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PART II Integrative Leadership: An Embodied Mechanism for Transformation

Todays Practitioner, Digital, Medicine,

By Lori Knutson, RN, BSN

In integrative clinical practice we hold that the relationship we have with our patient may be more powerful in the healing process than any one intervention. This is true in Integrative Leadership.   Relationship is the key to the embodiment of wholeness and the transformation of our environment.

Knutson_Lori_2010 copyThe Integrative Leader trusts, lets go, and allows what wants to emerge. This trust of others requires even a greater trust of self. This kind of trust holds firm that what needs to happen will, for the right reason, and at the right time. It doesn’t mean, however, there is a void of challenges.   But the greatest challenge may be surrendering to self-trust when the ego prefers to take control.   It also doesn’t mean that the Integrative Leader is acquiescent, rather it requires knowing when to lead from the front and when to lead from behind.

Through relationship building, the Integrative Leader cultivates and unifies mindful teams. In turn, these teams develop their own relationships with others, and as they create effective group dynamics whenever and wherever they interact, they expand the depth of the evolution throughout the organization. As more individuals embrace the vision through demonstration of value and the creation of win-win alliances, a feeling of ownership for the evolution permeates the culture.” (from The Pebble in the Pond)

This ripple effect happens because the Integrative Leader embodies an emotional intelligence. In Daniel Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, he reveals “the actions of the leader account for up to 70 percent of employees’ perception of the climate of their organization.3 Emotional intelligence is a key element of self awareness and the ability to self regulate. The Integrative Leader personifies this capacity. This is the embodiment of self-integration.   You might ask yourself the following questions to determine where you are in relationship to emotional intelligence:

  • What response do I elicit?
  • Do I engender respect or fear? Trust or suspicion?
  • Do I decrease or increase tension?
  • Up and down the corporate ladder, how do people respond when I approach them?

If you cannot answer these questions or the answer falls toward the more negative response side it is time to invest in a new way of being; that is if you desire to be an effective Integrative Leader.


Integrative leadership applies holistic principles and integrative practice to lead people and systems to wholeness.   Integrative leadership is the capacity to awaken collective wisdom to attain the full potential of individuals and systems.

It has become apparent that to achieve true transformation in the way our society approaches health and healing, the values inherent in Integrative Healthcare need to be embraced by the entire healthcare system.   Such transformation calls for leaders who are change agents, people who have self awareness and integrity and who will not only educate, energize and inspire others, but also create a shared vision among diverse people while solving problems, overcoming resistance and turning challenges into opportunities.” (from The Pebble in the Pond)

Organizational systems are complex, in some ways mirroring the complexity of the human organism. Viewing an organization with the same holistic principle of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts provides context to the transformative action the integrative leader needs to embody.   Understanding complexity theory can inform the integrative leader and the avenue by which they may develop a strategy for a system or organization to embody integrative health.

Generally speaking organizational complexity may be addressed as follows:

  • DYNAMIC — A delayed response in time and space; global warming/US health system
  • SOCIAL — Number of key stakeholders (political, environmental, pharmaceutical, consumer etc.)
  • EMERGING — The problem statement is not fully formed; the solution is not fully known.

An essential skill of an Integrative Leader is the capacity to be in the complexity but not of the complexity, to be an action driven observer. This might sound counter-intuitive however the ability to, in essence, hover above, around, and weave within the organizational complexity provides observational data that informs strategy.  General Stanley McChrystal in his book, Team of Teams, refers to this as “seeing the system” and becoming an “empathetic crafter of culture.”4


The embodiment of integrative health by the integrative leader, from the micro to the macro, is a journey. An end goal does not actually exist. As an Integrative Leader you must embrace being the novice and release being the expert. Perhaps the most profound evidence that you have made an impact is when others have been empowered to be the change.

If we accept the notion that integrative health is an embodied health movement with a shared consciousness and shared physical experience that impassions people to transform not only themselves but also society then we, as integrative leaders, must “Be” that embodiment.   Humanitarian and poet, Vaclav Havel’s poem, “It is I Who Must Begin” articulates this beautifully

It is I who must begin

Once I begin, once I try—

here and now,

right where I am,

not excusing myself

by saying that things

would be easier elsewhere,

without grand speeches and

ostentatious gestures,

but all the more persistently

to live in harmony

with the “voice of Being” as I

understand it within myself

as soon as I begin that,

I suddenly discover,

to my surprise, that

I am neither the only one

nor the first,

nor the most important one

to have set out

upon that road.

Whether all is really lost

or not depends entirely on

Lori Knutson, RN, BSN, is both a clinician and healthcare administrator with over 25 years of dedication to the advancement of integrative healthcare. Ms. Knutson is founder and president of Integrative Healthcare Solutions LLC, a consulting firm that partners with individuals and organizations to develop and advance sustainable integrative health initiatives, and core faculty for the Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University.

Link here for PART 1, Integrative Leadership and Embodied Practice


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