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Leadership tensegrity model

         The Tensegrity Leadership model derives its inspiration from the works of R. Buckminster Fuller, an American systems theorist, architect, philosopher, and futurist. 

         Tensegrity principles have been most visibly applied in architecture and physics. At the same time, tensegrity is relevant to living beings. In the 1970’s, orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Stephen Levin, coined the term “bio tensegrity,” which looked at the application of tensegrity to biological structures. 

Biological Aspects of Tensegrity

         The human body is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, vessels, and fascia among other things. The latter element, fascia, are less well known but play a key role in bio tensegrity. Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place. It stabilizes body structures and enables bodily systems to be flexible and to work well together.

         Healthy fascia is smooth and flexible. When it thickens, dries up, or tightens it can limit mobility. As a result of injury or inactivity, fascia can become knotted. These knots, called adhesions, can cause inflexibility and debilitating pain. In such cases, the tensegrity structure of the body is weakened, and optimal performance is jeopardized.

Applying the Tensegrity Approach to Leadership

         Bio tensegrity describes the application of tensegrity principles to physical biological systems, including the human body. A key component in human bio tensegrity is fascia – a thin band of connective tissue which surrounds and supports bodily structures. When functioning properly it provides stability and flexibility to the physical human structure. When damaged, painful adhesions in the fascia can limit movement and lessen bio tensegrity.

         Tensegrity Leadership views the values, aspirations, and behaviors of leaders as part of another tensegrity system. This leadership tensegrity system addresses how people utilize a variety of skill areas that are closely bound together by underlying and often unnoticed relationships. The elements of this system, which are analogous to compression members like bones in bio tensegrity, include items such as resilience, trust, communications, self-worth, mindset, values and conflict management. These elements are drawn together by underlying factors common to the elements. These underlying factors are analogous to the continuous tension members like fascia in a bio tensegrity structure. These factors can include things such as emotions, perceptions, and thoughts. They are often identified using various leadership assessment instruments.

          For example, although resilience and conflict management seem like separate and distinct skill areas, there are bidirectional underlying connections which can either strengthen or weaken both areas. If a leader’s resilience is low, he or she may not have the energy to constructively engage in a stressful conflict, which can result in a conflict being prolonged or escalated by avoidance behaviors. Likewise, if a leader lacks conflict management skills, they may not be able to cope with emotional stress in conflict, which can impair their overall resilience. By using both resilience and conflict management assessments, it is possible to diagnose common connections between both areas that are causing problems.

          To optimize a leader’s tensegrity, it is essential to make sure that all elements of the system are working properly. If one area is suboptimal, it can create a leadership “adhesion,” which will serve to weaken a leader’s capacity, limit their flexibility, and undermine their overall resilience. In such cases it becomes necessary to diagnosis which elements or connections in the leadership tensegrity system are lacking and develop strategies for addressing these problems. This pointed approach allows for a more refined and focused development process, which can address multiple, interconnected leadership skill areas.


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Pierre Naquet

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