From Piaget to Dawson: The evolution of adult developmental metrics

I've just added a new video about the evolution of adult developmental metrics to YouTube and LecticaLive. It traces the evolutionary history of Lectica's developmental model and metric.

If you are curious about the origins of our work, this video is a great place to start. If you'd like to see the reference list for this video, view it on LecticaLive.



Decision making & the collaboration continuum

When we create a Lectical Assessment, we make a deep (and never ending) study of how the skills and knowledge targeted by that assessment develop over time. The research involves identifying key concepts and skills and studying their evolution on the Lectical Scale (our developmental scale). The collaboration continuum has emerged from this research.

As it applies to decision making, the collaboration continuum is a scale that runs from fully autocratic to consensus-based. Although it is a continuum, we find it useful to think of the scale as having 7 relatively distinct levels, as shown in the table below:

Level Basis for decision Applications Limitations


Fully autocratic  personal knowledge or rules, no consideration of other perspectives everyday operational decisions where there are clear rules and no apparent conflicts quick and efficient
Autocratic personal knowledge, with some consideration of others' perspectives (no perspective seeking) operational decisions in which conflicts are already well-understood and trust is high quick and efficient, but spends trust, so should be used with care
Consulting personal knowledge, with perspective-seeking to help people feel heard operational decisions in which the perspectives of well-known stakeholders are in conflict and trust needs reinforcement time consuming, but can build trust if not abused
Inclusive personal knowledge, with perspective seeking to inform a decision operational or policy decisions in which the perspectives of stakeholders are required to formulate a decision time consuming, but improves decisions and builds engagement
Compromise-focused leverages stakeholder perspectives to develop a decision that gives everyone something they want making "deals" to which all stakeholders must agree time consuming, but necessary in deal-making situations
Consent-focused leverages stakeholder perspectives to develop a decision that everyone can consent to (even though there may be reservations) policy decisions in which the perspectives of stakeholders are required to formulate a decision can be efficient, but requires excellent facilitation skills and training for all parties
Consensus-focused leverages stakeholder perspectives to develop a decision that everyone can agree with. decisions in which complete agreement is required to formulate a decision requires strong relationships, useful primarily when decision-makers are equal partners


As the table shows, all 7 forms of decision making on the collaboration continuum have legitimate applications. And all can be learned in any adult developmental level. However, the most effective application of each successive form of decision making requires more developed skills. Inclusive, consent, and consensus decision making are particularly demanding, and consent decison-making requires formal training for all participating parties.

The most developmentally advanced and accomplished leaders who have taken our assessments deftly employ all 7 forms of decision making, basing the form chosen for a particular situation on factors like timeline, decision purpose, and stakeholder characteristics. 


(The feedback in our LDMA [leadership decision making] assessment report provides learning suggestions for building collaboration continuum skills. And our Certified Consultants can offer specific practices, tailored for your learning needs, that support the development of these skills.) 


Leadership, vertical development & transformative change: a polemic

This morning, while doing some research on leader development, I googled “vertical leadership” and “coaching.” The search returned 466,000 results. Wow. Looks like vertical development is hot in the coaching world!

Two hours later, after scanning dozens of web sites, I was left with the following impression: 

Vertical development occurs through profound, disruptive, transformative insights that alter how people see themselves, improve their relationships, increase happiness, and help them cope better with complex challenges. The task of the coach is to set people up for these experiences. Evidence of success is offered through personal stories of transformation.

But decades of developmental research contradicts this picture. This body of evidence shows that the kind of transformative experiences promised on these web sites is uncommon. And when it does occur it rarely produces a fairytale ending. In fact, profound disruptive insights can easily have negative consequences, and most experiences that people refer to as transformational are really just momentary insights. They may feel profound in the moment, but don’t actually usher in any measurable change at all, much less transformative change. 


"The good news is, you don’t have to work on transforming yourself to become a better leader."


The fact is, insight is fairly easy, but growth is slow, and change is hard. Big change is really, really hard. And some things, like many dispositions and personality traits, are virtually impossible to change. This isn’t an opinion based on personal experience, it’s a conclusion based on evidence from hundreds of longitudinal developmental studies conducted during the last 70 years. (Check out our articles page for some of this evidence.)

The good news is, you don’t have to work on transforming yourself to become a better leader. All you need to do is engage in daily practices that incrementally, through a learning cycle called VCoL, help you build the skills and habits of a good leader. Over the long term, this will change you, because it will alter the quality of your interactions with others, and that will change your mind—profoundly.


Decision-making under VUCA conditions


I was recently asked if there is a decision making approach that’s designed specifically for situations characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). I don’t know of a one-size-fits-all solution, but I can speak to what’s needed to optimize decisions made in VUCA conditions. Here are the main ingredients:


  1. Acrobatic-catThe ability to adjust one’s decision-making approach to meet the demands of a particular problem: For example, some problems must be addressed immediately and autocratically, others are best addressed more collaboratively and with a greater focus on data collection and perspective seeking.
  2. The ability to make high-quality autocratic decisions: By setting up systems that keep stakeholders continuously appraised of one another’s perspectives and data, we can improve the quality of autocratic decisions by ensuring that there are fewer surprises and that rapid decisions are informed decisions.
  3. Dynamic steering: Every leader in an organization should be constantly cultivating this skill. It increases the agility of teams and organizations by building skill for efficient decision-making and timely adjustment.

The most complete information possible (under conditions in which complete information is impossible), which requires:

  1. Collaborative capacity: highly complex problems, by definition, are beyond the comprehension of even the most developed individuals. Collaborative skills ensure that leaders can effectively leverage key perspectives.
  2. Systems and structures that foster ongoing two-way communication up and down the organizational hierarchy, across departments, divisions, and teams, and between internal and external stakeholders.
  3. Systems and structures that cultivate excellent perspective-taking and -seeking skills. These include…
    • Building in opportunities for collaborative decision-making,  
    • “Double linking”—the formal inclusion, in high-stakes or policy decision-making, of representatives from lower and higher levels in the organizational hierarchy or from cross-disciplinary teams, and
    • Embedding virtuous cycles to ensure that all processes are continuously moving toward higher functioning states, and that employees are constantly building knowledge and skills.

Where appropriate, technologies for constructing models of highly complex problems:

  • For a comprehensive overview of options, see Decision Making Under Uncertainty: Theory and Application, by Mykel J. Kochenderfer.

Our flagship adult assessment, the Leadership Decision-Making Assessment (LDMA), was designed for the US government to document and assess the level of sophistication individuals and teams demonstrate on key skills for making optimal decisions in VUCA conditions.


Jaques’ Strata and Lectical Levels

We often receive queries about the relation between Lectical Levels the Strata defined by Jaques. The following table shows the relation between Lectical Levels and Strata as they were defined by Jaques in Requisite Organization. These relations were determined by using the Lectical Assessment System to score Jaques’ definitions. We have not yet had an opportunity to compare the results of scoring the same material with the Lectical Assessment System and any scoring system based on Jaques’ definitions as we have done with other comparisons of scoring systems. Our interpretation of Jaques’ Strata definitions may differ from the interpretations of other researchers, leading to differences between theoretical and actual comparisons.

Strata by Lectical Level


Jaques, E. (1996). Requisite organization (2 ed.). Arlington, VA: Cason Hall.

Vertical development & leadership skills

What is vertical development?

In our view, learning involves two interrelated processes—the accumulation of knowledge and the organization of that knowledge into mental maps and the neural nets that support them. Over time, if we engage in activities that promote development, our mental maps become increasingly complex. More complex mental maps allow for more complex thinking. This increasing capacity to handle complexity is sometimes called vertical development.

Vertical development and leadership

As leaders move into more senior positions, the task demands of their role increase in complexity. They must juggle more (and more complex) perspectives, cope with more ambiguity, and make an increasing number of adaptive decisions. It's no surprise that more complex thinkers are more likely to rise into senior management roles.

For 15 years, we've been building learning tools that support vertical development by diagnosing leaders' current capabilities and making targeted learning recommendations. The first step in this process is measuring the developmental level of leaders' skills on the Lectical® Scale. The figure below shows how the performances of lower-level (n=1108) and senior managers (n=222) on the LDMA (our decision making assessment)are distributed on this scale. As you can see, the distribution of senior managers is higher on the Lectical Scale than the distribution of lower-level managers. In fact senior leaders, on average, are several years ahead of lower-level managers in their vertical development. This means they are considerably better at working with complexity.

management level by Lectical Level

Lectical Assessments are designed to advance vertical development—to help build the capacity of individuals and teams to meet the demands of an increasingly complex world. In the hands of competent coaches, mentors, and educators, Lectical Assessments double the rate of vertical development that typically occurs in effective leadership programs. This is possible because they support the natural learning cycle by providing learning suggestions that are "just right."

To learn more about the relation between vertical development and job complexity see the post: Task demands and capabilities.

To learn more about the way we think about learning and assessment, listen to this interview with Dr. Dawson: The ideal relationship between learning and assessment.

To learn more about the research with Lectical Assessments, visit our Validity and reliability page.

Source: 2014_0339_all_LDMA_scores.xlsx

Mental development in organizations


Mental development involves the dynamic integration of thoughts and feelings through interactions with the social and physical environment. It takes place in “virtuous” cycles of learning, application, and reflection that are accompanied by natural learning emotions like eager anticipation, mild frustration, and satisfaction. When components of the cycle are missing or the natural learning emotions are replaced with negative emotions like dread, severe frustration, anger, or fear—virtuous cycles of learning are disrupted and mental growth stalls. An organization that wants to create a learning culture needs policies and programs that support virtuous cycles of learning.

Task demands and capabilities (the complexity gap)

Our developmental assessment system, called the Lectical Assessment System (LAS), can be used to score (a) the performances of persons and (b) the task demands of specific situations/contexts. For example, my colleagues and I have analyzed the task demands of levels of management in large organizations, and tested managers' developmental level of performance in several skill areas—including reasoning about leadership, reflective judgment, and decision-making.

The figure on the left shows the relation between the task demands of 7 levels of management and the performance levels of managers occupying these management positions. In this oversimplified image, the task demands of most management positions increase in a linear fashion, spanning levels 10-13. The capabilities of managers do not, for the most part, match these task demands.

This pattern is pervasive—we see it everywhere we look—and it reflects a hard truth. None of us is capable of meeting the task demands of the most complex situations in today's world. I've come to believe that in many situations our best hope for meeting these demands is to (1) work strategically on the development of our own skills and knowledge, (2) learn to work closely with others who represent a wide range of perspectives and areas of expertise, and (3) use the best tools available to scaffold our thinking.

We aren't alone. Others have observed and remarked upon this pattern:

Jaques, E. (1976). A general theory of bureaucracy. London: Heinemann Educational.

Habermas, J. (1975). Legitimation crisis (T. McCarthy, Trans.). Boston: Beacon Press.

Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bell, D. (1973) The coming of post-industrial society. New York: Basic Books