Bringing Clarity to Vertical Development Confusions 

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of Innovative Leadership Institute, provided this article as a companion to her podcast with Terri O’Fallon and Kim Barta from Stages International, Bringing Clarity to Vertical Development Confusions

Before moving into a conversation about confusion, I want to ensure we work with a shared language. I use the STAGES model in our work to support leadership development. This process is often called vertical development or moving one’s center of gravity from one level or stage to the next level or stage – each stage being progressively more complex and better able to lead in complex environments. This framework also helps leaders work across diverse groups of people more effectively. From the STAGES website, “STAGES is currently being widely used in many different areas of the world.

  • Individuals– Therapists, coaches, educators, teachers, and other motivated individuals wanting to harness the power and predictive capacities of STAGES are using this model and work to better serve their clients, students, and activities in the world.
  • Institutions– STAGES is helping senior leaders and founders to better assess their own organization so they can understand how to motivate, inspire, and satisfy the needs of those who bring the institution to life, no matter if that include students and teachers, non-profits and their clients, or think tanks and their principle partners.
  • Companies– CEOs and founders can better assess their company culture, leadership teams, and employees, and use those assessments to clarify how they are working and communicating to create the most harmonious culture, efficiency, shared outlook, and common values to motivate and inspire.
  • Academics– A wide range of issues are benefiting from the developmental understanding supported by STAGES, such as climate change, pedagogy, psychology, conflict resolution, economics, social justice, and many other fields and areas of interest and concern.”

About The Model: What Is STAGES?

STAGES is a model of ego development starting at infancy and moving into increasing levels of differentiation and integration through adulthood.

A stage is a coherent and internally consistent belief system that describes how someone is likely to think, feel, and behave in various life situations. A stage is a level from which we consistently make meaning of life’s experiences.

The STAGES model has 12 distinct stages and 6 different kinds of perspectives: from the first-person perspective of an infant to the third-person perspective of the scientist to the 6th-person perspective of the most advanced ego stage yet known to us. This model is based on Terri O’Fallon’s research and is put into context by using the theoretical frameworks of the philosopher Ken Wilber as well as other leading developmental psychologists such as Suzanne Cook-Greuter and Jane Loevinger.

This model is not a hierarchy like a ladder or a staircase. It is more like a balloon, where human perspectives evolve around and as our egos, not merely “on top” of an existing structure. One of the best ways to understand this model is that it allows us to see where and how we make meaning, and what is an “object” of our conscious versus an object that we are “subject” to.

For instance, while some adults are their relationships (meaning they are subject to them; or what therapists might call codependent), others are able to have relationships. In other words, they can have a relationship to their relationships. This means the relationship is an “object” they can see with their minds, not something that is part of their self-identity.

That is one example of hundreds that could be given to show how humans evolve in their capacity to develop an awareness of concrete objects like bicycles and toys; subtle objects such as thoughts and feelings, and relationships to relationships; and even met aware objects, like awareness of awareness itself.”

Now we shift to the Confusion people are likely to experience as they move between the most common levels we see in organizations. We tend to have confusion as we transition from one stage to the next. The confusion comes from: you’re not the person you used to be, but not sure what you are now or are becoming. By understanding the confusion, we can accelerate development and mitigate some of the challenges that naturally arise at each level. As we develop, no matter what level, we develop new capacities and with each new capacity or ability, we have a learning curve before we become highly effective. While we can’t avoid all naturally occurring growing pains we can ease them.


This interview also delves into the deeper shadows that arise as people develop. Shadow is the part of your awareness that is hidden from you. Understanding and reintegrating the shadow is an essential element in moving through the later stages of development. Kim offers a free assessment if you are interested in exploring your own shadow.


Confusion is a normal and healthy part of development. When we take on new activities, we go through a natural learning process. For leaders, this process can feel disorienting because we are running businesses and we don’t have time to be confused. Unfortunately, growth comes with a learning curve that is unavoidable. My clients often say they feel like they should have overcome these challenges earlier in their careers. The reality is, for people who continually learn and grow, the challenges and confusions continue. Our goal is to find ways to navigate the inevitable challenges, learning curves, and confusions associated with excellence. Building excellence is messy.

We will start with the first leadership stage: explore and experiment called Expert, skill-centric, or STAGE 3.0. It’s the first adult stage we see extensively in the workplace and typically in young adults. A typical pattern at this level is perfectionism, getting it right every time. This focus can be paralyzing, motivated by a fear of being punished with failure. Experts see time but have trouble being timely; they don’t see timeliness. To help experts develop, challenge them in small doses; micromanage the time, but not the work!

At the Achiever Level, STAGES 3.5, people have a sense of the future; believe in that plan, and have benchmarks for a goal – but visualization usually doesn’t match the reality that unfolds. The confusion here is the difference between visualization and reality. While achievers are very clear about ownership of concrete items such as physical property, they don’t consistently make the same distinction at the subtle level. People don’t see the difference between what’s mine and yours which can result in plagiarism and copyright infringement. They can see all ideas as theirs. They don’t realize they’re stealing. They do have a tremendous capacity for imagination and reflection. Reflection can be essential to help Achievers develop,

The Pluralist Level, STAGES 4.0, is the first post-modern developmental level; 4th Person Perspective. At this level, awareness boosts, and people can be confused because they have trouble understanding the difference between awareness and metacognition. Deeper awareness flashes in and out and will eventually become more permanent. They also start realizing the social construction of reality – meaning people begin to see that their perception impacts their experiences.

The Strategist Level, STAGES 4.5, also takes a 4th person perspective. At this level, people can see systemic patterns and long-term trends. At this stage, the confusion involves understanding projections or seeing where they realize their judgment of others can intensify when they see the same issue in themselves. This doesn’t happen until the very end of this stage. People at this level can reflect and find projections or triggers.

As you move along your developmental journey, we invite you to learn more about the STAGES of development and the journey. The more you understand, the easier the journey. You may find the STAGES Roadmap interesting to help you learn more about this process.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, SpotifyAmazon MusicAudible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Also, stay up-to-date on new shows by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

The Heart and Soul of Leadership

Jonathan Reams, Director at the Center for Transformative Leadership and the European Center for Leadership Practice, shared this article as a companion to his podcast Getting Lost in the Language of Leadership from the International Leadership Association Series.  These interviews feature guests from the 2021 Annual Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Leadership is a phenomenon well studied, yet in short supply. There is a gap between knowing and doing.

While there are many good ideas about what leadership is, how to develop and practice it, the gap remains. To close this gap, I want to look beyond ideas, to the heart and soul of leadership.

To get there, I frame the topic in terms of two conceptualizations of leadership, then look at the heart and its role in these concepts. Finally, I offer a fundamental reframing to get to the soul of leadership.

In my Ph.D., I conceptualized leadership as opening space. Opening space brings images of creating something more, making room to maneuver, taking time to think things through. All of these can be leadership. They help us make progress on challenges and achieve goals.

Another conceptualization comes from a friend who defined leadership as self-deployed in circumstance. How we show up and act in each situation shapes the possibilities for making progress or reaching a goal. It is how we open space.

One powerful lens for understanding the self comes from research on adult development.  This research shows how more mature structures and expressions of self can enable more effective leadership.

This self-development shows in how we deploy ourselves, which is essentially an act of communication. What we say makes an impact. Yet we are also aware that the content of our words is only 7% of what we are communicating. A famous study showed that 38% of what we communicate is in how we communicate, in our tone of voice, pointing to the importance of attitude, emotion and the underlying energy we speak from.

The study went even further, saying that 55% of what we communicate is through our body language. We are giving off signals all the time, powerful clues to others on what we expect. These expectations shape the space we create. If what we are communicating at this fundamental embodied level is closing the space, then we are not leading, but widening the gap between knowing and doing.

Let’s take a step back to explore further.

Recent research in neuroscience shows us a new picture of how our brains work. It gives a more holistic conception, where we see that thinking and feeling are inseparable and further, hardwired into our body. Our nervous system is constantly anticipating, actively using our senses to probe for signals of danger (read change) to keep our body surviving.

Within this field, the more specialized study of neurocardiology focuses on the brain in our heart. This cluster of neurons has a powerful impact on the body and brain, or our psychophysiological system. The HeartMath Institute has been doing pioneering research in this field for decades. Central to this is their understanding of several distinct psychophysiological states related to different patterns of heart rate variability (HRV).

Their research shows that emotions such as frustration and anger create a state they characterize as incoherence. This state leads to a host of problematic symptoms, such as depletion of energy, lack of emotional regulation and lowered cognitive functioning. In contrast, emotions of love and appreciation create a state of coherence.

Coherence has far-reaching implications. It positively supports vagal nerve functioning, improves cognitive performance and enables heart-brain synchronization. The rising popularity of tracking HRV as a biofeedback measure is one way of cultivating coherence.

Yet this impressive list of the benefits of coherence is not, in my view, its most important aspect. Research has also shown that the heart generates electrical voltage 60 times stronger than the brain. The magnetic component of this is 5000 times stronger and can be measured several feet from the body. This electromagnetic field can help us understand how the 55% of communication coming from our body language is creating space. Our hearts are sensors for this field. We sense others’ fields and experience it as self-being deployed in circumstances.

This takes us upstream from our usual focus on language and behaviors. It gives us clues about closing the gap between knowing and doing, by shifting attention to the impact of our being.

Cultivating our quality of being has the highest leverage impact on our leadership.

I propose two simple ways to cultivate our quality of being.

The first is something we have easily in reach, a combination of behavioral and attitudinal interventions. Two things contribute the most to generating the psychophysiological state of coherence; holding an emotion of love or appreciation combined with deep breathing. So, remember to breathe – 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out, and hold a heart full of love and appreciation.

The second is to take a step back and reconceptualize being.

Being is commonly associated with the self. Yet our sense of a separate self is actually a mental construct of the psychophysiological system. This has inherent limitations and creates a blind spot in being. Reality is more than our minds conceive.

What we need is a space to regulate the self, our emotions, thoughts and actions; a balcony that is not part of the psychophysiological system.

For this, I propose a simple reconceptualization of being from self to soul. When we talk about heart and soul, we are implying an essence greater than mental constructs like self. In line with the phrase attributed to Teilhard de Chardin, we are spiritual beings having human experiences. We are soul, and have a mind, emotions and body.

What do I mean by soul? I describe it as a creative unit of pure awareness, where awareness is the experiential realization of the virtuality of self. What do I mean by the virtuality of self? We can still experience the self as real; we just don’t take that experience to be all there is. We keep it in context. We open a space to be more.

Closing the gap between what we know about leadership and what we do involves more than just ideas and words. It requires realizing the essence of our being as soul, to open space for how we deploy self in circumstances. We create coherence between soul and self-in-the-world, our conceptions, psychophysiological state and the space we create.

Leading with heart and soul, we close the gap between knowing and doing.


About the Author

Jonathan practices the cultivation of leadership through awareness-based consulting, coaching and action research on leadership development program design and delivery in a variety of settings. He has a position at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), serves as Editor-in Chief of Integral Review, and is a co-founder of the Center for Transformative Leadership and of the European Center for Leadership Practice. He brings awareness-based leadership development practices to his work, focusing on how the inner workings of human nature can develop leadership capacities for today’s complex challenges.

Books to look out for: Maturing Leadership: How Adult Development Impacts Leadership

You can learn more about Jonathan at

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Vertical Development: Elevating Your Leadership

This blog is provided by Ryan Gottfredson, Assistant Professor of Leadership at California State University-Fullerton, author of Success Mindsets, and a Mindset Consultant/Trainer/Speaker.  It is a companion to his podcast Success Mindsets: Your Keys to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life.

Two types of development leaders can go into horizontal and vertical development.

Horizontal development involves helping leaders add more knowledge, skills, and competencies. The focus of horizontal development is on helping leaders to DO more.

It is not unlike adding a new app to an iPad, making it more capable of performing more functions.

Vertical development involves helping leaders elevate their thinking capacity to navigate more complex and uncertain environments better. The focus of vertical development is on helping leaders to BE more able.

Instead of adding a new app to an iPad, vertical development is upgrading the iPad to a newer, more capable model.

Question: Of these two forms of development, which is most commonly focused on for leadership development?

The vast majority of leadership development focuses exclusively on horizontal development. Very little leadership development focuses on vertical development.

Why is Vertical Development So Important for Leaders?

When two leaders with different altitudes of vertical development encounter a situation that is low in complexity, both leaders are likely to navigate this effectively.

But, if those same leaders encounter a situation that is high in complexity, it is likely that only the one with greater vertical development will be able to handle this effectively.

This is critical to understand because leaders are increasingly facing increasingly complex and uncertain circumstances, something that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped with.

This hopefully demonstrates that vertical development can be a competitive advantage for individual leaders and entire organizations.

Quick Vertical Development Self-Assessment

Here are questions that I have come across that might be decent revealers of leaders’ altitude of vertical development:

  • How do you respond to constructive criticism?
  • Would you be willing to let someone survey your employees about your effectiveness as a leader?
  • Is it bad to build close relationships with those you lead?
  • Can you hold competing perspectives on a controversial topic (e.g., abortion)?
  • Do you generally focus on the outcomes you want or on the drivers of the outcomes you want?
  • When something goes wrong, do you ask yourself: “Who am I being that their eyes are not shining?”

How do we help leaders vertically develop?

To improve leaders’ vertical development, we must get to the core of one’s verticality: Their mindsets.

Both psychology and neuroscience have independently identified mindsets as the foundational mechanism that governs leaders’ processing and operations. This is because our mindsets are our mental lenses that shape how we see and interpret our world, and how we see and interpret our world shapes the quality of our thinking, learning, and behavior.

Fortunately, there have been 30+ years on mindsets, which has led to the identification of four sets of mindsets, ranging from less vertically developed to more vertically developed.



These mindsets come to life when we recognize the typical desires that flow from these mindsets:

If you would like to assess the quality of your mindsets, I have developed a FREE personal mindset assessment, which can be taken here:

To Summarize…

Most leadership development focuses on horizontal development, but because of the increasing complexity and uncertainty in our world, we need vertically developed leaders.

To develop vertically, we must get at the core of our verticality: our mindsets.

If we can become conscious and aware of our mindsets, it allows us to shift to a more elevated way of processing and behaving.

Climb on!


About the Author

Ryan Gottfredson, Ph.D. is a cutting-edge mindset author, researcher, and consultant. He helps improve organizations, leaders, teams, and employees by improving their mindsets.

Ryan is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of “Success Mindsets: The Key to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership” (Morgan James Publishers). He is also a leadership professor at the College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources from Indiana University and a B.A. from Brigham Young University.

As a consultant, he works with organizations to develop their leaders and improve their culture (collective mindsets). He has worked with top leadership teams at CVS Health (top 130 leaders), Deutsche Telekom (500+ of their top 2,000 leaders), and dozens of other organizations. As a respected authority and researcher on topics related to leadership, management, and organizational behavior, Ryan has published over 19 articles across a variety of journals including Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Business Horizons, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, and Journal of Leadership Studies. His research has been cited over 2,500 times since 2015. Connect with Ryan here.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The 7 Transformations in Vertical Leadership Development

Antoinette Braks, a Thought Leader in Vertical Leadership Development and Author of Executive Coaching in Strategic Holistic Leadership, provides this blog. It is a companion to her podcast Transformative Executive Coaching in Strategic Holistic Leadership.

There are seven key transformations in executive leadership capacity in the world today. They form the progressive stages in adult maturity or Vertical Development, in contrast to horizontal learning within a stage. The seven transformations are:

  1. Opportunist
  2. Conformist (Diplomat)
  3. Specialist (Expert)
  4. Achievist (Achiever)
  5. Catalyst (Individualist)
  6. Synergist (Strategist)
  7. Alchemist (Constructivist – Alchemist)   

The stages of development form a holarchy where the strengths of each stage are incorporated in the following stage. As we progress through these stages of development we gradually release our shadow or personal reactive patterns based on the ego’s sense of insecurity and feeling “not good enough.”  As we develop our leadership capacity, we grow in terms of perception, consciousness and perspective, and gradually embrace all of who we are with awareness, understanding, kindness, compassion and wisdom.

The stages of vertical leadership development were successively developed by three pioneering scientists: Jane Loevinger, Susanne Cook-Greuter and Terri O’Fallon. The descriptions of the stages is based on my studies with Susanne and Terri and Bill Torbert, and my decade of coaching experience explicitly focused on later stage vertical development for strategic divisional leaders. Let’s look at each stage in turn.

The Opportunist

The Opportunist is concerned with survival and security, Maslow’s first two needs. They are self-interested, relatively isolated and will get away with whatever they can. They operate on a day-by-day or minute-by-minute basis without a care for consequences. Their view of the world is that it is unsafe and everyone else is assumed to be an enemy. They play only to their own advantage.

The Opportunist is deceptive and manipulative. They are the executives who steal your ideas without recognizing their source, who always blame others when things go wrong, and seem to be unavailable when immediate help is needed. They will also attack first in order to defend themselves when feeling threatened and are completely adverse to feedback.

The Opportunist lives in fear, trusts no one and operates largely in fight, flight or freeze mode. This view of the world is their Autopilot. In 1995 some 4% of the Executive population were anchored at Opportunist, although this proportion has since reduced to 0%. Whenever our safety and security is threatened in the succeeding stages, it is relatively easy to regress back to the level of the Opportunist and resolve our situation based on self-interest alone.

The Conformist

The Conformist decides to play it safe. While they still view the world as a very challenging place to be, they believe that if they abide by all the rules and do what people in higher authority ask or tell them to do, they will be safe. They conform. They are risk averse and will only take action if instructed to do so. Most will also need a step-by-step approach mapped out for them. Their level of voluntary participation is relatively low.

In complying, Conformists give away their personal authentic power to positional authority. This leads to a sense of personal ineptitude that moves them to complain. In other words, when we give our personal power away to comply with others, we address this imbalance by complaining about others. If you know anyone in your workplace who complains a lot, they will be operating from a Conformist mindset. Around 10% of the Executive population are anchored at Conformist although there are very few anchored at this stage in organisations that invest in leadership development. It is a common fallback position for succeeding levels when under stress.

Conformists use reactive emotional strategies to get what they want. The three key strategies are appeasing others by being nice and bending over backwards to fit in – usually towards more senior people; controlling others by criticising, berating and offending others – usually towards more junior people; or otherwise withdrawing from people altogether by avoiding all communication and even eye contact.

All are unconscious emotionally manipulative techniques that produce workplace drama in the form of passive-aggressive behaviour manifesting in bullies and victims. We subconsciously base our boss-subordinate and peer-based interpersonal strategies on those we employed to get what we wanted as a child within the comparable context of parent-child and sibling dynamics.

The Specialist

The Specialist devotes themselves to their work. They wish to develop their skills, perfect their craft and focus on the details to get everything absolutely right. They switch their primary focus from being compliant and fitting in, to standing out through the course of their work. They are experts in their field and strong contributors dotting i’s and crossing t’s for as long as it takes to get something perfect. They can make up some 38% of the Executive population (1995) but this proportion too has dropped to under 10% in deliberately developmental organisations.

Specialists largely work individually and are focused on the quality of their work and mastery of their craft. They will drill down to the detail and ensure complete accuracy taking a perfectionist rather than pragmatic approach. A micro-manager is typically operating at the Specialist mindset. Their personal identity merges with their work so they take feedback very personally. They tend to be emotionally reactive on the receiving end of constructive feedback and emotionally responsive to recognition and praise.

While the reactive behaviours are still present, they are now more associated with their work than trapped within the power struggle of the endemic parent-child and sibling dynamics. They are driven by the need to perfect their work, which is a quantum step up the spiral from Conformist. Focusing on increasing the quality of our own work based on our own albeit critical view of self and others, leads to continuous improvement.

The Achiever

The Achiever is a pragmatist rather than a perfectionist. Their goal is “fit for purpose” rather than perfect. The Achiever begins to consider how their work meets the needs of colleagues, customers and clients. Their focus extends to the impact of their work rather than just the work itself. They are open to feedback on their work, can manage change, drive projects, meet deadlines, produce results and heed the customer.

Achievers also shift from working individually to working effectively with others as team players. They enjoy being in the driving seat and driving initiatives forward. They are competitive, strong performers, will do what it takes to win and enjoy the glow of success. Achievers can also be very black and white. This enables them to be decisive and proactive albeit somewhat shortsighted compared to more advanced stages of development when life becomes shades of grey.

Customer-centric organisations adopt an Achiever mindset by creating feedback loops and generating team accountability for customer interactions and the customer experience. The introduction of scorecards to drive results and address gaps in performance supports the Achiever’s competitive, capitalist worldview.

In the mind of the Achiever, the world is made up of winners and losers and their primary focus is to strive for more. This keeps them on the treadmill of doing more, wanting more and getting more. What they have is never enough. This vicious cycle is extremely stressful!

In 1995 they made up some 33% of the Executive population. The proportion peaked at 60% in organisations investing in stage development (2005) and is now dropping as more executives develop their leadership capacity at the later post-conventional level of Catalyst.

The Conventional World

Opportunists, Conformists, Specialists and Achievers are all mindsets in the conventional world. In 1995, 78% of a sample of 4,510 adults in the US held a conventional mindset (Cook-Greuter); in 2005 this was down to 70%, and in 2015, at 59% (Harthill Consulting, PwC) albeit their population sample is drawn from organisations actively investing in stage leadership development. Achievers work extremely well in the world.

However at these stages of leadership development or conscious awareness, we are not able to work on the world. We are not able to introduce and sustain transformational change that will create a better world. To do this we must make the shift to post-conventional later stages of leadership capacity. While this “new” world is uncertain and ambiguous, by developing our conscious capacity to navigate and transcend the chaos, we are able to redeem peace of mind, restore personal wellbeing and build the world anew.

The percentage of Catalysts is growing at the rate of approximately 10% in each of the last two decades. At this stage, we begin to navigate our world with a view to creating change but this novel capacity does not manifest fully until the following stage of Synergist. Only Synergists have been found to have the capacity to lead sustainable transformation in an organisation (Rooke and Torbert) and their numbers have only inched up slowly from 5% to 8% in the last 20 years.

It would seem that the container of the organisation can support the Catalyst mode of diverse open engagement, yet still inhibits the presence of Synergist leadership that can bring about real transformational and sustainable change. Thus a greater investment in leadership development that liberates Synergist capacity is essential to reinvent the organisation, the collective, at the corresponding evolutionary levels of green and teal (Laloux).

The Achiever tends to be very hesitant before they make the leap into what appears to them to be the great unknown. They must make the shift from the external world to their inner world. At this point the guidance and encouragement of a later stage Coach is invaluable to them. Indeed I would go as far as to say that Executive Coaching in Leadership Development with a Strategist or Alchemist Coach is essential to ease this shift and also a powerful investment by organisations that genuinely wish to foster global sustainable shared prosperity and community wellbeing.

The Catalyst

The Catalyst is the first post-conventional stage. It represents a leap into a new growth zone and an unfamiliar world. At the individuation phase of the Specialist we were focused on perfecting our work. At the individuation phase of the Catalyst we are focused on understanding ourselves: our thoughts and feelings, motives and fears, reactions and responses, and our deepest desires and aspirations. We ask existential questions: “Why?” “Why am I here?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

At Catalyst, we move into our personal growth zone where growing and evolving becomes our natural way of being. Even though the challenges we encounter along the way may be unfamiliar and disconcerting, for the participant, life is forever enriched. We shift from being satisfied with a life based on cause and effect to feeling our way forward in the world despite uncertainty in order to lead a more purposeful and fulfilling life based on conscious intention and committed action.

Catalysts are focused on engaging others, igniting change and working across boundaries. Their focus turns from the impact of their work on customers and clients to the input into the design and nature of the work itself through active early genuine engagement with all stakeholders. They are attuned to leveraging strengths, fueling personal growth and collaborating with others in order to exercise mutual power to co-create the best possible outcomes for the whole community.

The capacity to genuinely innovate and collaborate is initiated at Catalyst. At this mindset the inner world of the individual becomes more important than the external world within which they operate. In other words they heed their intuition and feelings to make decisions and generate new insights and ideas. They also listen from a much deeper place of inquiry and can therefore create a deeper connection with others and develop the ability to build real trust with others.

Many words beginning with “in” are associated with the Catalyst worldview: insight, innovation, intrinsic, innate, inquiry, introspection, intricate, inclusive, inquisitive, interest, intimacy, intuition and inspiration.

The Synergist

Executives anchored at Synergist still number just 8% today, even in organisations investing significantly in leadership development. At this point in their journey of increasing expanding consciousness, they have become self-aware and other-aware and have the ability to be discerning and self-validating. They do not seek approval or permission from others. They have developed strength of character and their integrity is evident.

Synergists have the vision, courage and presence to generate and sustain transformational change (Torbert, 1998). They have adopted the mantle of personal authentic power in the interests of serving their whole community and not just selected interest groups. This represents a shift from ‘not good enough’ at Conformist, looking good at Specialist, doing well at Achiever, doing good at Catalyst and onto focusing on the greater good for all concerned at Synergist, now and in the longer-term future.

When led by a Synergist, the organisation shifts from being customer-centric to community-centric. It succeeds in achieving medium-to-long term sustainable outcomes that make a real, significant and beneficial impact on the people they serve and affect now and in the future. They generate a new world through their convictions and intentions, living by their principles and in tune with their life purpose while embracing others with compassion and enthusiasm.

The mature Synergist is an authentic, inspiring and strategic leader. They lead confidently from the ‘inside-out’. They are able to consistently stand and hold their ground while holding a nurturing space for the emergence of a transformed world. They are extremely mindful, highly considered and passionately articulate in their advocacy for a better world and are able to take purposeful action in the moment to raise conscious awareness and liberate the emergence of latent potential across the organisation and amongst all stakeholders.

The Alchemist

The final stage that can be observed and calibrated in the post-conventional world is the Alchemist. They number 1%. The Alchemist can have a far-reaching impact on their world. They are the iconic leaders who ignite and generate social evolution as well as transform global industries. Illustrious figures such as Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick would appear to have realised their potential as Alchemists. However there are also Alchemists who are amazingly effective behind the scenes in niche markets and uniquely tailored roles such as executive coaching!

The Alchemist embodies their own intuitive guidance and employs mutually collaborative power to generate transformational shifts in the world that respect common humanity and all of life. They are able to hold and embrace wonderful future possibilities while standing firmly in the present and being cognisant of all that has preceded and led to the current situation. They look at events symbolically and value both the shadow and the light in the psychodynamics of common human interactions.

The Alchemist has released the shadow of the ego through grief and forgiveness, and surrendered their personal will to be an instrument in the divine orchestra on earth. They live to evolve in tune with the cosmos listening into the dark and the deep recesses of their soul’s voyage in life. They feel free to be uniquely themselves, liberated from any social or cultural conventions, and can feel both delighted and tormented as they perceive, attend to and process the vast cacophony of thought and emotion that swirls around them. They are able to be fully vulnerable yet vitally alive and vigorous as they give their conscious, compassionate attention to the dynamic interplay in each and every moment to exercise wisdom in action.

The Post-Conventional World

We need the perspective of the Synergist and Alchemist to navigate our way through the interconnected global crises we face today. Only at these levels can leaders transcend the turmoil, cut through complexity, trust in emergence and transform and evolve the economic, education, health and environmental foundations of society today. We are being invited to generate a more sustainable, healthy and equitable world.

Until recently we thought it took 5 years of focused development to shift to later stages. However, we now know that an executive coaching program explicitly focused on vertical development to Synergist can expedite this vertical growth in just one year.

In my recent PhD Research Study 100% of the participants surprisingly and inspiringly all shifted a full stage in leadership development in a single year, most from Achiever to Catalyst. Two shifted two full stages to Synergist, and five went on to land at Synergist a little later. This is in direct contrast to the commonly held view that it takes several years to make a vertical shift to later stages of development.

The participants were all engaged in an Executive Coaching Program focused on strategic and holistic leadership development. In other posts I explain how 8 key drivers reflecting a blend of “outside-in” and“inside-out” coaching transcending conventional organisational operating norms and cultivated their latent, emergent potential as authentic, inspiring, strategic transformational, quantum leaders (Zohar).

The implication is the extent to which conventional operating norms are stunting our leadership development. To my mind there is not a dearth of leadership potential in most organisations today, there is simply a very tight lid on the container for growth. Instead of providing the opportunity for executives to become more aware of their role in the interplay of life and the freedom to express themselves more fully and make conscious decisions that will create a more sustainable, healthy and equitable world, organisations have become pressure cookers.

Organisations and political parties can make substantial gains from later stage executive coaching from the Synergist/Alchemist perspective. It is essential for senior executives and aspiring future leaders to transform their perspective on life and become fluent co-creators in shaping their organisation and the communities they serve. Post-conventional vertical leadership development enables us to realize our potential to generate an economic and social transformation, redeem peace of mind, restore shared wellbeing and renew our world so that we all thrive and flourish.

The higher our self-expression and the deeper our self-awareness, the richer our life experience and the greater our soul evolution. ~ Antoinette Braks

About the Author

Antoinette Braks is a thought leader in Vertical Leadership Development and a Master Certified Executive Coach with greater than 3,500 coaching hours with over 250 strategic leaders from across the private and public sectors. She has a proven track record in expediting rapid shifts to later stages enabling strategic leaders and executive coaches to realise transformative outcomes. She is renowned for enabling executives to transcend the turmoil and cut through complexity, trust emergence and navigate uncertainty, and transform their world to spark ingenuity.

Antoinette’s expansive StageSHIFT coaching approach incorporates strategic systemic organisational leadership, evolution and transformation, and personal holistic leadership based on psychodynamics, reframing narrative and shadow resolution, while realising the highest aspirations in life, career and business.

Her corporate background includes C-suite leadership of People and Culture with Vector NZ during the merger integration of their gas and electricity businesses, Director of Strategic Culture Transformation at Businesslink NSW Australia and Regional Strategic HR Management with Shell International Latin America and Africa. Antoinette also led Leadership Capital Solutions for Korn Ferry Asia Pacific and consulted with Hudson Talent.

As well as a Master Executive Coach, Antoinette is a strategic facilitator, leadership consultant, coaching supervisor, and conference presenter. She presents at Coaching, Leadership and Integral Conferences to share her unique insights into the non-linear spiral nature of vertical leadership development to later stages e.g. the Spectrum Stage Shift, the 2-Step Square Dance and Vertical Development Theory based on her PhD research.

Her new book, Executive Coaching in Strategic Holistic Leadership: The Drivers and Dynamics in Vertical Development, will be published by McGraw Hill in May 2020.

Antoinette has an MBA from London Business School, has submitted her PhD thesis in Vertical Leadership Transformation, and studied the Oxford Brookes Professional Certificate of Advanced Study in Coaching Supervision.

Photo by Markus Spiske


Proven Path to Leadership Maturity and Effectiveness

This post is a companion to the podcast featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about leadership maturity and vertical development to build the leadership qualities required to lead large, complex organizations and those that aspire to make the greatest impact.

Forbes Coaches Council first published the following article in August 2016.

Future trends indicate complexity, accelerated change, and near-constant uncertainty in the coming years. These conditions will require significantly different leadership skills.

With these new demands for evolving leadership, is there a predictable path to develop leadership? If so, what does that path look like?

Leaders develop both “horizontally,” increasing their ability at their current level of operation, and “vertically,” increasing their level of complexity, emotional maturity, and opening to new awareness. Many researchers are now saying that “vertical development” is required to navigate the complexities leaders and their organizations face.

To answer what the vertical evolutionary path looks like, I reference the research of Dr. Cook-Greuter, who developed a Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF) and measurement of adult development as part of her doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. Dr. Cook-Greuter is now the Co-Founder with Beena Sharma of The Center for Leadership Maturity, a firm that facilitates vertical development in individuals, teams, and organizations. The LMF is the basis of my work with vertical leadership development because it provides a model grounded in research and is practical to use in coaching and leadership development.

Vertical development does not mean that more developed people are “better” people, but rather, in many cases, they are likely to be more effective in key leadership roles within large complex organizations. The following is a summary of the LMF describing the predictable developmental trajectory people navigate as they grow:

The Group-Centric Level

This level is about conforming and belonging. People at this level follow rules, norms and observe hierarchy. They conform to social expectations, work to group standards, seek membership and approval, and appreciate outward signs of status as a sign of approval. They attend to the welfare of their own group; those who are not like them are the “other,” and therefore outside their circle of concern. They avoid conflict, think in simple terms, and often speak in generalities. Feedback is taken as disapproval since their driving value is to gain approval and be included.

Example: This is the employee who looks to what the group is doing to determine his actions. He looks to meet the “expectations” set by the organization, fit into the culture, and do what everyone does. Belonging is his key to success; standing out or having a different opinion feels risky

The Skill-Centric Level

This focuses on comparing self to others and perfecting skills. Individuals at this level focus on being competent in their own area of interest and improving techniques and efficiency. They aspire to quality standards and are often heavily invested in their way as the only way of doing things. Decisions are made based on incontrovertible “facts.” Given their focus on problem-solving and detail, they can get caught in the weeds and not see the big picture necessary to effectively prioritize among competing demands. All consuming attention on being right can lead them to be critical of and competitive with others. They hear feedback about their work as criticism of them as a whole person.

Example: This is the employee who points out when others make mistakes and tries to correct them so they can meet the standards. Her development efforts focus on building expertise. She usually has a “better” opinion unless she is in the presence of a subject-matter expert.

The Self-Determining Level

This focuses on analyzing and achieving to effectively deliver results. Leaders at this level look toward longer-term goals and initiate rather than follow expectations. They value objectivity and scientific knowledge, seeking rational, proactive ways around problems. They often seek consensus — “agree to disagree” — and value mutuality and equality in relationships. They accept feedback to promote learning and success.

Example: This employee continually drives to meet organizational goals. He works both efficiently and effectively and is continually competing with himself and others to drive the best results. He has a five-year plan, is open to new learning, and is beginning to be more reflective.

The Self-Questioning Level

This level focuses on self in relationship and contextualizing his/her experience. Leaders at this level are concerned with the difference between reality and appearance and have an increased understanding of complexity and unintended effects of actions. They begin to question their own assumptions and views and realize the subjectivity of beliefs; and talk of interpretations rather than facts. They can play different roles in different contexts and begin to seek out and value feedback.

Example: This employee is continually inquiring, challenging assumptions, and aware of the limitations of conventional thinking. She focuses on creating an environment where everyone feels valued. She is committed to appreciating value in different perspectives.

The Self-Actualizing Level

This level is about integrating and transforming self and systems, and recognizing higher principles, complexity and interrelationships. People at this level are aware of the social construction of reality — not just rules and customs. They are problem finding, not just doing creative problem solving. They are aware of paradox and contradiction in self and systems and learn to have a deep appreciation of others. They demonstrate a sensitivity to systemic change and create “positive-sum” games.

Example: This person is continually evaluating the organization’s strategy against long-term industry trends as well as global economic conditions while embodying her values and using herself as an instrument of transformation. She is self-aware and firmly anchored in principles while having the ability to adapt based on context.

As we look to the changes leaders are facing in the near and long term, it is helpful to have a robust model for development that allows them to focus their development energy effectively. This framework, along with it, measurement instrument — the maturity assessment for professionals (MAP) — is the most robust I have seen, and I find it highly effective in supporting leaders.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful profitability, growth, and sustainability strategies.

Level Five “Strategist” Leadership for Complex Adaptive Groups

Level 5 Strategist Leadership for Complex Adaptive CollectivesThis blog is a companion to the interview with Terri O’Fallon. What is A Level 5 / Teal Organization? Terri O’Fallon, PhD, wrote this post.

The world is a complex place. We are connected and interconnected in ways from which we can no longer retreat with the Internet, and the contemporary ways make us visible to every pair of eyes that look our way. So, how do we lead in this interconnected atmosphere that is changing so quickly? When we are continually connected to the internet, how can we know that any fact in the sea of information we swim in daily is true?

In today’s climate, much truth can come from within you, the leader, by knowing how to engage with the complex, adaptable contexts we live in daily.

Four strategies support building working environments and systems that can improve a leader’s effectiveness and efficiency as a leader in a complex adaptive team or organization. These four strategies come out of the research from the STAGES developmental model, which was derived by integrating developmental approaches related to 1. our individual beliefs and values, 2. our individual action orientation, 3. the norms and culture of the team or organization and 4. the structural and systemic elements. Using these strategies will not only help leaders achieve their goals but will make work a pleasure.

  1. Support the developmental growth of the people in your organization.

We grow and develop all our lives. However, growth isn’t like climbing stairs to the top. Developmental maturity is more like blowing up a balloon. As a result, one grows and matures in wisdom, intelligence, compassion, relationships, and skills, one breath at a time. Becoming familiar with these well-documented stages of growth is an important window into the worldviews and beliefs of individuals and how those views shape your organization. Promoting developmental change and understanding how transformation occurs can shatter a hidden glass ceiling that could stunt the growth of people in your organization who are constrained by current organizational limitations.

  1. Embed goals in ethical principles that you will not sidestep.

Goals are useful targets, but they do not inherently have virtuous results. Part of success is adapting to any goal or target as new landscapes come into view. Adapting goals quickly to changing conditions can inhibit unintentional negative side effects to keep them alive and operable without adapting. Developing a set of principles that guide your adaptations can keep your revisions within ethical boundaries and enhance the results you want to achieve in the world. For example, if your principle is transparency, you would know immediately if you were hesitant to be forthright about an alteration of a process in action, and upon examination, you might discover unconscious underlying reasons for your hesitation in being transparent. Whatever the principles are, they can mold and shape goals and dictate how they are reached as they adapt to changing contexts. By deciding up front a set of principles you will not go outside of, you can quickly make decisions about any variations in your aims and be less apt to cause unintentional harm to others, society, and the bottom line.

  1. Experiment with small changes and then try them on yourself.

A strategist (level five) leader can stand back and see the systems s/he is working with and the organizational environment. This kind of leader can evaluate the weak links in the system and strengthen those places, often in collaboration with others. If the adaptation works, you will see positive change in those who work in the organization, and one way you can know that your change is appropriate is if it grows you and others. You can experience this by stepping back into the system you have adapted and noticing how you experience the change as it applies to you personally and, through that lens, how it applies to others.

  1. Work with individual and collective shadow issues.

This is one of the most challenging parts of being a strategist (level five) leader, as tested by STAGES. At strategist (level five), people are willing to take personal risks in updating their perceptions and behaviors and in addressing organizational inconsistencies. The obvious one at this level is seeing your projections (getting frustrated by others who have qualities you don’t recognize or acknowledge in yourself). You will know if you are projecting if you catch yourself judging someone or assuming something about someone, and after you reflect at the end of the day on these judgments and assumptions, you may begin to see patterns of behavior in yourself that bother you in others. It helps to write them down and provides a tool to evaluate what you judge in others and yourself.

The truth is that we can’t judge what is in others unless we also have that experience somewhere inside ourselves. For example, when driving and someone cuts you off, you may find yourself extremely angry. If you can see your projection, you might ask yourself, “Have I ever cut someone off in traffic?” Projecting our judgments is common, and we are usually unaware that we also own the same qualities we find annoying in others.

Identifying projections is very important because, in organizations, we may find fault with others for things we are doing. By identifying the projection, we can address our disruptive behavior and change our relationship with others. After we have addressed our behavior, we can invite others to do the same.

This approach helps you as a leader find both the challenging and positive capacities in yourself that you don’t see and helps you see how much you are like others you judge or criticize. This understanding alone can help resolve tense situations that inevitably arise.

These projections permeate most groups or organizations (collectives) . There will frequently be times when there are self-righteous and indignant accusations among people working together, between departments, and between organizations. Over time, unconscious collective agreements become organizational habits that can inhibit creativity and honesty and lead to ineffectiveness. Collective examination and identification of these unconscious and often limiting habits can improve effectiveness and benefit the whole organization and, potentially, innovation.

These projections are like putting a rubber band around a tree and then around your waist. You can stretch that rubber band only so far, and it will eventually halt or slow progress—or worse, snap and throw you back.

We use the STAGES matrix to identify these hidden areas, to find the specific areas that need attention, and to create interventions that are effectively and efficiently targeted for healthy adaptive change.

To learn more about the StAGES model and Terri’s work, visit Terri’s website, “Developmental Life Design

About the Author

Terri O’Fallon, PhD has focused the last 23 years as an applied researcher, Terri O’Fallon’s focus over two decades has been on “Learning and change in Human Systems”. She has worked with hundreds of leaders studying interventions that most result in developing leaders who can effectively implement change. She has a PhD in Integral Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Terri is also the co-founder of two organizations. She and Kim Barta have created Developmental Life Design, an organization that focuses on how the STAGES (developmental) model can support insight into our growth as people, leaders, guides, and coaches and the impact these insights have on our influence in human collectives.

She also partners with Geoff Fitch and Pacific Integral, using the STAGES model to develop collective insight and developmental growth experiments.


Maximizing Team Interactions: Moving Beyond the Lowest Common Denominator’s Reign

Building Thriving TeamsThis blog is drawn from a paper by Jim Ritchie-Dunham & Maureen Metcalf, Co-hosting: Creating Optimal Experience for Team Interactions, Integral Leadership Review, November 2016. Jim and Maureen also recorded a podcast.

Christopher, the CEO, walked into a planning session to get his full team on the same page for how to move key initiatives forward for the upcoming year. His leaders were all in alignment on the core purpose of the organization and how to accomplish it. During the discussion, everyone gave unbiased input to move the organization forward, irrespective of personal interest. Christopher was highly skilled at understanding the point of view of all participants and synthesizing the various points of view of his trusted leaders to create solutions everyone could support.

Does this scenario describe your normal business meetings? How is it different?

We want to explore the idea that groups can leverage the skills of individuals across five key perspectives and create an environment in which each participant operates at his greatest level of contribution. We call this the alchemy of co-hosting, whereby the co-host, in conjunction with the participants, invokes a very different mindset and process for the team to function.

The Challenge

“Less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces [since 2000]. According to Gallup Daily tracking, 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged — meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Worldwide, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged.” – Gallup

Much of our work is done within teams of highly effective and highly compensated people. We have found that these teams often function at the level of the least common denominator. Many people, especially leaders, move from meeting to meeting all day. They often do this with little awareness of their specific role in the meeting and the value they bring. This is the culture of many organizations. When asking a cohort of vibrancy community members what they experienced in these teams, they suggested that while the participants were generally strong employees with good skills, they were often disengaged, and some actively disrupted the work or found ways to interfere with the meeting goals. In some cases, the participants did this as a passive-aggressive response; in some worse cases, they did it just for personal entertainment. So, what is the antidote to this high level of disengagement considering five key factors other than the highest rank present? How do we capture the highest input level from each person to create a higher level “field” of operation than any individual would have access to by working alone?

The Approach

We look at five different perspectives or measures of intelligence and then explore how the art of co-hosting can leverage all five intelligences of the participants to create an environment that calls forth the greatest possible capacity in the group.

The five perspectives are:

  • Leadership maturity – describes how adults mature throughout their lifespan, attending to ever-increasing levels of complexity in their thinking, emotions, and behaviors
  • State development – describes where people focus their attention, ranging from what is immediately in front of them to what is abstract and spiritual.
  • Years of experience
  • Skill to identify the perspectives in the room
  • Co-hosting skill – the ability to identify the perspectives in the room and create an environment and approach that leverages the maturity, state, and skills of the participants

It is interesting to note that each perspective is important for an organization to create holistic solutions to its many complex challenges. For that reason, it is important to recognize each of these perspectives and be able to identify, recruit, and create environments that genuinely leverage each of their gifts.

Integrating the five perspectives individually allows an effective co-host to create the “container” or space to leverage each to the participants’ greatest potential rather than the traditional lowest common denominator.


During this era of increased complexity and accelerated need for change, we must identify methods and processes to help us navigate our challenges. Optimally, these methods and processes would create the greatest impact for all involved—creating an optimal individual experience and a holistic solution for the organizations or groups involved.

We believe the solution integrates a solid process that integrates five key perspectives and a presence of being within the co-host to create the desired outcome. Both elements are critical.

We have an opportunity to enhance the experience and the impact we have in trying to solve problems. By building the capacity to co-host and using this process, we increase the probability of solving our most complex problems and enjoying the process. Knowing this is possible helps us regain hope that we as a society can resolve the mounting list of intractable problems we hear of daily on the news.


Jim Ritchie-Dunham is president of the Institute for Strategic Clarity, a global research nonprofit, president of Vibrancy Ins., LLC, a global consultancy and publisher, president of the private operating foundation the Academy for Self-Discovery Leadership, an adjunct faculty member in Harvard’s program in sustainability leadership, and Adjunct Professor of Business Economics in the ITAM Business School in Mexico City.

Jim authored Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance (2014), co-authored Managing from Clarity: Identifying, Aligning and Leveraging Strategic Resources (2001), has written many articles on systemic strategy for academic and practitioner journals, and blogs regularly at

As a student of human agreements, Jim Ritchie-Dunham brings over 25 years of research and insights gleaned from working with groups of all make-ups.  Jim named Ecosynomics, the emerging social science of the agreements that guide human interactions. Ecosynomics provides a framework rooted in economics and the sciences of human agreements that begins with an initial assumption of abundance, not scarcity, and a wider view of the human being.

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute

, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and executive advisor whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful profitability, growth, and sustainability strategies.

Maureen has published several papers and articles and speaks regularly on innovative leadership, resilience, and organizational transformation. She is the author of the award-winning Innovative Leadership Workbook Series and the co-author of The Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, and she is the winner of an International Book Award for Best Business Reference Book. She is also a regular contributor to


Center for Leadership Maturity

Leadership Maturity and Vertical Development

Your level of Leadership Maturity significantly influences your capacity to deal with life and work situations, how you see your role and function in the workplace, how you interact with others, how you solve problems, and how self-aware you are. Leaders develop through various stages of maturity as they grow. Leadership Maturity is about how leaders ‘make meaning’ or sense and interpret experiences at the different stages of development. This is important because the perspectives you use to make sense of the world influence your thoughts and actions. Incorporating the idea of the various stages of your Maturity is critical to innovating your leadership. The author, Jim Collins, referred to Level 5 Leadership in his best-selling business book, Good to Great. Level 5 Leadership is an example of later-stage leadership maturity described in the innovative leadership framework.

One application of the stages of maturity model is to appreciate ‘fit for role’ in organizations. For example, at the ‘Specialist’ level, a leader may perform a process task well and be procedural. A later-stage leader (at the Relative level) who is more mature would be better at handling more complex situations, including those not generally addressed by the rules, and would be better able to take into account the context of the task and adapt when needed.

Another application of this framework is to create a development plan for leaders that is well suited to the level of development they are at, and what would be next for them in their path to maturity.

It is important to note that all stages of maturity bring their strengths and wisdom to an organization, and an optimum mix of levels makes an organization more effective and successful.

Benefits of using this model of Leadership Maturity include:

  • Using developmental perspectives guides leaders in determining their personal development goals and action plans. Determining optimum fit for individuals and team members in the context of specific roles in a particular organization
  • Identifying high-potential leaders to groom for growth opportunities.
  • Determining individual fit for a specific job or role in the recruitment and succession process.
  • Supporting change agents in understanding the perspectives and capacities of others at different stages and tailoring solutions that meet the needs and perspectives of all stakeholders.

The Maturity Assessment Profile (MAP) and its conceptual framework, the Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF) assess leadership maturity. This was researched and validated (with criteria at later stages of development) by Susanne Cook-Greuter as part of her doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. This instrument is today’s most rigorously developed, Harvard-tested, unbiased, and reliable perspective measure. The MAP provides unique and personal feedback in addition to stage description and score. The MAP is also the most sophisticated instrument for identifying and measuring later stages of developmentally advanced leadership. The MAP evaluates three primary dimensions to determine developmental perspective: cognitive complexity, emotional capacity, and behavior.

The following table briefly summarizes the levels and the percentage of the sample population at each level using a sample size of 4,310 people. The name of each stage also indicates the old name (previously used terms) in parenthesis. The Center for Leadership Maturity continues to evolve this model and the development tools for its application. The change in the name is evidence of this evolution. Specifically, it is important to note that while we refer to people being “at a level”, people demonstrate perspectives across a range of levels, while evidencing a ‘center of gravity’ at the stage that they generally tend to operate from.

Levels of Leadership Maturity

Photo credit: Center for Leadership Maturity

Leadership 2050 – What Qualities Will We Need?

Paradoxical leaderThis blog post includes excerpts from chapter 13 or an upcoming book edited by the International Leadership Association: Building Bridges series in June 2015. The chapter was written by Susan Cannon, Maureen Metcalf, and Mike Morrow-Fox to explore what leadership looks like in 2050.

Effective leadership qualities can be paradoxical—requiring effective leaders to be passionate and unbiased, detailed and strategic, hard-driving and sustainable, fact-focused and intuitive, self-confident and selfless—often simultaneously. Such complexity is rarely found in leaders, even under optimal conditions. As we move toward 2050, new contexts and conditions are poised to emerge that will create challenges beyond the abilities of most leaders or any single nation to manage. This powerful contextual shift—a time of great stress and constraint—can potentially drive a new, more complex stage of human culture and consciousness to meet these challenges.

Historically, as new stages of human culture and consciousness have emerged, the requirements for effective leadership have shifted accordingly. Such a shift is already underway in small pockets; we expect its significance to increase in the next few decades. This shift will call for and catalyze what researchers and scholar-practitioners of adult developmental maturity (developmentalists) call “Strategist” leadership skills ). Strategist leaders have a world-centric, truly inclusive capacity to see, make meaning, and respond in a way that facilitates consistent, flexible, holistic, meta-systemic, broadly collaborative, and transformative problem-solving that endures even during times of times of stress and constraint. In this chapter, the authors describe research-based probable futures requiring more Strategists.

This perfect storm of increasing complexity, accelerating change, and near-constant uncertainty is creating conditions that exceed most leaders’ mental and emotional capacities. While technology advances exponentially, our laws, culture, and social contracts are moving linearly. The same is true for conventional approaches to leadership development. Four recent global studies on the future needs and gaps of organizational leadership concluded that current leadership lacks the higher-ordered skills and capacities to meet the complexity of today’s challenges. For example, current leaders lack the ability to function in environments with a high degree of ambiguity and uncertainty, build cross-cultural strategic relationships, facilitate collaboration between diverse groups, or sense the crucial and unspoken undercurrents and relational dynamics in a meeting. The systematic cultivation of such higher-ordered capacities in leaders requires more than training—it means they must psychologically evolve to a more complex way of being.

The stages of a leader’s growth have a direct correlation, and thereby a natural fit, with stages of cultural evolution. The new leader that emerged with each cultural stage had the requisite capacities and developmental maturity to reach beyond what came before. For example, someone seeking to become a term-limited chief executive of a Modern era nation-state democracy must have the more complex, nuanced, and emotionally intelligent capacity to gather support and communicate with the electorate and representatives in a way that a Traditional era bloodline monarch, ruling by fiat, would not need or understand.

This emerging cultural stage of development structurally correlates to the Strategist leader.

According to an HBR article, Seven Transformations of Leadership by Torbert and Rooke, 4% of leaders test at the Strategist level. Characteristics include:

  • Perceives systematic patterns and long-term trends with uncanny clarity.
  • Can easily differentiate objective versus subjectively biased events.
  • Exhibits a strong focus on self-development, self-actualization, and authenticity.
  • Pursues actualizing personal convictions according to internal standards.
  • Management style is tenacious and yet humble.
  • Understands the importance of mutual interdependence with others.
  • Well-advanced time horizon: approximately fifteen–twenty years with concern for legacy.

photo credit: Hartwig HKD


Brown, B. (2011). Conscious leadership for sustainability: How leaders with a late-stage action logic design and engage in sustainability initiatives. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3498378)

Cook-Greuter, S. (2000). Mature ego development: A gateway to ego transcendence? Journal of Adult Development, 7(4), 227-240.

O’Fallon, T. (2013, July). The senses: Demystifying awakening. Presented at the 2013 Integral Theory Conference, San Francisco, CA. Available at’Fallon_ITC2013.pdf

Rooke, D., & Torbert, W. (2005, April). Seven transformations of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 83 (4), 67 – 76. Downloadable at

Development Dimensions International & The Conference Board (2014). Ready-now leaders: Meeting tomorrow’s business challenges. Global leadership forecast 2014|2015. Retrieved at /DDI/media/trend-research/global-leadership-forecast-2014-2015_tr_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf

Gitsham, M. (2009). Developing the global leader of tomorrow. Ashridge and EABIS report. Available at /wFARPUB/Developing+the+Global+Leader+of+Tomorrow+Report+-+2009?opendocument

IBM Corporation (2010). Working beyond borders: Insights from the global chief human resource officer study. Available at /services/c-suite/chro/study/

Leslie, B. (2009). The leadership gap: What you need and don’t have when it comes to leadership talent. Center For Creative Leadership. Available at


How Does Developmental Perspective Connect with Level 5 Leadership?

Innovative Leadership Developmental PerspectivesIn the previous blog post Leadership 2050 – What Does the Future of Leadership Look Like? We referred to Strategist, also known as Level 5 Leadership, as referenced by Jim Collins in his best-selling book Good to Great. In this post, we will present the foundation of developmental perspective (one of the five key elements of the innovative leadership framework). We will start with the basics, and then, during the next five weeks, we will explore the five most common developmental perspectives. Since people grow through perspectives or levels, we will walk you through the levels ending with strategist.

 The Importance of Developmental Level/Perspective

We believe a solid understanding of developmental levels and perspectives is an important foundation for leadership development. Developmental perspectives significantly influence how you see your role and function in the workplace, how you interact with other people and how you solve problems. The term developmental perspective can be described as “meaning making” or how you make meaning or sense of experiences. This is important because the algorithm you use to make sense of the world influences your thoughts and actions. Incorporating these perspectives into your inner exploration is critical to shaping innovative leadership. We will look at the five most common of those meaning-making approaches in greater detail in this blog series.

Leadership research strongly suggests that although inherent leader type determines your tendency to lead, good leaders develop over time. Therefore, it is often the case that leaders are perhaps both born and made. How leaders are made is best described using an approach that considers developmental perspective.

The Leadership Maturity Model and Developmental Levels/Perspectives 

Innovative Leadership Hierarchy of NeedsThe developmental perspective approach is based on research and observation that, over time, people tend to grow and progress through several very distinct stages of awareness and ability.   One of the most well-known and tested developmental models is Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” A visual aid Maslow created to help explain his hierarchy of needs is a pyramid that shows levels of human needs, both psychological and physical. As you ascend the pyramid’s steps, you can eventually reach self-actualization.

Developmental growth occurs much like other capabilities grow in your life. We call this “transcend and include” in that you transcend the prior level/perspective and still maintain the ability to function at that perspective. Let us use the example of learning how to run to illustrate the development process. You must first learn to stand and walk before you can run. And yet, as you eventually master running, you still effortlessly retain the earlier foundational skill that allowed you to stand and walk. In other words, you can develop your capacity to build beyond your basic skills by moving through more progressive stages.

People develop through stages at differing rates, often influenced by significant events or “disorienting dilemmas.” Those events or dilemmas provide opportunities to begin experiencing your world from a completely different point of view. The nature of those influential events can vary greatly, ranging from positive social occasions like marriage, a new job, or the birth of a child to negative experiences, such as job loss, an accident, or the death of a loved one. These situations may often trigger more lasting changes in your thinking and feeling. New developmental perspectives can develop gradually over time or, in some cases, emerge  abruptly.

Some developmentally advanced people may be relatively young, yet others may experience very little developmental nuance throughout their lives. Adding to the complexity of developmental growth is that the unfolding of developmental perspectives is not predictably evident along the lines of age, gender, nationality, or affluence. We can only experientially sense indicators that help us identify developmental perspectives when we listen and exchange ideas with others, employ introspection, and display openness to learning. In fact, most people naturally intuit and discern what motivates others and causes some of their greatest challenges.

To further examine developmental perspectives, we will talk about the assessment tool we use, the Maturity Assessment Profile (MAP), and its conceptual support, the Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF). Susann Cook-Greuter created this developmental toolset as part of her doctoral dissertation at Harvard. We will use the MAP and the Leadership Maturity Framework as the foundation for our developmental discussion. The MAP evaluates three primary dimensions to determine developmental perspective: cognitive complexity, emotional competence and behavior.

3 Dimensions of Developmental Level/Perspective

  • Cognitive complexity describes your capacity to take multiple perspectives and think through increasingly more complex problems. This is akin to solving an algebra problem with multiple variables. For example, a complex thinker can balance competing interests like employees’ desire for higher pay with customers’ desire to pay low prices and receive good service.
  • Emotional competence describes your self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, ability to build and maintain effective relationships, and capacity for empathetic response.
  • Behavior describes how you act; this dimension generally describes your actions.

A sense of time, or time horizon, is another essential feature in developing perspective. For example, if a leader is limited by their developmental perspective to thinking about completing tasks within a timeline of three months or less, then optimally, this leader should only be leading a part of the organization that requires short-term tasks. On the other hand, if a leader can think and implement tasks with three-year time horizons, then that leader can and likely should be taking on a role that includes longer-term tasks. This could be a leader responsible for overseeing the implementation of an enterprise-wide computer system, where the migration may take substantially more time, and the process is more complex. 

Elaborating on this example, there will be components of the team primarily responsible for the more tactical, hands-on part of the installation and who demonstrate shorter time horizon thinking. They are held accountable for certain tasks within the plan but will not be responsible for designing the more strategic portions nor be charged with the daily decisions that impact the overall budget. 

Further still, imagine that one year into the project a key member of the team takes another job and the Project Manager (PM) becomes responsible for finding a suitable replacement. The PM must consider all options when selecting a replacement. The most effective staffing solution for the project will need to account for potential changes over the next several years and how they will impact overall project cost, outcome quality, and team cohesiveness. Time horizons and developmental complexity are directly applicable to innovative organizational decisions.