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A Theory of Leadership Development
This is a summary of a secular theory of leadership development. One of the authors is a Christian, but there is no biblical/theological reflection associated with the theory. Nevertheless, I have found the ideas quite insightful.
In Mastering Leadership, Anderson & Adams (2016) argue that the world of leadership development is a random collection of unintegrated theories and research and therefore is unable to make a significant contribution to the development of leaders who can handle the complex demands of 21st century leadership. To overcome this lack of clarity, they have integrated “the best theory, research and practice into the first Universal Model of Leadership.”
Basically, they combine psychological theories of adult development with theories of leadership growth. Their premise is that different styles of (or approaches to) leadership can be explained through the evolving personal development (or lack of development) of the leader. In their progression of leadership styles, the higher-level styles of leadership will be more effective and produce better results.
Stages of Leadership Development
It’s much more complicated than this, but I will offer a simplistic version of their stages.
1. Egocentric Leadership This is the necessary stage that adolescents navigate as they assert their independence and place in the world. They need to see themselves as separate from their family and from authority structures. They get to decide who they are. They become concerned primarily about their own needs and desires and see the world through their own perspective.
Leaders that remain in this stage are unable to lead effectively because they cannot see past their own needs to the needs of the organisation and followers. They will inevitable manipulate things for their own benefit and will use or even abuse followers.
2. Reactive Leadership (75% of leaders) This describes the developmental stage in which adults negotiate how to participate actively in their world. They commit to marriages and maintain employment and become part of a community. To do this they have to adapt to the expectations of people and organisations. They must fit in and play their socialised part. They are reacting to the reality of their world and the roles and behaviours it prescribes for them as they safely merge with it.
Anderson and Adams discuss in detail the reactive approach to leadership because they argue that most leaders have this mindset. You can see in the diagram above that their leadership circle is mainly focused on the reactive and creative styles of leadership.
In the Reactive mindset, “we define ourselves, not from the inside out, but from the outside in. Our externally validated sense of self-worth and security are in others’ hands; thus, we must live up to their expectations in order to feel successful, safe and worthwhile” (2016, 67). Safety is the main driver, so reactive leaders tend to stick with what they can do well. Reactive leadership is focused on not failing.
Reactive leaders tend to define themselves and win approval in one of three ways depending on whether their strength is head, heart or will. Head leaders (“protecting types”) construct their identity around their thinking ability. They are known for their intellectual superiority. To safely maintain this reputation, they tend to be critical and distant with their team members (protecting themselves). Heart leaders (“complying types”) are great at relationships and gain a reputation as being kind, caring and supportive. To safely maintain this reputation, they tend to comply with the desires of their team members and other stakeholders. Will leaders (“controlling types”) are really good at getting results and earn a reputation as achievers. To ensure that they continue to achieve and maintain their reputation, they seek to control their team members.
Anderson and Adams prove statistically that reactive leadership is negatively correlated with leadership effectiveness. Reactive leaders are too hamstrung by their limited options to fully engage the challenges of rapidly changing environments that require new solutions and novel approaches. In the face of challenges and risks, they retreat to the behaviours that make them feel safe, and therefore cannot draw the best from their team members.
3. Creative Leadership (20% of leaders) The change from reactive to creative requires two changes in a leader’s internal operating system (IOS). They must shed the assumptions concerning the need for approval and safety and perfection to be okay, and they must discover new values and vision arising from within. According to Anderson and Adams, this transition is the major transition in adult life and therefore is a key development in leadership (2016, 77).
Creative leaders build their leadership around a purpose and vision that grabs their heart and matches their strengths. The vision creates passion which results in action. Not being dominated by threat and fear, they are keen to look for feedback and include their team in decision-making. They share responsibility and are open and honest. The main descriptors of creative leaders are relating, self-aware, authentic, system aware and achieving (but not controlling).
Throughout the book, Anderson and Adams constantly show that creative leadership positively correlates with leadership success and business advantage. “Creative Leadership is the minimum level required to create lean, engaged, innovative, visionary, creative, agile, high-involvement, high-fulfillment organisations and to evolve adaptive organisational designs and cultures that can thrive today” (2016, 80).
4. Integral Leadership (5% of leaders) Integral leadership emerges as a leader grasps that there is a bigger picture. That they are not just part of an organisation or team but of a bigger network and system through which their actions can have a broader influence for good. As Anderson and Adams say, “The Integral leader holds a larger vision of the welfare of the whole system and becomes the architect of its future” (2016, 82). They are concerned about the larger system in which their organisation is embedded.
This involves seeing things from a range of perspectives (those adopted by various stakeholders) and holding these conflicting perspectives in tension so that the leader can accept and dialogue with all parts of the system without judging or criticising. Through this type of leadership, new systemic solutions can emerge that are of benefit to the whole system. The leader is truly a servant of the whole network, not just their own organisation.
The move to integral leadership also requires leaders to embrace their shadow side. While creative leaders make the greatest use of their strengths in a positive way, integral leaders also recognise their weaknesses (shadow side) and seek to allow them to be transformed to strengths. This demands much painful work but results in a more complete leader.
5. Unitive Leadership Actually, this stage has little to do with leadership. Putting what Anderson and Adams say in Christian terms, it would be the stage when all you want is God’s will. You become completely absorbed in serving and pleasing God. Your own desires and even the needs of your team and organisation are insignificant compared with following God’s larger purpose for the world. You find that all that has gone before is really God drawing you to this deeper level of intimacy and oneness with him. You feel God’s heartbeat for the whole of his creation.
I’m not convinced that such a stage is permanently possible before we inhabit new bodies in a new creation, but we can have experiences of it.