the natural environment has no relevance at all. Therefore, when applying it to the case of environmental ethics, we have to bear in mind that in our conceptualisation even the most materialistic of the perspectives, in general in the grand scheme of worldviews is rather idealistic.

To show the applicability of the worldviews to the realm of ethics, it shall be exercised with on single example. Hattingh’s anthropocentric ethical types would be situated in the A-section of the worldviews typology. As mentioned before; although they are relatively environment-conscious, they perceive it as a resource sink to the end of human progress and development. It has no intrinsic value in their perspective. When it comes to Global-Local-Axis, the four identified ethics cannot be integrated conjunctly. Utilitarianism e.g. can be interpreted with a global and a local understanding. However, a big number of Utilitarian advocates are found in the domain of classical, liberal and neoliberal economics, which by definition are individual-driven, and thus belong in the A1-Quadrant (Subjective Materialism).

3. Bringing the threads together: Worldviews, Ethics & Leadership

If we now look at the entire picture of worldviews, ethics and leadership, the interplays unfold in the following way: Individuals, that can be considered leaders, make their decisions based on their ethical framework, which in turn relies on the worldview they hold. However, they are relatively unconscious of the worldview that informs their opinions and behaviour. And even the ethical framework that inform their behaviour on a more conscious level only comes into play when an explicit cognitive effort is being made to reflect upon the impacts of behaviour and contemplate whether a breach of personal values takes place. Applied to a leader in the classical way, as in a CEO of a company or a managing director of a NGO, an ethical framework is revealed in his leadership decision. Disregarding whether these are conscious or subconscious manifestations, the decision-making is informed by ethics. In line with both, Hattingh’s typology and the worldviews approach, the objective for behaviour is the foundation for decision-making. As a leader in any entity, the success is then defined differently.

If we know image that an ethical framework can start to inspire people into reshaping their behaviour, challenging the status quo, a cognitive dissonance could take place. Ethical frameworks such as “Small is beautiful” (Schumacher, 1989), Commons Economy (Ostrom, 1990) or Buddhist economics (Zsolnai, 2011) are examples for potential new ethical approaches. However, to inspire individuals in general and leaders in particular, these abstract notions and visions require a more tangible interpretation and common ethics, which shall be proposed in the following chapter with Playful Leadership.


[1] For an in-depth conceptual and semantic discussion of “worldviews” and another innovate framework, consult Hedlund-de Witt’s “Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies” (2013)

Excerpt out of 29 pages


Natural Born Leaders. Playful Leadership and Complexity Resilience
Stellenbosch Universitiy  (Sustainability Institute Lynedoch, School of Public Leadership)
Leadership and Environmental Ethics
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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686 KB
natural, born, leaders, playful, leadership, complexity, resilience
Quote paper
Jonas Wolterstorff (Author), 2015, Natural Born Leaders. Playful Leadership and Complexity Resilience, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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