As most people know from their professional lives, leadership culture can make or break you and this is particularly true of volunteer organisations. Furthermore, whilst hierarchical organisations and individual leadership have been a cornerstone of leadership culture since the Ksatriya age of clan leaders, in more recent times there has been a move towards group leadership and matrix organisations (such as ours), implying a new set of political challenges.

Groups are typically political and have complicated power dynamics that are harder to predict and control than an individual’s leadership style. However we can use Causal Layered Analysis by Sohail Inayatullah to identify how to develop a cooperative leadership culture in your organisational arena.

Causal layered analysis implies that with any situation, there are multiple layers to reality that need to be understood if you want to effect lasting change.


The first layer is called the litany.

This is usually a superficial understanding or statement of the problem, often the visible aspects, newspaper headlines, and metrics. For a cooperative leadership example and depending on the subculture you are a part of, it might include, the financial cost of bad leadership, stress related health issues, lack of cooperation between different parts of the organisation, ‘territory wars’, finger pointing blame culture, rumour mongering, character assassinations, caricatures that minimize the complexity of people, and division. If we try and address issues at the level of litany only, we often end up with ‘band-aid’ solutions such as returning the character assassinations, or trying to raise money to cover the cost of bad leadership. They might help in the short term, but they provide no real change to the situation.

Analysis questions – What is the litany in your part of the organisation? What are the tangible positive and negative impacts of your collective leadership style on the people around you and their performance outcomes?

The next layer is the Systemic layer

This layer provides a systemic and often more academic understanding of the structures that lead to the visible outcomes in the litany. Systemic causes of poor leadership and/or performance outcomes might include hyper-competitive cultures, lack of trust, understaffing, systemic prejudice, lack of equity and diversity, insufficient leadership development, etc.

For example, one volunteer sporting organisation I worked for consisted of three teams who would send representatives to form an overarching council to oversee the rules of the event. Each year, local issues (weather, track conditions etc) would mean an adjustment to the rules was required. However because the team representatives were suspicious of each other, political games and block voting would occur in an attempt to secure the most advantageous rules for a given team rather than the whole sport. People would leverage the systemic prejudice in their favour, and without much trust between them, it was difficult to find a way forward where the political games could stop (nice ‘players’ finished last).

Most organisations will try to resolves issues at the systemic level (e.g finding ways to rebuild trust, removing biased rules etc) and whilst it might be more impactful than a band-aid fix at the level of litany (such as playing the political game), it might not be long before problems start to creep back again.

Analysis questions – What systems, cultures and policies are in place in your environment? Do they promote healthy teamwork? Do they promote an environment where people can get along and respect each other despite their differences? What are you doing to improve these systems, cultures and policies?

The third layer is that of worldview

This is the layer of worldview and the values inherent in the situation. Here the underpinning philosophies and ideals are examined for the ways in which they might be contributing to the problem. In the previous sporting example, the values are for an individual team to win. However what the council required to be successful was an expanded perspective to figure out how to do what was best for the entire sport, not just the selfish interests of the team. i.e. the worldview needed to change to “the sport is more important than the individual team”.

Furthermore, for leadership to be cooperative, a cooperative worldview must be present in this third layer. In my experience, terrible bosses and management teams typically have a ‘subordinated cooperation‘ worldview whereby they see their relationship with others as akin to master/slave, superior/inferior, or perhaps powerful/powerless. By contrast, ‘coordinated cooperation‘ recognises that whilst we may not be the same, our diversity enriches us and that we can come together and work with mutual respect, no matter your authority or position within an organisation. If organisations do not make changes at this layer, then no matter how many systemic solutions they find, an underlying worldview of subordinated cooperation or a lack of universalism will always lead to bad leadership outcomes.

Analysis questions – Is your worldview expanded enough? How do you promote universal values? What values are you demonstrating by your actions? Do you respect the diversity of different perspectives/strengths and value it brings in problem solving? In what ways do you demonstrate that you view those ‘under’ you as having equal human value?

The fourth and most powerful layer of reality/change is that of metaphor/myth

This is the layer which describes how a problem or culture feels. Metaphor and story are deeply connected with culture and vision, and can effect the longest lasting change. In the sporting organisation mentioned above, there were a lot of stories that created identity for the individual teams however there were few stories as a collective group. As such the identity of the sport was overrun by the identity of the teams.

Similarly, on this planet we find patriotic, nationalistic stories such as ‘the greatest nation on earth’ but then wonder why we face so many wars and problems. If we were to expand our vista to ‘One human family’ then perhaps we would start to act in a more cooperative way as a planet. Similarly in Ananda Marga we need to look for stories that support an expanded worldview based on universalism and coordinated cooperation. The emotive nature of stories means that they bypass the rational brain, allowing for deeper change at a ‘gut’ level. This is also part of the reason why group identity is so hard to change through rational persuasion. You need to inspire people through story and imagination so that it sinks in deep.


Analysis questions – What stories of identity currently exist in your part of the organisation? What stories do or can you tell to inspire universal values and identity?

Thus the secret to developing a lasting cooperative leadership culture lies in the metaphor/myth of an organisation’s identity and what that story values. We also need to make changes at the more superficial levels of litany, systemic causes and worldview causes, however on their own the change will be short lived. Ultimately this move towards a cooperative leadership culture in Ananda Marga comes back to our ability to inspire visions of universal values and coordinated cooperation as we soar into a new leadership era.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the official views, policy or position of Ananda Marga.


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