Immature Leaders Part II

By Maryanne Mooney

Published on 16-02-2013

Immature Leaders Part II

Part II: The cure for arrested development

Following her previous article about the causes and consequences of arrested development in leadership, Maryanne Mooney, a Partner at Lindentree Leadership Consulting, provides valuable advice for leaders ready to transition through the next phase of the development cycle.

Leadership development practitioners need to be asking not just what skills leaders need to learn but what they need to let go of, in order to break free of limiting patterns.

What happens when leaders evolve?

Developmental psychology has helped us to understand the evolution of managers and leaders. The following table, based on the work of Kegan and Torbert and Fisher helps identify where a leader might be in his or her development.

Stage One: Instrumental Stage Two: Socialised Stage Three: Self Authoring Stage Four: Self-Transforming
World is seen in simple, stereotypical terms. Self-criticism is rare, blame is externalised. Can control their own impulses and identify own needs and preferences.Cannot understand another's perspective or view unless explicitly stated.

Focus on the interpersonal, group norms and gaining control of own behaviour. Can reflect on the concrete world to reason abstractly.Able to internalise the feelings of others. Adherence to norms and prescribed leadership behaviours seen as road to approval, status and happiness. 

Things are clear and unambiguous.

Sees themselves as driver of their own destiny. Can generate own values, commitments and assessments. Able to tolerate or welcome disagreement with important others.Takes responsibility for who they are and how they act.

Conscientious planning and hard work seen as key to success.

Welcomes contradiction and paradox. Sees own self and leadership identity as ever evolving and changing.Reflects on own and others' belief systems or ideologies to find larger patterns and connections.View of life is rich with high tolerance for ambiguity.

Seeks to create shared meanings that encourage development.

The elusive Stage Four resembles what a founding father of developmental psychology, Erik H. Erikson termed 'wisdom'.

What might a wiser leader look like?

Wisdom is a state or stage of development rather than a set of competencies required for a role. It seems that wisdom involves a number of different elements, which interact and result in the emergence of wise behaviours. Knowledge and practical experience are certainly important, as is the ability to see patterns, connections and links, but it is not purely a cognitive capability;

Wisdom also requires emotional maturity, character, values, a connectedness with people and the broader society, and an action orientation. In addition, the unique ability to discern the path forward - to cut through to the core to find the right way to go - is essential. This requires a capacity to reflect and to detach from personal needs and ambitions. Only then do we have a chance of making a wise decision. Ultimately this decision, if it is to be seen as wise by others, must have a positive impact on the society and the world.

Why are truly wise leaders rare?

Leaders are generally motivated to work on the skills they need, in order to be seen by others as effective and marketable. People are most motivated to develop what is rewarded not necessarily what might be valued by those below and around them.

When do leaders change?

Most leaders can be blind to their shortcomings, preventing the insight needed for growth to occur. So how do we get them to care enough to change, to take the leap up the evolutionary ladder?

We have found that the best opportunity arises when the individual's equilibrium or self-view is disturbed. This usually occurs when people face a crisis. Sometimes, if the timing is right, a developmental fissure can be created through multi-source feedback processes, through effective and challenging coaching or simply when people make errors that have bad consequences.

How do we best develop wiser leaders?

There is a bewildering array of leadership development choices - everything from servant to transformational leadership and a zillion choices in-between. Competency and capability frameworks have been a dominant method for decades. Whilst this approach has been useful in helping leaders understand what they need to do, it is less useful in helping leaders understand who they need to be and how to lead; the critical elements of becoming a wise leader.

To develop wiser leaders, we need to start thinking about leadership development differently. The next focus must be on human development or maturity, beyond assembling lists of desirable and useful skills and behaviours. This means that we need to be much clearer about the developmental stages that managers move through and how to help them to make the transition from one stage to the next. Processes such as action learning, opportunities for reflection and dialogue and challenging conversations with coaches and peers are all valid methods to help expose the cracks and illuminate the leadership development pathway. Becoming wiser is not a quick fix and requires dedicated space for reflection and the challenging of assumptions and behaviour patterns over a period of time.

Leadership developers face the challenge of shifting leaders and their organisations to the next level of evolution, to achieve wiser leaders and wiser organisations. The difference is the change in focus from the acquisition of skills, to personal evolution. Packaged training programs, motivational speakers or e learning platforms are not enough.

Ultimately, we have to develop wiser leaders or risk the consequences.

Maryanne Mooney is a Partner at Lindentree Leadership Consulting ( which supports organisations to build sustained performance and long-term benefits.