GAIA Insights and the Inner Development Goals

Our previous blog was about the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how GAIA Insights supports them. Today, we will focus on somewhat an equivalent, the Inner Development Goals (IDGs).

The Inner Development Goals (IDGs) are a framework of skills and qualities that individuals and organizations need to develop to successfully work with complex societal issues, particularly those identified in the UN Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The present version of the IDG framework can be used as a starting point for exploring both individual and collective skills and qualities and how organizations and institutions can support the necessary human growth for sustainable development.

The IDG project was initiated in 2019 by several organizations that identified an urgent need for the development of relevant skills and qualities for the inner growth of leaders who work with complex societal issues: “At the roots of the many problems the world is facing, we believe there is an imbalance between humankind’s material and technological power (…) and the relative underdevelopment of the inner skills and qualities we need to manage this power and the increasing complexity it has brought to our world. (…) By having a framework such as the IDGs, which is easy to grasp and describes those skills and qualities, we hope to mobilize a broader engagement and effort among organizations, companies, and institutions to significantly increase the investments in efforts to develop crucial skills and qualities.” (Source: IDGs Short Report)

The IDG framework represents 23 skills and qualities in 5 categories developed through two surveys. The IDGs are a work-in-progress and may continue to change as the project develops and new information and input come in. The current IDG framework is set out in the following table:

Source: IDGs Short Report

So, what does all this mean?

And what does it have to do with GAIA Insights, you may wonder. Well, the first time I came across the IDGs, it was like finally finding a model, concept, or structured overview of something I had intuitively known for a long time. In fact, when I read them for the first time, I thought: “Well, what’s new about it, this is what we – at GAIA Insights – have been working with for the past decade.” Having spent some time exploring the IDGs in detail and the research and science they are rooted in, I am glad that finally there is a formal framework that we can refer to, that increases our credibility and gives our work more weight. Honestly, one of the many challenges of being a small boutique firm is to convince people that you know what you’re doing and that you’re good at it. We do not have money nor resources for scientific research to prove our points. Our success is anchored in many years of study, practice, observation, contemplation, experimentation, failure, and sticking to what works. In other words: Our success is anchored in experience.

When we look at the 5 categories of the IDG framework – Being, Thinking, Relating, Collaborating, Acting – all of these aspects have been and still are fundamental elements of our leadership development programs:


Self-awareness is where everything starts. It is the anchor in many of our programs because becoming an authentic leader requires knowing yourself. Through an orchestrated mix of psychometric assessments, reflective journaling, candid feedback and individual coaching, participants discover facets of themselves that help them reduce their blind spots, find (new) meaning in their work and embrace their inner compass. Whether they explore leading from within as an expression of their integrity, whether we cover vulnerability-based trust, or dive head-on into the multi-layered topic of balance, which includes physical health, mental resilience, emotional composure, and spiritual well-being – the dimension of ‘Being’ is omnipresent in our company values, our ethos, as well as our program design principles. Leading with purpose, adopting a growth mindset and being present in the moment are cornerstones of many of our programs, thus “developing and deepening our relationship to our thoughts, feelings and body” to be “present, intentional and non-reactive when we face complexity” (as per IDG framework).


As corporations realize that critical thinking and navigating a VUCA world are key leadership ingredients to long-term success, topics like Systems Thinking, Decision-Making and Vision & Purpose have become more popular over the years. We cater to this by bringing subject matter experts to our programs, by sharing diverse resources in a curated Knowledge Library, by including real-life business projects (which also create tangible ROI for organizations), and by constantly exposing participants to diverging views, challenging them to reflect and integrate different perspectives in their own. Long-term orientation is a pillar of our program design proven to produce sustained learning that sticks for years, as confirmed in our alumni surveys. Curiosity and inquiry are strongly encouraged throughout all program elements, intended for participants to explore new ways to develop their “cognitive skills by taking different perspectives, evaluating information and making sense of the world as an interconnected whole” to ultimately improve their decision-making as leaders (as per IDG framework).


Not only are our programs designed in line with the principles of human-centered leadership, by putting participants at the heart of everything we do, we make a specific effort for leaders to experience empathy, compassion, humility, and connectedness first-hand, thus feeling the impact these qualities have on motivation and engagement. At GAIA Insights, we deeply care for our participants, our clients and the world, which is the reason we exist, and we do our best to pass on this sentiment. After all, our brand identity is built on People, Planet, and Purpose. Whether we include topics such as Natural Intelligence or Languages of Appreciation, whether participants practice mindfulness or gratitude, or do an ecosystems mapping exercise, the dimension of ‘Relating’ is very present in our work. We have even integrated social community work or partnerships with emerging market NGOs in past programs. Last but not least, we always apply a personal touch as our signature approach, be it in the form of pillow notes, handwritten postcards or the personalized feedback we call “tough love”. Appreciating, caring for and feeling connected to others is imperative to “create more just and sustainable systems and societies for everyone” (as per IDG framework).


Not only do we co-create our programs with our clients and partner network, we also role model (and teach) remote collaboration in a virtual workplace – something many organizations still struggle with. Stakeholder Management, Developing Others, Team Dynamics, and Inspiring Followership are popular topics that come to life in various ways during our programs. We help participants to understand and navigate organizational politics, to give and receive candid feedback, or to practice coaching skills for leaders. They frequently work in peer groups, and we regularly invite their feedback to fine-tune our leadership journeys. Whether we cover psychological safety, behavioral preferences, conflict resolution, non-violent communication, difficult conversations, or an entire theme dedicated to advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in our programs leaders are given plenty of opportunities to develop their social skills and “abilities to include, hold space and communicate with stakeholders with different values, skills and competencies” (as per IDG framework).


Everything we do is about implementation and practice. We don’t stop at the conceptual, theoretic input because we don’t believe that merely gaining knowledge or increasing awareness are sufficient for sustainable change. Our customized leadership development solutions are inspired by gamification, positive psychology, and holistic integration. We ensure participants explore their potential resistance to change, flex their creativity muscles and practice new skills with intentional repetition, so new behaviors become habits and shift from conscious competence to unconscious competence, which is the state required to perform a skill automatically without effort and to become a role model for others. In the end, this is what drives change and it takes courage and perseverance to do this. While we provide a myriad of supporting tools and techniques, all the way from practical assignments to inspiring venues, ultimately, we are holding participants accountable for sustaining their commitment to professional development, personal growth, and lifelong learning. As the IDG framework suggests: “Qualities such as courage and optimism help us acquire true agency, break old patterns, generate original ideas and act with persistence in uncertain times.”

Hopefully, the above helped you see the Inner Development Goals in the context of leadership development. While GAIA Insights solutions cover many of them already, going forward we may develop an integrated curriculum that offers specific content for each of the 23 defined skills. If we were to recommend a 24th quality that we believe is missing, it would be dealing with ambiguity and the agility to adapt to an ever-changing environment, but this might become the topic of a different article…

In case this is something you or your organization would be curious to explore, please do get in touch. We are looking for brave pioneers, who trust our experience and are daring enough to leave well-trodden but ineffective Learning & Development paths behind. Let’s put our magic together and co-create a future worth living!

Authored by Martina Mangelsdorf, Chief Strategic Dreamer at GAIA Insights.

If you enjoyed this article, also read our blogs on how we impact the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and about the courageous decision makers we are looking for.