As we continue examining some ways that leaders can generate commitment, we’ve defined leadership and examined some of what happens when leaders don’t understand fully what leadership entails. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the most profound learning I’ve experienced in the last several years – how the stages of human development may contribute to a leader’s ability to engage followers in a way that creates commitment, or fail miserably.
Many of us may vaguely remember psychology or sociology classes from our college days (my memory may be more vague than others), where we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Piaget’s Stages of Development, Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, and, more recently, Kegan’s Stages of Social Maturity/Orders of Consciousness.
In 2016 Robert Anderson and William Anderson published, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, in which they developed a theory based on the work of these giants. (I highly recommend this book for anyone serious about developing their leadership; take the Leadership Circle Profile to see where you are). In it, they defined five stages of human development:
- Egocentric mind – this is the mind that sees itself as the center of the universe. Think babies (“Youth conforms to no one, all conform to it.” – Emerson, Self-Reliance) whose world is centered around having their needs met. We’re defined by meeting our needs, following our rules, and seeing others as ways to serve us. Our needs run us.
- Reactive mind – we define ourselves based on what we think others think we should be (not what anyone told us to be). Think junior high school, where we’re searching for a tribe. The activities we engage in, the way we dress, the people with whom we associate are all a function of this stage. It is here we migrate to one of three identities:
- I get things done
- I’m all about relationships
- I’m the smartest person in the room
We have an inability to define purpose or create compelling vision, our emotional intelligence is low, and we find it hard to get others to engage in work we’re doing.
Creative mind – Kegan called this the “self-authoring mind” and that describes the change that takes place at this stage. We go from defining ourselves based on what we think others think we should be and begin to deeply examine who we think we want to be. “We shed some old assumptions that have been running us all our lives and we initiate a more authentic version of ourselves as we shift from Reactive to Creative… We start to see the habitual ways of thinking we adopted while growing up and recognize they’re not enough to help us navigate life.” The questions we now begin asking are:
- What do I really want?
- Who am I?
- What do I care about?
- What do I stand for?
- How can I make my life a creative expression of what matters most?
- Integral mind – we recognize that in order accomplish tasks, we need groups of developed people who are a combination of get things done, build and sustain relationships, and smart people. Because of this development, “we are now capable of dealing with complexity… and look to see what benefits the broader system.”
We become systems thinkers and architects of the future… and can hold opposites in tension without reacting to resolve them quickly or superficially… We look for the merits of all perspectives and work toward synergistic synthesis.”
- Unitive mind – “the highest stage of awareness and knowing of who we are… Spiritual practices enable us to arrive at this stage… We see ourselves as part of the bigger whole, fulfilling a bigger purpose.”
Why does this matter, what does it have to do with leadership, and what does it have to do with the ability to generate commitment, engagement, and accountability with followers?
In their research, Anderson and Adams found that 5% of all leaders were at the Ego-Centric stage; 70% were at the Reactive stage (and 80% of all people); 15% were at the Creative stage; 5% were at the integral stage; and 5% were at the Unitive stage. This means that three-quarters of all leaders are incapable of effectively and comprehensively dealing with the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA) of today’s environment. They believe that the “answers” to the issues they face are somehow up to them to solve, either through their “get things done,” “relationship building,” or “smartest person in the room” abilities. These leaders have difficulty delegating and limit the possibilities that exist in the talent of their organizations, believing they hold the key to accomplishing tasks and achieving goals.
But even more importantly, the 70% of leaders who are in the Reactive stage are incapable of clarifying their purpose, painting a compelling vision for the future, don’t understand emotions and their impact on them and others, and have a difficult time getting people to engaged. These four abilities are key to leadership. People have to know why they’re doing what they’re doing, yet most people I’ve worked with, when asked, “What’s your purpose in life? Why do you do what you do?” respond with a blank stare or a shallow answer. They have to have a sense of where the organization is going and why it’s worthwhile and compelling investing their lives and careers in the pursuit of that vision. As emotional beings, we are always in an emotion, yet most people (as defined by the 80%) have no clue as to why we have emotions, what purpose they serve, or what to do once we realize we’re in an emotion (“We’re not responsible for our emotions; we don’t choose them, we fall into them. We are responsible for what we do with them once we recognize we’re in them.” – Julio Olalla).
But the “aha!” moment I had was the fact that Reactive stage leaders (70%) align perfectly with the fact that 70% of employees have been disengaged for some time. Reactive stage leaders don’t know how to engage people in committing to helping them achieve collective goals. Their operating system says, “It’s up to me to accomplish this. Others exist to help me.” Why would people commit to that? With no understanding of purpose (theirs or the leader’s), no compelling vision, and no understanding of the swirl of emotions in any organization, it’s not a surprise that people are using their discretionary power and not committing to, engaging with, or being accountable for their work.
As a result, people show up for work in certain ways. That’s the subject of our next post.
© Geoff Davis, 9/28/18