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August 22, 2018

By Michael C. Aquilino

To achieve increased levels of efficiency and improved results, successful integration is required.  As familiar as the words “integrative leadership” may seem, when asked what exactly is being integrated within the practice of “integrative leadership,” what would you say?  Posing that question to 100 leaders generates a wide range of differing responses. I am reminded of driving on the open road and wanting to listen to a radio station, but the radio is not quite “dialed in” to the exact frequency. You want to listen to 94.1 but the radio is tuned to 94.5. You hear it fade in and out and there is a lot of background noise. Once you adjust the setting to 94.1, boom, there you have it! Crystal clear and you can listen with ease. I want to help you “tune in” to the frequency of the “5 Stepping Stones of Integrative Leadership.” 

As with any successful endeavor in life, a framework is needed to achieve efficiency, sustainable results and enhanced levels of success. The framework of integrative leadership revolves around the core competencies of effective leadership. Over the past couple of decades, I have seen how this practical approach is often overlooked within organizations and have observed the subsequent costs associated with the lack of organizational awareness.

There are organizations that are incredibly present to the understanding and utilization of the core competencies of effective leadership. They are the ones we hear about all the time. There is an external “buzz” about them and an energy that is compelling and noticeable. The primary driver of their appeal is they have taken time to determine, outline and align their matrix of organizational core competencies. They know exactly what it takes to do what they do well (per role) and how to effectively integrate the sum of the parts. Wisely, their awareness is inclusive of future organizational competency requirements and they are proactively developing them in the present. In short, they are not “building the airplane as they are flying;” they are operating within a defined framework with intention.

When asking thousands of individuals over the years what their core competencies are, I often receive a blank stare in return. Many may be familiar with the terminology but may not fully grasp what a core competency is or even be aware of what the top 12-15 core competencies of effective leadership truly are. I have found this is not something discussed often or in many cases, at all. What if it was? What if you knew precisely what your core competencies are? What if you knew the strength of each one and of those you should work toward improving? How would that guide your career? What if you knew the exact core competency requirements for the role you are currently in? Or the precise core competency requirements needed to advance to the next level on your career path? What would be possible that is not possible now if the organization or team took time to define the framework of core competency requirements, and everyone was working on developing them further at every level?

Awareness of the core competencies requirements of each functional role serves to inform the present and future planning processes of organizational, functional, and individual development. When intentional growth and development of core competencies within an organization or team or on an individual basis consistently take place, noticeable improved outcomes occur.

Further utilization of the framework should include the hiring process, the training-development process and the review process. With clarity and awareness of the core competency requirements for each role, interview and selection questions can be designed to focus on the experiences, behaviors and results required for both current and future effectiveness. Streamlining in this way will lend itself to increased understanding of expectations, an enhanced feeling of organizational confidence and higher levels of retention.  The review process can also be transformed into a “personal career development plan” for each team member rather than what may currently exist which often leads to unmet expectations and upset. Have the review process be about the growth and development of present and future core competencies requirements. Training programs can be dovetailed nicely into the framework. Workshops or assignments can be provided for shared growth and advancement of specific competencies.

 Core Competencies of Effective Leadership include:

Accountable                        Visionary                  Decisive

Organized                             Strategic                   Innovative

Approachable                      Driven                       Adaptable

Communication                  Presentation            Authentic

Empowering                         Delegation               Enrolling

While reviewing these, you will find overlap at times or you may have others, which is fine, however you may find they fall into one of the categories above. The idea is to keep it simple to allow for understanding. For example, someone might offer “consistent” as a competency, which is a good one to include. Then again it may fall into the competency of being “accountable.” Do not overthink this and get so detailed that you have 90 competencies as it will become quite cumbersome. While processing the overall list you develop, the idea is to consolidate the competencies into a core group as many will be variations of others. Another important consideration is that each role will have within it a blend of certain core competencies that are utilized most and are role specific. Taking time to make those distinctions will further enhance efficiency.

Five Stepping Stones of Integrative Leadership

Core competencies are certainly at the center of a much bigger picture when considering integrative leadership as a whole. The integration is comprised of five primary stepping stones. The first is having a very clear vision that everyone has awareness of and believes in the sense of purpose. Be mindful to not allow what I am offering to fall into the thought pattern of “I am part of a big organization and I have no control over any of that.” If you hold this information that way, you will have “business as usual” or basically more of the same. Please know that you can apply this with a team or even yourself when focusing on your career path, development and advancement. If you are a senior level executive in a large organization, please understand that there are those who feel that way within your organization.

Their voices and input matter, and it is suggested the organization be asked how it feels concerning people’s ability to influence the direction and vision of the organization. What you uncover may finally unlock the momentum you seek.

To know where you are heading a vision must be defined and declared. Once clear and declared, it must then be coupled with the mission. Please note I did not say mission statement. In previous articles I covered this at length. It is vital that the mission be very succinct. It should be readily and quickly recalled by everyone within the organization and call forth a way to be. An example would be “exceed expectations.” A very clear mission that everyone from the CEO to the newest employee can identify with. It calls forth a set of actions and behaviors that bring alive the sense of purpose of the vision.

Once the vision and mission are clear the next step is to define the framework of organizational values that are consistently followed to develop the culture, rules of engagement and clear expectations.

The fourth stepping stone is one that is often overlooked. It is one thing to develop and create the framework of values to be consistently utilized and it is an entirely different thing to identify the specific behaviors of those values. Human nature being what it is, please know that everyone will associate their own meaning to what a stated organizational value may mean in terms of how to “behave” it. Often that meaning will fit what they may need it to mean rather than what an organization or team may require. To assure consistency, be certain to create and publish the set of behaviors that are associated with each organizational value.

The fifth stepping stone is the identification of the core competencies as covered above. In putting this all that together you have a framework and the bigger picture of exactly what is being integrated within the practice of integrative leadership.

Of course, it is all about the implementation and consistency of adhering to the plan. Those who bring awareness and mindfulness to this will join those organizations that have that vibrant and compelling energy of learning, growing and success. Those who do not will be reading about those who do.




Michael C. Aquilino is the President & CEO of Innovational Services and a Core Faculty Member for the Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University. Other leadership essays by Michael can be found at:     or at


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