‘We need leaders of greater effectiveness and integrity, mastery and maturity, courage and compassion, competence and character, consciousness and wisdom.’ ~ Bob Anderson & Bill Adams, Mastering Leadership

There appears to be a widening gap between global complexity and our human capacity to deal with it. How able we as leaders are to navigate evermore challenging environments will critically determine whether or not we survive, and the extent to which we might thrive in to the future.

In the organisational context, research consistently shows that leadership effectiveness has a significant bearing on performance and success. Anderson and Adams (2016), for example, find that leaders in the lowest performing businesses (bottom 10%) have leadership effectiveness scores lower than 70% of the norm base, while leaders in the highest performing businesses (top 10%) have leadership effectiveness scores higher than 80% of the norm base. Their research is compelling; their business performance index is well-considered, their model for leadership effectiveness is sophisticated and their sample sizes are good.

So if we accept that leadership effectiveness really matters, what might leadership development involve and how might you get started?

For the past several years I’ve been working to deepen my understanding of the theory and practice of adult developmental stages as they relate to leader effectiveness and cultivating my own leadership practices to play the best part I can in my family, at work, in my community and in the world at large. My undergraduate psychology training focused on Piaget and others’ work on child development, with an implicit assumption that once we reached adulthood we were somehow fully formed and complete. My own experience of growing older, and perhaps a little wiser, didn’t bear this out.

I now work with leaders to understand their development as lifelong work, with progression through developmental stages as not only possible, but necessary. There are different ways to map these stages and we work with several approaches. Bob Anderson and Bill Adams, in their book Mastering Leadership (2016), refer to ‘leadership structures of mind’, with the IOS of our current stage of consciousness determining our habits of thinking and patterns of behaviour. As we evolve through successive stages of development, our identity restructures, and we develop more mature operating systems. Our capacity to handle increased complexity expands, we have a greater, more mature capacity to be constructively self-critical, we are keenly aware of multiple viewpoints, we operate more collaboratively and on the basis of mutual, vulnerable power and, as a result, we get different results in the world.

Without a mature, highly-evolved, and fully functioning leadership system, transformation efforts will not succeed.

Research shows that the stages of development, or qualities of leadership, capable of dealing well with today’s challenges are found in only a small percentage of organisational leaders (around 5% is a typical estimate). So now, perhaps more than ever, developing leadership effectiveness deserves to be a key strategic priority for organisations.

Leadership development of this nature, however, is not for the faint-hearted. It requires us to dig deep, see our beliefs and assumptions for what they are, engage with them and be willing to challenge and change them. It requires courage and a willingness to bring our vulnerability to the table. It also represents the adventure of a life-time as we expand our horizons, connect with our curiosity, dare to take previously unimagined risks and discover new worlds of possibility.

I leave you with a question I find helpfully challenging: “What if you knew with certainty that you are the cause and never the effect of what is happening around you?”

Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of this and what it might mean for you and your team.

For a closer look at leader development and some of our ways of working, read Two Top Frameworks for Leader Development.

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