How do leadership developmental stages contribute to growing effective leaders? Developmental theories have been around for decades, based on 50 years of psychological research into how adults mature. How do leaders grow into more effective levels of maturity, wisdom and agility?
Organizational psychologists have applied the basic tenets of adult developmental stages to leadership development. Their conclusions are summarized here:
- Just as children improve their cognitive capacities with age, so do adults.
- Adults, however, develop according to needs and opportunities, not because of age.
- Not all adults progress through all stages.
- Some adults can function only at lower levels of development. A small percentage attains higher levels of awareness, wisdom and compassion.
- As leaders progress through developmental levels, they expand their mental and emotional capacities and become increasingly skilled at handling complexity.
- Each stage describes a form of mind: a way of thinking about responsibility, conflicts, perspective and assumptions (about self, others and the world).
- Leaders may operate partially at one stage and occasionally at the next, but return to old habits before transitioning.
- Transitioning requires changing one’s previous assumptions to expand consciousness.
- Leaders who function at higher developmental stages produce significantly improved business results.
- Knowing a leader’s developmental level, coupled with behavioral action plans and coaching, provides a measure of competitive advantage or disadvantage.
Levels of Leadership
The following table shows how four leadership experts define levels of leadership behaviors and mindsets. Unfortunately, there is no uniform agreement on vocabulary, which has created a confusing array of names and definitions.
(Please note: The rows of stages aren’t equal; that is, while there may be some similarities,
the stages are not defined as equivalent to others across rows.)
Although there are different names for the leadership stages, they each describe progressive development of leadership effectiveness, and have been correlated with business performance. In my next post, I’ll describe more about these stages.