The development of reasoning about leadership

Since 2002 (when we began our work on the Federal Government's National Leadership Project) we've been documenting the development of leaders' conceptions of leadership. We've learned a lot about how the understanding of leadership develops over time, but we haven't yet shared this knowledge widely. I'm going to remedy the situation here, by sharing a small sample of learning sequences for "reasoning about leadership". 

In the tables below, the learning sequences are described at the "zone" level. A zone is 1/2 of a Lectical Level, and there are four zones that we regularly observe in adulthood. These are illustrated in the figure below.


Lectical development is growth in the complexity of our thinking. As illustrated in the figure above, one way this increasing complexity shows up is in our ability to work effectively with increasingly broad perspectives. It also appears in our reasoning about specific ideas, including our ideas about leadership. The table below shows what we've learned so far about leaders' reasoning about leadership in general.

The development of reasoning about leadership
phase good leadership is…
advanced linear thinking a collection of traits, dispositions, habits, or skills
early systems thinking a complex set of interrelated traits, dispositions, learned qualities, and skills that are applied in particular contexts
advanced systems thinking a complex and flexible set of interrelated and constantly developing skills, dispositions, learned qualities, and behaviors
early integrative thinking

the actualization of context-independent, consciously cultivated qualities, disposition, and skills that have evolved through purposeful and committed engagement and reflective interaction with others

The second table shows what we know so far about how thinking about sharing power, courage, working with emotion, and social skills—develops across the four adult zones. Note how the conceptions at successive levels build upon one another and increase in scope. It's easy to see why individuals performing at higher levels tend to rise to the top of organizations—they can see more of the picture. 

The development of reasoning about leader skills
phase sharing power courage working with emotion social skills
advanced linear thinking sharing the work load with others or letting other people make some of the decisions the ability to face, conquer, or conceal fear, admit when you are wrong, stand up for others, believe in yourself, or stand up for what you believe is right being able to keep staff satisfied and productive, calm down overly emotional staff, or support staff during difficult times being able to listen or communicate well, control your emotions, or put yourself in the other person's shoes
early systems thinking empowering others by giving them opportunities to share responsibility, knowledge, and/or benefits the ability to function well in the face of fear or other obstacles, or being willing to take reasonable risks or make mistakes in the interest of a "higher" goal being able to manage your own emotions and to maintain employee morale, motivation, happiness, or sense of well-being having the skills required to foster compassionate, open, accepting, or tolerant relationships or interactions
advanced systems thinking sharing responsibility and accountability as a way to leverage the wisdom, expertise, or skills of stakeholders the ability to maintain and model integrity, purpose, and openness or to continue striving to fulfill one's vision or purpose—even in the face of obstacles or adversity having enough insight into human emotion to foster an emotionally healthy culture in which emotional awareness and maturity are valued and rewarded being able to foster a culture that supports optimal social relations and the ongoing development of social skills
early integrative thinking

strategically distributing power by developing systems and structures that foster continuous learning, collaboration, and collective engagement

the ability to serve a larger principle or vision by strategically embracing risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity—even in the face of internal and external obstacles or resistance having the ability to work with others to establish systems and structures that support the emergence of, and help sustain, an emotionally healthy culture being able to develop adaptive systems that respond to the emergent social dynamics of internal and external relationships

The level at which we understand leadership has been shown to have a major impact both on how we choose to lead and on the level of complexity we can work with effectively.  Lectical Assessments are designed to measure and foster this kind of growth. If you'd like to learn more or have any questions, we'd love to hear from you.

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