Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Staring Down the Wolf

7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams

Mark Divine

St. Martin's Press





Are you a CEO or key leader desperate to drive new revenue and profit because the shifting business and technology landscape has made the old maps of how to win in your industry obsolete? At the same time, your teams and culture are struggling under the crush of commitments and the constant chaos. Your HR department is missing the mark, off-kilter because its personnel are trained to deal with humans as resources, not as human beings demanding to be treated as such. They were fine when it was just about hiring, measuring, promoting, and firing … maybe even conducting surveys and initiating sensitivity training. But they are challenged to develop leaders in ways that now count most—emotionally, morally, and spiritually.

Perhaps you are one of those young leaders who feels disengaged because you resent being treated as an asset—or worse, being led by an asshole. The typical large organization is biased toward endless process and tasks, with little time for cultivating a powerful culture, which is critical to navigating this new terrain. The business world can be like a battlefield, and your organization could be on its way to getting seriously wounded, or killed, as a result.

In the new battleground, the internal terrain of emotional power and mindset is where the creative energy to win will come from. Those require new developmental models to effectively deal with the rapid change and uncertainty. After the cold war, the US Army War College coined an acronym for the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world—VUCA—which has gained some familiarity in executive suites since. To win the mission in VUCA, leaders will need a next-generation compass, one that helps them to navigate the peaks and valleys with emotional, moral, and spiritual strength. They will need to set their egos aside and subordinate their needs to the team and mission, to become “whole leaders” who operate from a world-centric, integrated consciousness. Becoming whole and self-evolving allows leaders to develop a profoundly deep connection with their team. And it will lead to more meaningful success for their organizations in a future that is already upon us.

These are skills leaders desperately need right now.

But your fear wolf stands in the way.

The fear wolf is a metaphor for what’s holding you back emotionally—those deeply engrained fears, negative reactionary patterns, and biases. What do these hold you back from? They hold you back from receiving 100 percent buy-in and alignment from your team. And they hold you back from your true self.

This book is about helping you stare down your own fear wolf to overcome lingering negative conditioning so you can evolve to your fullest capacity. It’s the only way to unlock your truly massive potential.

This new battlefield will simply not let you chase profit at the expense of people any longer. Your people and your culture are your “main thing” now. Everything else is subject to the winds of change, easily made irrelevant as those winds blow.

As a leader, you are not the victim of VUCA. You can’t blame the market, the volatility, the competitors, the investors, or the customers. It’s up to you to change, or be killed, in this new business climate. Consider yourself lucky that you aren’t likely to actually get killed, which was not something that I counted on in the SEALs. You cannot let volatility, complexity, and numbing ambiguity freeze you in your tracks.

I have found in my work with leaders and teams that most have hit a wall in the last five years or so. All of a sudden they are starting to feel incompetent. At some point, what had worked for them was no longer relevant; the weapons they trained with now do no damage. Their professional skills, developed in business school, endless workshops and courses, and OJT (on-the-job training) simply aren’t delivering the desired results. Though they see and feel the elements of this new battleground acutely, they don’t know how to proceed.

Fight, flight, and freeze has set in among the allied business troops.

Where are the Eisenhowers and Pattons when you need then?

Sorry, there is no savior this time around. There is no outside transformational leader or consultant who can “fix this” for you, or anyone else.

The only transformational leader available is you.

You must transform. And you must also transform your team.

You can’t keep doing things that aren’t working and expect better results. This book won’t give you a bunch of fancy strategies and shiny tactics to solve your issues. Instead, it will give you insights on how to develop your own, and your team’s, character. That character will be exemplified by moral and spiritual courage, trust and trustworthiness, respect and respectability, excellence through self-leadership and adaptability, persistent growth, resiliency, and alignment around a shared purpose, vision, and mission. These are the seven commitments that will lead to total team engagement.

Developing these skills will require that you look deep within to overcome any negative qualities holding you back from your ability to tap your full intuition, creativity, and connection. Frankly, you can’t pretend to be the perfect leader, with all the good qualities and none of the bad. Your peeps saw through that mask long ago. Equally important, you must stop casting your shadow onto your team. Your shadow is your negative conditioned behavior, most often linked to the emotionally traumatic experiences of your youth, which now harms relationships and your team’s performance. It shows up as projection; transference; aggressive, passive-aggressive, or passive behavior; or just outright horrible communication skills. Your team will not trust or respect you fully until you do this work. Your shadow makes you the limiting factor in your own success.

The way through VUCA is to push yourself and your teams to embody the seven commitments in this book. When you do so, you will accelerate your growth to the highest stages of development and wholeness. This is accomplished through the self-awareness of your fear wolf shadow, and through a daily practice of self-mastery. That will allow you to clean up your emotional shadow issues, wake up to your essential nature as a spiritual being, and grow into a fully authentic leader. This is hard work, but it must be done. Your future and the future of your teams—perhaps even the future of humanity itself when you consider our collective global challenges—depend on it.

You must stare down the wolf of fear.


It is well known in developmental psychology that we operate with differing internal maps of reality. This makes leading complex because not only is the external terrain shifting due to VUCA, but the internal terrains of team members are different from ours as well, with inconsistent and differing reality maps! Most leaders ignore this truth because they haven’t learned to recognize the different terrains, or they are trapped in an incomplete map and can’t see the forest for the trees. It takes awareness of the dominant reality perspectives in order to activate self-transformation.

I have identified five distinct points of view that my executive clients identify with (these are their reality terrains and maps), which I have termed the Five Plateaus. These plateaus frame their world views, reactions to others and pet beliefs. The plateaus are each internally consistent world views, but are incomplete in scope of inclusiveness, or wholeness, until the fifth is reached, which integrates them all. Additionally, one’s shadow elements will show up differently in each plateau and can negatively impact developmental growth. These plateaus are fluid, in that the leader can hold an intellectualized belief from one level but react with a subconscious shadow pattern at another. The good news is that through a disciplined practice, with a daily, weekly, and annual “battle rhythm,” leaders can destroy their shadow and grow quickly to ascend to the fifth plateau—the whole or integrated stage of development. Another way of saying this is that integration at the fifth plateau brings a more expansive and inclusive awareness and world view, one that transcends and includes all the previous stages. This embodied wholeness unlocks greater connection, potential, performance, and sense of service. Of course, it also allows one to lead more effectively and achieve more success, significance, and contentment.

Leaders who take their evolution seriously and grow to this fifth plateau will see more and more clearly and release shadow. This work is not a one-time thing—it is ongoing and there is no tape to run through at a finish line. It is also accepted by experts that growth continues beyond the fifth plateau, but unfortunately only a small percentage of humanity will ever see that perspective in our lifetimes. This helps explain why society has created such caustic and violent conditions. Let’s make it our mission to guide our teams and new leaders to this fifth plateau, transforming not just them but global culture in the process.

If you are familiar with the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber, you will note his influence, as well as that of other developmental psychologists, in the Five Plateaus. I have been honored to study and work with Ken and some of his earliest acolytes. Ken is the creator of Integral Theory, which is a growth framework that pairs Western psychological with Eastern transpersonal developmental models for complete map of the human experience. That map includes both the subjective and objective aspects of the individual and the collective. Awareness of all of these domains is important because these internal reality maps, when made an object of self-study, can be psychoactive—meaning that the mere awareness of them prompts growth to include them.

As a nearly lifelong student of Zen, yoga, and the martial arts, with twenty years of therapy, I am finally coming to deeply understand what Ken means when he says that our mission as humans is to “wake up, grow up, and clean up so we can show up as our true selves.” Waking up is the experience of separating from one’s origin story, thoughts, and emotions to recognize one’s eternal nature and unity with all things. Paths to waking up are found in all perennial spiritual traditions. Waking up is how we come to appreciate the awesome potential that lies within all of us. Growing up is different. This means to evolve to fuller and more inclusive stages of personal development, thereby accessing more inclusivenes and leadership capacity. Finally, cleaning up is doing the emotional shadow work—which is the hard part—staring down the wolf of fear. Giving you the inspiration and tools to clean up, so you can continue to grow into greater leadership authenticity at the fifth plateu, is the purpose of this book.


Your own stage of development will be heavily influenced by the stage of your parents and the culture you grew up in. Those with ideal origin circumstances can develop naturally through the first four stages, or plateaus, which mirror the development of overall human consciousness itself through the industrial age. As mentioned, when people progress through each plateau, their sense of self and others gets more expansive and inclusive. The first plateau is pure egocentric, with a focus solely on self-needs. The second is ethnocentric with a focus on the tribe, while the third is largely ethnocentric but has the potential to be world-centric for those involved in global travel and work. The fourth and fifth plateaus are world-centric oriented, displaying increasing care and concern for all humans and the planet itself. Unfortunately, Wilber estimates that around 5 percent of the world’s population is at the fifth.

The following Five Plateau graphic offers a map of each stage:

Note: For those familiar with the work of Wilber, you will see that I have deliberately conflated his first three levels into the survivor plateau. These early three relate to archaic, magic, and mythic levels of growth, which are not often seen in successful leaders in the West. Generally, we see mostly second, third, and fourth plateau leadership perspectives.

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Divine