In my previous posts, I presented different theories of leadership development based on the fact that leaders, like all adults, progress through stages as they grow and mature.

Because the development stage theorists use different descriptive words for the stages, it can be confusing. They all have characteristics in common, however.

Using a broad brush, one can summarize the various levels of leadership development as follows:

  • Level 1: Leaders who operate at the first stage of development are focused on their own need to excel, which explains why it’s referred to as an Egocentric, Opportunist or Expert stage. These leaders are acutely aware of what they need to do to succeed and how they must be perceived by others. Leadership at Level 1 therefore tends to be autocratic and controlling. A leader’s mindset is limited at this stage because there’s no shared reality. Growth requires one to become aware of, and interested in, other people’s needs and to reach out co-relationally. This is a normal developmental stage for young adults, but ineffective for leaders (although 5% appear to operate at this stage).
  • Level 2: Leaders’ abilities to simultaneously respond to their personal needs and those of others is the hallmark of Stage 2, referred to as the Socialized or Reactive mindset by some, and the Diplomat or Achiever stage by others. At this stage, a leader plays by the organization’s rules and expectations and builds alliances, but with a focus on how to best get ahead. One’s emphasis is on the outer game to gain meaning, self-worth and security.Leaders hone their strengths, but are nonetheless limited by them. At this stage, identity is defined from the outside-in and requires external validation in one of three ways: relationship strength, intellect, or results. Leaders fall into three categories at Level 2: Complying, Protecting or Controlling (reflecting over-dependence on heart, head or will). When self-worth and identity depend on overused strengths, growth is self-limited, as behavioral options are restricted. Most leaders (nearly 75%, as with most adults) operate at this second level of maturity.
  • Level 3: Referred to as the Creative, Self-Authoring, Individualist or Catalyst stage, Level 3 is marked by personal transformation from old assumptions/beliefs and a quest for external validation to a more authentic version of the self. These leaders want to know who they truly are and what they care most about. They’re on a path to becoming visionary leaders, accepting that authenticity carries a risk of disappointing others, potential failures and hazards associated with contradicting accepted norms. Leaders trade their need to be admired for a higher purpose. They don’t feel the need to be the hero and begin to share power. No longer the sole decision-makers, Level 3 leaders encourage groups to become more self-managing and meaningfully involved in organizational success. They focus on high performance through teamwork and a desire to develop others. Their leadership is truly collaborative. About 20% of leaders operate with a Level 3 mindset.
  • Level 4: Called the Integral, Transforming Self, Strategist and Co-Creator stage, Level 4’s hallmark is one’s ability to focus not only on an organizational vision, but the welfare of the larger system in which a company operates. Servant leadership emerges, as one considers more interdependent components and systemic complexities.
  • Level 5: Level 5 is referred to as Unitive, Alchemist and Synergist. At this level, leaders expand perspectives even further, focusing on higher purpose and common good. Beyond this level other stages may be unexplored, as very few leaders grow past the fourth level. To some theorists, Level 5 encompasses a spiritual focus.

What do you think about these ideas? Do they resonate for you and what you’ve observed as the leaders in your organization have matured? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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