Live Your Best Life (Stages of Development) – Part 1


In my post from September 28, 2018, I wrote about the Stages of Development and its impact on my thinking, living, and working.  Since that post, I’ve continued to work on better understanding the theory behind this work and how best to apply it to my coaching and helping leaders develop and improve.  In fact, in October of 2019 I was trained as a Leadership Circle Certified Practitioner, which has opened incredible horizons to the impact of this instrument.

The Leadership Circle Profile

Bob Anderson and Bill Adams have developed a comprehensive tool for understanding this human dimension (The Leadership Circle Profile) and have embarked on a scholarly and practical journey of helping us understand the underpinning concepts in their two books, “Mastering Leadership” and “Scaling Leadership,” and their direct contribution to the results we’re getting.   The first book is a detailed look at the stages (Egocentric, Socialized/Reactive, Self-Authoring/Creative, Integral, and Unitive) and their impact on leadership effectiveness.  The second book presents the challenge that, in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment, the demand for leaders at the Creative stage of mind – at a minimum – and most desirably at an Integral stage is impacted by the fact that 5% of all leaders are at the Egocentric stage and 70% are at the Reactive stage.  This creates a development gap that is essential to close for long-term success of any organization.

Reactive Mind strategies(being Controlling, Protective, and/or Complying) all have negative correlations to effective leadership, whereas Creative Mind competencies (Relating, Self-Awareness, Authenticity, System Awareness, and Achieving) all have positive correlations.  The two highest, positive correlations to effective leadership are being Purposeful and Visionary (0.91) and Fostering Team Play (0.89).  This reinforces the belief I’ve always had that great leaders create a compelling “why” (or vision) for their organizations and then build a team of talented, committed people to achieve that vision.  When you’re operating from Reactive Mind, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to do either.

But the startling finding of their research is that “an organization cannot outperform the collective effectiveness of its leadership.” Leadership effectiveness is a primary contributor to organizational performance and that effectiveness must be of a team of leaders.  The “savior” leader that many organizations are looking for, where the hero comes in with all the answers and miraculously turns the fortunes of the organization is a myth.

As I’ve continued to work with this “inner game” instrument, I’ve discovered other authors and thinkers who have contributed to my more comprehensive understanding. Here are the first of several.

The Two “Halves” of Life

In his book, “Falling Upward,” Richard Rohr writes about the two “halves” of life.  In the first, we each create a “persona” (Greek: “fake mask”).  He says that from birth, we are engaged in an intense socialization process whereby our parents, friends, community, schools, church, and workplace influence (conspire?) to create a model of how we see ourselves and who we are.  This process creates an identity that we value because, mostly unconsciously, we see ourselves as being that person.  I believe that whenever we experience shame, guilt, or humiliation, it often is perceived (by us) as an attack on our identity – how we want to be seen – which is an indicator of Reactive Mind behavior (worrying about what others thinks).  Because of the high stakes and the lifelong effort we’ve spent in carefully constructing that identity, any attack – perceived or real – has tremendous emotional ramifications.  But that’s not who we really are – or who God made us to be.  And that’s the exciting journey of the second half of life (that many never take).

Rohr writes:

“In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us.  We no longer need to change or adjust people to be happy ourselves.  Ironically, we are more than ever before in a position to change people – but we do not need to – and that makes all the difference.  We have moved from doing to being to an utterly new kind of doing that flows almost organically, quietly, and by osmosis.  Our actions are less compulsive.  We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences. We usually cannot do that very well when we are young.”  (pp. 122-123)

Another View

A recent McKinsey & Company article addresses this same phenomenon.  In “Understanding the Leader’s Identity Mindtrap: Personal Growth for the C-Suite”(Berger and Achi, January 2020).  They define this identity Mindtrap in this way, “Because we don’t think of ourselves as changing in the future, we focus our energy on projecting – and protecting – the person we have become, not on growing into the person we might become next.”  How often do you say or hear people say, “That’s just who I am.”?  How do we focus our energy on projecting and protecting our “image?”

“We are trapped by our own egos.  We constantly seek to manage the impression others have of us… while subconsciously defending that person from harm.”  How do you see people trying to manage the impression others have of them?  What do you see when you look in the mirror?

They describe four “mindtraps”

  1. Simple stories – our built-in desire to understand life simply gets in the way of the emerging VUCA of life
  2. Rightness – certainty attached to a belief in the absence of formal reasoning
  3. Agreement – we crave agreement and hate conflict; orient ourselves to the opinions and desires of others as a means of survival
  4. Control – we crave the sort of direct control over outcomes that are not possible in an unpredictable world

They then go on to describe Forms of Mind as they see it:

  1. Self-sovereign – seen in adolescents; oriented to blame and black-and-white distinctions; not well-suited for a complex world
    1. Little or no ability to hold the perspectives of others or to understand the abstractions of larger principles
    2. This form of mind sees only its own needs and views.
  2. Socialized – relying on external perspectives to tell us how we’re doing, what’s valuable, and what success looks like
    1. In this form of mind, we mostly protect and project the identity that others give us
    2. When others feel good about us, we feel good about ourselves
    3. What you believe leads to what authorities believe
    4. Taking all or no responsibility
    5. A rigid adherence to expertise, role or hierarchy
  3. Self-authored – write our own stories
    1. For direction, we draw on an internal operating system of values, beliefs, and a sense of purpose
    2. When others’ opinions clash with our own, we face a tricky set of decisions to negotiate, not a crisis of self
    3. Purpose-led and always working to be the best version of self
    4. Core values as guiding light
    5. Takes responsibility for individual actions and emotions and holds you responsible for yours
    6. Can name, edit and redefine the values that shape actions
  4. Self-transforming – see that, based on the world’s complexity, they write their stories and have them written
    1. Life’s circumstances shape them as much as they shape it
    2. Searching for – and relishing – the next things that might challenge our deeply held belief systems
    3. Clear-eyed about which decisions can be researched and which are simply unpredictable
    4. More trusting of team’s recommendations
    5. Focus energy on a smaller number of truly tough choices

Berger and Achi then suggest three questions to help you grow:

  1. Why do I believe what I believe?
  2. How could I be wrong?
  3. Who do I want to be next?

What does this prompt you to begin to think about and how might you continue your own journey?  What could it open to your leadership?

Next post, we’ll take a look at some surprising (to me) other writers who have thought about our development and what it means for leaders.

© Geoff Davis 2/21/20

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