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This article introduces the concept of organisational transcendence, its application, benefits and implementation.
The idea that transcendence can be applied to organisations is based on the notion that leaders and organisations can go beyond their self-interest and achieve a higher purpose that benefits all stakeholders. It also suggests that organisations should take a top-down approach to implementing transcendent protocols so that everyone in the organisation becomes transcendence-centric in their ways of working. Over time, the theory goes, this approach will enable the organisation to become the best it can be. The best place to work, the best place to be involved with, both as stakeholder and customer. This will create a forward-thinking organisation that excels at creativity and innovation, meaning it will become highly efficient and competitive, which transcendence benefits of a highly efficient and flexible workforce that treat each other as valuable, unique individuals, and in so doing, create a culture of excellence, honour, encouragement and support.
One of the emerging concepts in organisational studies is the idea of transcendence, which refers to the ability of leaders and organisations to go beyond their self-interest and achieve a higher purpose that benefits all stakeholders (Chen, 2019). Transcendence can be applied to organisations in various ways, such as creating a transcendent vision, fostering a transcendent culture, and developing transcendent leadership. According to Chen (2019), “transcendence is not only a personal quality, but also a collective phenomenon that can be cultivated and enhanced in organisations” (p. 2).
One of the implications of applying transcendence to organisations is that organisations should take a top-down approach to implementing transcendent protocols, which are the rules and norms that guide the behaviour and decision-making of organisational members towards transcendence (Chen, 2019). By doing so, organisations can ensure that everyone in the organisation becomes transcendence-centric in their ways of working, meaning that they align their actions and goals with the transcendent purpose of the organisation. Over time, the theory goes, this approach will enable the organisation to become the best it can be in terms of performance, reputation, and social impact.
For example, Chen (2019) cites the case of Southwest Airlines, which has a transcendent vision of “connecting people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel” (p. 5). The company has implemented transcendent protocols such as hiring people who share its values, empowering employees to make decisions that benefit customers, and rewarding employees for their contributions. As a result, Southwest Airlines has achieved high levels of customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and profitability.
Another example is Google, which has a transcendent vision of “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” (Google, n.d.). The company has implemented transcendent protocols such as encouraging innovation and experimentation, providing employees with autonomy and resources, and supporting social causes and initiatives. As a result, Google has become one of the most innovative and influential companies in the world.
A third example is Patagonia, a clothing company that has a mission to”build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” (Patagonia, n.d.). Patagonia demonstrates transcendence by donating 1% of its sales to environmental causes, supporting grassroots activism, promoting fair trade and organic practices, and encouraging customers to repair and reuse their products.
By applying transcendence to organisations, organisations can reap various benefits, such as:
Enhancing creativity and innovation: Transcendence can stimulate organisational members to think beyond the status quo and generate novel and useful ideas that serve the transcendent purpose of the organisation (Chen, 2019).
Improving efficiency and competitiveness: Transcendence can motivate organisational members to work harder and smarter to achieve the transcendent goals of the organisation, as well as to collaborate and cooperate with each other and external stakeholders (Chen, 2019).
Building a highly efficient and flexible workforce: Transcendence can foster a sense of belonging and commitment among organisational members, as well as a willingness to adapt and learn from changes and challenges (Chen, 2019).
Creating a culture of excellence, honour, encouragement and support: Transcendence can cultivate a positive organisational climate that values and respects each individual’s uniqueness and potential, as well as provides feedback and recognition for their achievements (Chen, 2019).
Transcendence is a powerful concept that can be applied to organisations to help them achieve a higher purpose that benefits all stakeholders. By implementing transcendent protocols in a top-down manner, organisations can create a transcendence-centric culture that enables them to become the best they can be.
Contributors and influencers
Some of the main contributors to this idea are:
Abraham Maslow, who proposed a hierarchy of needs that culminates in Self-actualization and transcendence. According to Maslow, transcendence enables us to overcome our focus on ourselves and see things more holistically—from a different perspective that includes more than simply our own personal needs (Duggal, 2022).
Scott Barry Kauffman, who updated Maslow’s theory and proposed a system of needs focused on finding fulfilment through purpose. He argued that transcendence is achieved when one reaches the level of purpose, which connects them to others and the world around them (Duggal, 2022).
Gregory Stebbins, who defined six keys to transcendence leadership; multidimensional awareness, wisdom, dialogue, collaboration, stewardship and service. He suggested that transcendence leaders rise above or go beyond the limits of self, moving into Self, and triumph over the limitations of what might be considered acceptable or possible (Stebbins, 2017).
Transcendence was introduced as a global imperative at the 2007 World Economic Forum in Davos, and has been explored by various thinkers and practitioners since then. According to Stebbins (2017), transcendent leadership has two threads – doing and being. Doing relates to the triple bottom line of profits, people and planet, while being relates to the inner transformation of the leader from self to Self, or from ego to essence. Transcendent leaders demonstrate multidimensional awareness, open dialogue, wisdom, and compassion in their actions and decisions. They also inspire others to follow their example and create positive change in the world.
Some examples of transcendent leaders are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama. These leaders have shown courage, vision, humility, and altruism in their pursuit of justice, peace, and harmony. They have also faced tremendous challenges and adversities with resilience and grace. They have transcended their personal or national interests and embraced a global perspective that values diversity, inclusion, and cooperation.
Transcendence is not only relevant for political or spiritual leaders, but also for business leaders who want to create sustainable and ethical organisations that contribute to social and environmental wellbeing. As the World Economic Forum (2021) stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need for a new leadership paradigm that can address the complex and interdependent challenges of the 21st century. The Davos Agenda is a platform for global leaders to shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed for a more inclusive, cohesive and sustainable future. Transcendent leadership is a key component of this agenda, as it can foster trust, innovation, collaboration, and resilience among stakeholders.
Creating a transcendent vision
A transcendent vision is a vision that goes beyond the limits of the self, the organisation, and the status quo. It is a vision that inspires, motivates, and challenges people to achieve higher levels of performance and impact. A transcendent vision is not just about profits, but also about people and the planet (Gardiner, 2007).
A transcendent vision requires transcendent leadership, which is a leadership style that rises above the ego self and operates from the higher self, or the essence of who we are (Stebbins, 2017). Transcendent leaders demonstrate multidimensional awareness, acceptance, reverence, gratitude, presence, and service (Stebbins, 2017). They create a culture of a compassionate and innovative work environment where stakeholders can express themselves freely and authentically (Nazario, 2021).
One example of a transcendent vision is the one articulated by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Musk’s vision is to “accelerate the advent of sustainable energy” and to “make humanity a multi-planetary species” (Musk, 2016). These visions are not only ambitious and audacious, but also aligned with the values of environmental sustainability and human exploration. Musk’s vision has attracted millions of customers, investors, employees, and fans who share his passion and purpose. His vision has also driven him and his teams to overcome numerous challenges and setbacks in pursuit of breakthrough innovations.
To create a transcendent vision, organisations need to ask themselves some key questions, such as – What is our higher purpose? What are our core values? What are our aspirational goals? How do we make a positive difference in the world? How do we engage and empower our stakeholders? Furthermore, how do we challenge ourselves to grow and learn? A transcendent vision should be clear, compelling, authentic, inclusive, and adaptable. It should also be communicated effectively and consistently to all stakeholders through various channels and platforms.
A transcendent vision can help organisations achieve extraordinary results and create lasting impact. It can also help organisations attract and retain talented and passionate people who are committed to the vision. A transcendent vision can be a powerful source of competitive advantage and social responsibility in the 21st century.
According to Fry and Egel (2017), spiritual leadership intrinsically motivates and inspires workers through hope/faith in a transcendent vision and a corporate culture based on altruistic values to satisfy universal needs for spiritual wellbeing through calling and membership and, ultimately, maximize the triple bottom line.
This ideal-self is really an aspiration for the organisation’s current false-self to be replaced by the true-self, which is not necessarily understood, but will become apparent by a process of becoming as each individual within the organisation embraces and realises their own self-transcendence and then applies this to their work environment.
For example, a company that adopts a transcendent vision of serving the common good and creating value for all stakeholders may foster a culture of altruistic love, where leaders and followers have a sense of membership, feel understood and appreciated, and have genuine care, concern, and appreciation for both self and others (Fry & Egel, 2017).
This may help employees to align their personal values with the organisational vision and feel a sense of calling, meaning, and purpose in their work. A possible quote to highlight this point is: “Spiritual leaders can enhance L-forms by adding transcendent leadership that aligns altruistic purposes with a firm’s goals and vision. They can enhance knowledge workers by going beyond personal mastery and continuous improvement to focus on employee wellbeing” (Fry & Egel, 2017).
Fostering a transcendent culture
A transcendent culture is one that goes beyond the conventional boundaries of ethnicity, religion, nationality, or ideology, and embraces a more universal perspective of human values and goals. A transcendent culture may seek to overcome the limitations of physical existence, rationality, and dualism, and to experience a deeper connection with the divine, the natural world, or the self.
According to some philosophers, transcendence is the basic ground concept of knowledge, as it describes the framework of emergence and validation of knowledge of being (Wikipedia, n.d.-a).
One way that organisations can foster a transcendent culture is by encouraging their members to pursue a higher purpose that goes beyond their own self-interests and aligns with the common good. A transcendent culture is one that values the spiritual, moral, and ethical dimensions of human existence, and seeks to create a positive impact on society and the environment.
According to Collins English Dictionary, to transcend culture means to “go beyond the limits of culture; be superior or better than some standard”. This implies that a transcendent culture is not bound by the norms, beliefs, and practices of any particular group, but rather embraces diversity and pluralism as sources of learning and innovation. A transcendent culture also recognizes the universal aspects of human nature, such as the need for meaning, connection, and transcendence itself.
Organisations which develop a transcendent culture demonstrate how they can inspire their members to work for a greater cause that benefits not only themselves, but also others and future generations. They also show how transcendent cultures can foster creativity, innovation, and collaboration across different disciplines, sectors, and cultures.
A transcendent culture may also aim to bridge cultural gaps and serve as a home to diverse peoples, by creating social structures, laws, and institutions that transcend culture (Collins Dictionary, n.d.). Furthermore, a transcendent culture may foster the evolution of transcendence, which is a cross-cultural and pan-historical phenomenon of ego-dissolving encounter with something greater than oneself (Griffiths et al., 2016).
Organisations can foster a transcendent culture by:
- Having a clear and compelling vision that articulates their higher purpose and values
- Creating a supportive and inclusive environment that respects diversity and encourages dialogue
- Providing opportunities for learning, growth, and development for their members
- Engaging in social and environmental responsibility and accountability
- Celebrating achievements and recognising contributions
By doing so, organisations can enhance their performance, reputation, and impact, as well as contribute to the well-being of humanity and the planet.
Developing transcendent leadership
Transcendent leadership is a style of leadership that goes beyond the conventional approaches of power, control and profit. It is based on a higher purpose, a broader vision and a deeper sense of values that inspire and motivate followers to achieve remarkable outcomes. Transcendent leaders are not driven by their personal ego or ambition, but by their desire to make a positive impact on their employees, communities and the environment. They also empower and collaborate with their team members, creating an inclusive and innovative culture.
According to Forbes, transcendent leadership is “an evolution past transactional and transformational leadership. In this evolution, leaders are able to hold a consciousness that naturally lifts those around them and helps unbind them from their often self-imposed restrictions” (Collins, 2021, para. 1). Transcendent leaders demonstrate multidimensional awareness, which allows them to access their inner wisdom and leverage the experiences and insights of their stakeholders. They also transcend the limitations of data, information and knowledge cycles, which often trap autocratic leaders in a loop of control and scarcity (Stebbins, 2017).
Some examples of transcendent leaders are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Oprah Winfrey. These leaders have shown extraordinary courage, compassion, vision and influence in their respective fields. They have also challenged the status quo, overcome adversity and created lasting change in the world. They have inspired millions of people to follow their footsteps and pursue a higher purpose in life.
Transcendent leadership is not only a philosophy, but also a practice that can be developed and cultivated by anyone who aspires to be a leader in the modern business landscape. Emeritus (2023) suggests seven best practices to ace transcendent leadership:
- Define your purpose and align it with your values
- Communicate your vision clearly and passionately
- Empower your team members to take ownership and initiative
- Foster a culture of collaboration and innovation
- Embrace diversity and inclusion as strengths
- Practice empathy and compassion with yourself and others
- Seek feedback and continuous learning
By following these practices, leaders can enhance their transcendent leadership skills and create a positive impact on their organisations and society.
Key stages of a successful organisational transformation into transcendence
Organisational transformation into transcendence is a process of achieving a higher level of performance, innovation and wellbeing by aligning the organisation’s vision, values and culture with its purpose and goals. According to Scharmer and Kaufer (2013), there are four key stages to a successful organisational transformation into transcendence: co-initiating, co-sensing, Co-presencing and Co-creating.
co-initiating is the stage of building a core group of stakeholders who share a common intention and commitment to the transformation process. This stage involves clarifying the driving question, identifying the key players and inviting them to join the journey.
co-sensing is a term that refers to the process of collectively sensing and tuning in to the emerging future of an organisation. It involves listening deeply to oneself, others, and the system as a whole, and suspending one’s judgments and assumptions. co-sensing is a key element of organisational transcendental transformation, which is the shift from egocentric to eco-centric awareness and action. By co-sensing, organisations can tap into the creative potential of their members and stakeholders, and co-create solutions that are aligned with their higher purpose and vision.
Co-presencing is the stage of connecting to the source of inspiration and creativity that lies within oneself and the collective. This stage involves letting go of old assumptions, judgments and habits, and opening up to new possibilities and potentialities.
Co-creating is the stage of prototyping and implementing the new ideas and solutions that emerge from the Co-presencing stage. This stage involves testing, learning and iterating the prototypes in real-world settings, as well as engaging in dialogue and feedback with the stakeholders and beneficiaries.
By following these four stages, an organisation can transform itself into a transcendent entity that operates from a higher level of consciousness, awareness and action. Such an organisation can generate positive impact for itself, its stakeholders and the wider society.
Strengths and weaknesses of transcendent organisations
Transcendent organisations are those that display aretaic attributes and demonstrate extraordinary actions or behaviours that promote the wellbeing of the natural environment (Zoogah, 2012). They are driven by a moral vision of sustainability that goes beyond profit maximisation or compliance with regulations. Transcendent organisations embrace standards of correctness and excellence that facilitate positive, high-impact outcomes for the natural environment (Zoogah, 2012). Some of the strengths of transcendent organisations are:
- They create a positive climate and culture that fosters ecological virtues and behaviours among their members (Bateman and Porath, 2003).
- They improve interpersonal relations by turning conflicts into opportunities for collaboration and learning (Bateman and Porath, 2003).
- They stimulate individual growth by seeking out new challenges and developing new competencies related to environmental management (Bateman and Porath, 2003).
- They enhance their reputation and legitimacy among their stakeholders by demonstrating their commitment and contribution to sustainability (Gonzalez-Benito and Gonzalez-Benito, 2006).
- They gain competitive advantage by innovating and adapting to changing environmental conditions and customer preferences (Jackson et al., 2011).
Some of the weaknesses of transcendent organisations are:
- They may face resistance or backlash from internal or external actors who do not share their moral vision or who perceive them as threatening their interests or values (Zoogah, 2012).
- They may incur higher costs or risks associated with implementing sustainable practices that may not yield immediate or tangible benefits or returns (Gonzalez-Benito and Gonzalez-Benito, 2006).
- They may encounter difficulties in measuring and evaluating their environmental performance and impact, especially in relation to long-term or systemic outcomes (Jackson et al., 2011).
- They may struggle to balance the competing or conflicting demands of multiple stakeholders who have different expectations or standards of environmental management (Gonzalez-Benito and Gonzalez-Benito, 2006).
- They may lose focus or direction if they become too detached from the realities or constraints of their operating environment or industry (Jackson et al., 2011).
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