Intrinsic Leadership Development

23rd January, 2018 | Dr Asoka Jinadasa


Based on his paper published in the proceedings of the 2015 Australasian Conference on Business and Social Sciences in Sydney21. Its 5-dimensional leadership model has been updated to the 6-dimensional model presented in his book, Flying Penguin25.


 Following a specific set of steps can’t sustain success51

Conventional extrinsic leadership development covers a complex multitude of externally acquired rational skills. This has failed to produce leaders who can sustain organisational success in today’s VUCA world6,13,21 – VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) is an acronym coined by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq33. In a comparable business world, leaders can no longer ensure organisational success by following a specific set of steps51.

This article introduces an intrinsic leadership development model that unleashes our vast inborn abilities that enables children to use a smartphone before they can read. It sharpens the two essential skills needed for managing change: Wisdom (knowing what to do next under VUCA conditions) and Skills (being able to do it or get it done). These two universal leadership skills are developed using a holistic six-dimensional competency model symbolised by Heart, Mind, Body, Passion, Focus and Health.

This model blends modern management science with ancient wisdom. It nurtures leaders with high emotional intelligence and high mental, emotional and physical energy. It develops their analytical, creative and intuitive skills for making complex decisions in an uncertain business environment. It empowers them to make difficult judgements where success and failure depend not only on their actions but also on unpredictable external factors.

Companies cannot achieve superior and lasting business performance simply by following a specific set of steps – Phil Rosenzweig51  

Relevance of Leadership

The flattening of organizational structures in response to fast-changing conditions has created the demand for leadership skills at every level. Leaders must help their followers become co-leaders by earning the authority and resources to make fast operating decisions without approval from people at the top1.

60% of employees in a survey said the way their supervisors treated them influenced their level of motivation and how well they did their jobs1. And 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses, and not the position itself56. Demographic shifts also require leaders to inspire and manage an increasingly diverse workforce in terms of gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion and age14.

Managers are people who do things right. Leaders are people who do the right thing – Warren Bennis19

Managing vs. Leading

Though management and leadership are both important, there is a significant difference between them. Managing means to be in charge and to take responsibility. Leading is all about helping, guiding, and intrinsically motivating others to reach higher levels of success through strategic responses to unexpected changes in our VUCA world.

Leaders and their teams must work closely together to consolidate the present successes of their organisation while creating its future. Leadership is not about motivating and cheering others on. It's all about pointing others inward so they recognise and develop their vast inborn human potential that made them learning machines in early childhood.

Scarcity of Leaders

Are we looking for leaders in the right place?

Developing new leaders is the No. 1 talent challenge facing organizations everywhere. 86% of companies rate it as urgent or important. A shortage of leaders is one of the biggest barriers to organisational growth around the world7. The main underlying reasons are a lack of leader behaviour measures, and inadequate content in leadership development programs1. A key obstacle is the absence of a practical model for understanding and developing leadership skills needed in a VUCA world.

Leadership development is among the top five focal points of corporate strategy21. US companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development15. But, 75-87% of organisations say their leadership development programs are ineffective6,13,21. What is missing is a simple conceptual framework that leaders can use in their daily work to guide and inspire their followers to higher levels of performance despite obstacles.

The leadership development paradigm that many companies follow is simply not delivering what is expected and necessary – Global Human Capital Trends 20162

 Misconceptions about Leadership

We assume that good leaders can guide their teams to higher levels of success under all conditions. And that successful leadership is just a matter of adopting a specific archetype of leader and acquiring the associated attitudes and behaviours. Books and articles that promise a reliable path to good leadership assume that such a specific set of skills can lead teams and organisations to success51.

These assumptions may be true under stable conditions. But, in today’s VUCA world, successful leadership requires complex decisions made under fast-changing conditions, whose results are influenced by unpredictable external factors. This requires the deployment of our full range of analytical, creative, and intuitive skills, instead of the rational skills that won us recognition as students.

The task of strategic leadership is not to follow a given formula or set of steps – Phil Rosenzweig51

How to Develop Leaders?

Extrinsic leadership competency models typically cover behavioural descriptions under 6 to 16 or more headings9. A recent literature review identified 69 leadership traits21. This conventional path to leadership is overwhelmingly complex and impractical. And it assumes that developing a predefined set of competencies can produce leaders who are effective under diverse conditions.

Any given set of actions by leaders will not lead to predictable results due to the fundamental nature of business uncertainty51. Leaders need the competency and communication skills to guide their followers in new strategic directions. They have to exercise managerial control while encouraging innovation. They have to be assertive and forceful at times, and supportive and enabling at other times. They need the foresight and skills to lead their teams through unchartered territory.

Leadership Skills in a VUCA World

Instead of trying to reduce uncertainty through reactive responses, leaders now need to proactively engage with uncertainty. This requires higher levels of leadership agility33. We have to leave the old way of thinking with its over-dependence on the logical mind. We now need to balance logical thinking with intuition for making bold decisions under VUCA conditions24.

Leaders in today’s business world have to respond quickly to unpredictable changes caused by markets, consumers, competitors, technology, politics, economics, society and the environment. They need to shift focus from reactive problem solving and planning aimed at reducing uncertainty, to engaging with uncertainty through proactive decisions based on intuition and analysis33.

This requires leaders who have the agility, dynamism and responsiveness to make decisions based as much on intuition as analysis. They must anticipate risks without investing too much time in long-term strategic plans. They can’t automatically rely on past solutions. Instead, they must place increased value on new, temporary solutions33.

Unleashing Inborn Leadership Skills

 Elders lead their families using inborn leadership skills

We were born with a vast reservoir of mental, emotional and physical energy. We used our intuitive intelligence to learn new things very fast in the first few years of our life. That’s how we learned to walk and talk without a teacher. And we quickly acquired the interpersonal competencies needed for communicating with and influencing others.

Though this vast inborn ability gets swamped by our rigidly structured education process, it lies dormant within every adult. By awakening and channelling this inborn human potential, adults can sharpen the intrinsic leadership skills they instinctively use to lead their families to success, often under challenging circumstances.

Sufficient management talent exists in every company – Randall Beck and James Harter4

Intrinsic Leadership Development 

 Nurturing inborn intrinsic abilities leads to natural leadership development

We assume that a group must have a leader to help followers accomplish objectives effectively. In tribal societies, no single person supervised others in some hierarchically organised structure. Everyone was commitment to safeguarding the wellbeing of the tribe54. Intrinsic leadership development is founded on this holistic principle. It sharpens our vast inborn creative, intuitive and analytical skills to cope with complex situations.

In tribal cultures, everyone was intrinsically self-motivated. They developed their inborn qualities in their areas of work to overcome obstacles and sustain tribal growth. This concept of organisation-wide intrinsic leadership is increasingly relevant in today’s VUCA world. Leaders must guide and inspire others to reach higher levels, while unleashing their intrinsic motivation that must come from within them17.

The teacher who is wise does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom but leads you to the threshold of your mind – Kahlil Gibran25

Identifying Leadership Competencies 

A small subset of skills governs leadership success among frontline leaders10 

Only about a third of respondents in a survey thought their companies effectively identified future leaders. 82% of the time, the candidate with the right talent for a job was not chosen36. As hierarchical command-and-control gets replaced by flatter structures that enable organisations to succeed in a VUCA33 world, leadership skills have to be described in unconventional terms such as passion, creativity and mindfulness.

While analytical left-brain skills are essential, the less tangible right-brain competencies such as emotional intelligence and intuition enable leaders to help their followers manage unpredictable change. Leaders who have acquired such wide-ranging qualities possess the wisdom for driving organisational success under all conditions.

Context is a critical component of successful leadership. A brilliant leader in one situation does not necessarily perform well in another. Focusing on context means equipping leaders with a smaller number of skills that will make a significant improvement to their organisational performance15.

Position-based vs. Character-based Leadership

There is a big difference between leading some group or activity and being a leader. Not having a clear leadership model has led to the proliferation of Position-based Leaders. In traditional Position-based Leadership, a few people in higher positions were considered the leaders. No attempt was made to ensure they had the necessary skills20.

A fast-changing business world now requires rapid responses to both threats and opportunities. Organisations now need Character-based Leaders who adopt the attitudes of a leader regardless of their hierarchical position in the organization52. Character isn’t a list of traits or behaviours. Our character is who we are on the inside53. Intrinsic leadership development nurtures character-based leaders with inborn wisdom.

Nurturing Wisdom

The diverse criteria associated with Wisdom include the following attributes21:

  • Knowledge (for a broader approach to analysing and solving problems)
  • Empathy (understanding others’ feelings and situations non-judgementally)
  • Plurality (openness even to seemingly contradictory ideas)
  • Perspective (seeing through complexities to the essence of any issue)
  • Equanimity (calmly seeing problems merely as puzzles to be solved)
  • Humbleness (accepting that sometimes one simply doesn’t know).

Leaders need to develop all of the above qualities plus some additional traits such as reflection, prudence and common sense. They need to know what to do next and how to get it done under changing conditions that are almost impossible to predict.

Wisdom is knowing what to do next; Skill is knowing how to do it – David Starr Jordan46

Wisdom-Skills Competency Matrix

Both individual and organisational success appear to depend on two key factors: knowing what to do next under fast-changing conditions (Wisdom), and knowing how to do it or get it done by others (Skills). The Wisdom-Skills Competency Matrix captures these essential leadership competencies. It also identifies associated training needs:

Hard Skills comprise of work-related knowledge, skills, tools and processes used to produce superior products and services.

Soft Skills are the intuitive, emotional, attitudinal, behavioural and interpersonal competencies needed for developing internal energy and self-confidence, and building and managing relationships.

Soft Skills comprise of Inner Soft Skills (intrapersonal intelligence: physical, mental and emotional energy; self-motivation; self-confidence) and Outer Soft Skills (interpersonal intelligence: empathising and communicating with and influencing others).

Wisdom stems mainly from intuitive soft skills guided by past experience and work-related hard skills. Without wisdom, one could address wrong issues or fail to harness opportunities.

Skills comprise of hard skills tempered with insights gained through soft skills. Without Skills, it will not be possible to do what is needed or get it done by others.

Individuals who are high on Wisdom but low on Skills are typically older employees who need training in relevant hard skills (e.g. computer skills). Those who are low on Wisdom but high on Skills are typically technically qualified younger employees, who need more work experience and training in soft skills.

A New Model of Leadership

Surveys suggest that current approaches to leadership development are not producing leaders6,13,21. There is a need to integrate the diverse components of leadership into a simple model. Something that provides a holistic foundation for developing leadership attitudes and behaviours right across an organisation.

Leadership is nothing more than shorthand for a basket of disparate skills and abilities12. There are wide differences in opinion about essential leadership qualities. But, the competencies expected in leaders are consistent among most sizes and types of organisation10.

Most leadership studies address only rational and observable phenomena. They rarely explore the less tangible emotional and psychological factors underlying leadership. Many organisational issues relating to human motivation, attitudes and behaviours thus remain unresolved. A psychodynamic approach to leadership development, enables leaders to focus on human behaviours that are difficult to understand11.

Most leadership development programs focus narrowly on day-to-day operational issues – Pamela Babcock47

 The 6-dimensional Intrinsic Leadership Model

When a company identified a small number of leadership capabilities essential for success in its business, it achieved far better outcomes37. This observation led to the synthesis of the diverse aspects of leadership into a simple framework that is easy to understand and apply in any organisation. The resulting six-dimensional intrinsic model of leadership is symbolised by Heart, Mind, Body, Passion, Focus and Health.

  • Heart symbolises compassion, caring for the environment, and the empathy to connect with others non-judgementally. It is an essential leadership attribute, since we are all in the ‘people business’ dealing mostly with others.
  • Mind symbolises concrete, abstract, emotional and spiritual intelligence, intuition, creativity, and innovation. It includes whole brain integration achieved by using the analytical left side and the creative right side of the brain together. That improves the effectiveness of the human brain by as much as five to ten times34.
  • Body houses the energy centres called chakras that govern the physical and mental abilities of every person. Developing all the chakras is the key to unleashing the vast inborn human potential lying mostly dormant within each person.  
  • Passion is what drives ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results by aligning their hearts, minds, beliefs and efforts. It fuels success by unleashing the mental and emotional energy needed by leaders to reach ambitious goals. Passion combined with talent is an essential feature of leaders.
  • Focus is the convergence of beliefs, resources and effort that produces exceptional results, despite setbacks. Focus is also about conserving mental energy, without wasting it on mundane matters that are unimportant.
  • Health implies natural health without drugs, despite stressful working conditions. Enjoying natural health requires a change in eating habits to exclude all processed foods, and include a maximum of fresh fruits, raw vegetables, sprouts, greens, nuts and seeds to boost the immune system35.

The Heart and Mind dimensions are supported by Body, Passion, Focus and Health. Developing these six dimensions of leadership is metaphorically similar to developing the attitudinal and behavioural abilities needed to excel in any sport before improving specific sport-related skills for winning.

Covering Inborn Intelligences

Children have vast inborn intelligence 

The six-dimensional model of leadership covers all nine types of inborn intelligences that help us to succeed in a VUCA world. It also provides a simple foundation for developing each one25,55.

  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number-smart) is the ability to calculate, quantify, consider propositions, perceive relationships between things, and carry out mathematical operations.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence (Self-smart) is our capacity to understand and appreciate ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, and to use such knowledge for planning and guiding our life.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence (People-smart) is our sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others, and our ability to interact with them using verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Bodily-Kinaesthetic Intelligence (Body-smart) is our capacity to manipulate objects and use physical movements involving a sense of timing and mind-body coordination.
  • Linguistic Intelligence (Word-smart) is our ability to think in words and to use language to appreciate and express complex meanings.
  • Spatial Intelligence (Picture-smart) is our ability to think in three dimensions using an active imagination, mental imagery, spatial reasoning, image manipulation, and graphic and artistic skills.
  • Musical Intelligence (Music-smart) enables us to recognise, create, reproduce, and reflect on music. There is often a connection between music and emotions, and mathematical and musical intelligences.
  • Naturalist Intelligence (Nature-smart) is our ability to empathise with living things (plants, animals) and our sensitivity to other features of the natural world (environment).
  • Existential Intelligence (Existence-smart) is our ability to understand human existence and our capacity to tackle deep questions about our existence, such as the meaning of life.

Employee and Workplace Energy

High workplace energy pushed annual operating margins up to 27% 

The notion that human energy underlies employee performance was validated in a global workforce study49. In its analysis of 50 global companies, those with low traditional employee engagement had an average one-year operating margin just under 10%, while those with high traditional employee engagement had a slightly higher margin of 14%.

However, companies with sustainable employee engagement (founded on workplace energy) had an average one-year operating margin as high as 27%. This requires leaders to create an energising work environment by promoting workers’ physical, emotional and social well-being, embedded in a culture that focuses on their health, safety and security.

Leadership is about managing energy; first in yourself and then in those around you – James Clawson8

Developing Intrinsic Leadership Skills

 10 major chakras comprise the human energy system

What is needed is a coherent leadership development system – not a collection of ad hoc training packages – that can develop the six dimensions symbolised by Heart, Mind, Body, Passion, Focus and Health.

Simple exercises that energise the energy centres (chakras) in the body accelerate this process. Master Del Pe has identified ten main energy centres in the body48. Each one governs specific human attributes and competencies:

  • Crown: higher consciousness, spiritual intelligence, intuition, wisdom.
  • Forehead: memory, insightfulness, imaginativeness, greater awareness.
  • Mid-brow: abstract intelligence, mental willpower and stamina, focus, constancy.
  • Throat: concrete intelligence, objectivity, practicality, producing results from plans.
  • Heart: emotional intelligence, charisma, love, compassion, joy, inner peace.
  • Solar Plexus: passion, desire, courage, happiness, commitment, determination.
  • Spleen: vitality, good health, elimination of toxins.
  • Navel: vitality, internal power, stamina, courage, instincts, agility.
  • Sex: sexual vitality, personal magnetism, creativity, success.
  • Base-of-Spine: financial and material success, physical health, materialising goals.

Eight energy exercises developed by Master Del Pe combine simple physical movements with synchronised breathing. Requiring only about 10 minutes per day, these purify, revitalise, and balance the entire human energy system. These exercises are included in Workshop 1 – Leadership Framework.

Leadership skills are now needed at all levels of organizations and not just at the top – A Global Study of Leadership1

Hard and Soft Skills

Developing the six dimensions will unleash the vast inborn human potential lying mostly dormant within every person at every level. This will enhance their work-related hard skills, and attitudinal and behavioural soft skills:

  • Hard skills for acquiring and enhancing work-related knowledge, skills, tools and processes, closely geared to changing operating conditions.
  • Inner soft skills for self-empowerment through increased awareness, intuition, motivation and confidence to identify significant trends and boldly integrate new thinking into daily work.
  • Outer soft skills for interpersonal competencies for dealing with and influencing superiors, colleagues, subordinates, customers and suppliers, and obtaining insights through them.

Figure 1 depicts how an organisation organically evolves through four growth phases that require different leadership competencies. After starting off in the right direction using mainly hard skills, each growth phase requires its leaders to combine their hard skills with more soft skills to overcome increasing obstacles.


Figure 1. How soft skills facilitate corporate growth against obstacles

(Source: Article by Dr Asoka Jinadasa in the book,

Capability Building for Cutting Edge Organizations50)


Creating Learning Organisations

Figure 2 depicts how combining work-related hard skills with insights gained through inner and outer soft skills can drive organisational growth during good and bad times. Intrinsic leadership empowers everyone at every level to proactively develop responses to fast-changing operating conditions.

This concept produces learning organisations that aim to be future-proof.  It is metaphorically similar to adaptive control systems used in engineering with inbuilt mechanisms that can self-adjust to changing operating conditions.


Figure 2. How hard skills need to be guided by soft skills under fast-changing conditions

(Source: Article by Dr Asoka Jinadasa in the book,

Capability Building for Cutting Edge Organizations50)


Relevance to Leadership Theory

The six-dimensional leadership model synthesises all the complex and sometimes conflicting concepts found in conventional leadership theory into a simple and coherent framework.

It focuses more on Motivational or Transformational Leadership that places more emphasis on the active involvement of followers. This leads to long-term intrinsic motivation. This is different to Managerial or Transactional Leadership that is an imposed or agreed contract between leaders and followers who make an effort in exchange for a reward or avoidance of punishment. This produces short-term extrinsic motivation43.

The new model nurtures Innovation Leadership that combines different leadership styles to influence employees to produce creative ideas, products, and services44. It also fosters Servant Leadership that involves sharing power, putting the needs of followers first and helping them to develop and perform at their highest level45.

The new model covers the three different approaches to leadership development39:

Qualities approach to leadership that demands energy, confidence, courage, determination, enthusiasm, humour, humility, integrity, loyalty, initiative, toughness, physical fitness, fairness, tact, compassion, decision-making, calmness in a crisis, ability to accept responsibility, leading by example, pride in command, etc.

Functional approach to leadership that requires planning, initiating, controlling, supporting, communicating and evaluating.

Situational approach to leadership that suggests that persons who are leaders in one situation may not necessarily be effective leaders in different situations; leadership is thus considered in relationship to a situation.

The six-dimensional leadership model also covers the Triple Focus that leaders are expected to acquire41:

An inner focus to be aware of their own feelings, values and intuitions, and to manage themselves well;

A relational focus to read people well for leading them and managing relationships;

An outer focus to understand and cope with the larger forces and systems in order to determine the best strategy for going forward.

Leadership competencies that lead to better business results include self-confidence, bouncing back from setbacks, calmness in a crisis, interpersonal communication skills, collaboration, and teamwork42 – especially when cultivated across the entire workforce by nurturing the intrinsic leadership qualities they all possess and use intuitively in their daily lives.

What true leaders need is a true knowledge of human nature, which will enable them to get the very best out of people – Xenophon40

Barriers to Leadership Development

Respondents in a Global Study of Leadership identified the top four barriers to leadership development as1:

  1. Lack of measurement of leadership behaviours
  2. Inadequate leadership development program content

  3. Lack of rewards for leadership behaviours

  4. Lack of supportive culture.


The purpose of this article was to simplify and synthesise the overwhelmingly complex aspects of leadership into a simple and holistic framework. It was founded on the premise that leadership competencies can be developed, and that anyone can develop intrinsic leadership skills by unleashing the vast inborn human potential lying mostly dormant within them.

The Wisdom-Skills competency matrix identifies the two fundamental leadership competencies for succeeding in a VUCA world. It also identifies the associated training needs in terms of hard and soft skills.

The six-dimensional leadership model provides a practical framework for developing Wisdom and Skills that underpin intrinsic leadership. Their effectiveness is confirmed by the close correlation between these two holistic models and different leadership theories.

Policy Recommendations

Policies that organisations need to adopt to develop a new breed of leaders who can drive performance in a VUCA world are summarised below. They also provide a blueprint for creating learning organisations that can thrive even under difficult conditions by unleashing the vast human potential lying mostly dormant within every employee.

  1. Leadership programs must use the six-dimensional framework to develop inner soft skills for self-empowerment and outer soft skills for interpersonal competencies.

  2. Training programs must focus on company-wide intrinsic leadership development covering every employee at every level.
  3. Organisations need an entrepreneurial culture to support the energised, empowered and engaged employees produced by intrinsic leadership development.
  4. Organisations need to develop ways to reward bold leadership behaviours that proactively lead to performance improvements without condemning failed efforts.


23rd January, 2018 | Dr Asoka Jinadasa


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