What Do Leaders DO to build “Level 5” Organizations?

This blog is a companion to the podcast with Geoff Fitch and Terri O’Fallon, Is There Such A Thing As A ‘Level 5’/Teal Organization -Part 2. Geoff Fitch, MA, wrote this post.

As a Level 5 leader, we know our personal development is key to our ability to meet the complex challenges we face in today’s world. In our last post, Terri O’Fallon noted that working with individual and organizational shadow is one of the most challenging parts of the life and development of a Level 5 (Strategist) Leader. An important part of this process is understanding our shadow – the projections and assumptions we are unaware of often set the limits of the solutions we imagine.

But what is Organizational Shadow, and how can we work with it? You can think of shadow as pushing things out of our awareness that we don’t want to or can’t handle. Level 5 leaders understand that the organizational field of play doesn’t just include what we see; it also includes the unconscious territory and that we must work to uncover what’s hidden in it. You can think of shadow as a form of self-deception. As an individual, we blame others without looking at our projections we put on them and miss how we may be just as at fault.

At an Organizational level, you can think of shadow as one step beyond what is undiscussable. Organizational Shadow is what is unthinkable. When there is something that an organization or team is not dealing with, often what happens is that it “projects” that issue on one of its staff members or departments. Someone or some group in the organization will compensate for the lack of attention to the issue at an organizational level. However, because the need is unconscious, they will often be vilified for the initiative instead of appreciated. Why are they paying attention to something that is not an organizational priority or perhaps even one of their responsibilities?

In our interview, we discussed just such a case in which a healthcare executive had taken action to address some compliance problems the organization was facing. These problems were an organizational issue that was not being dealt with effectively by leadership at all levels. So, she stepped in and took the issue on, even though it was outside her responsibility. The result was she became a source of conflict and eventually became ill from the stress. Once the executive team identified the Organizational Shadow, clarified the cultural blocks to effectively dealing with compliance issues, and took this on as a core organizational imperative owned by the whole team, the conflict disappeared, and the executive’s health recovered. It was a striking example of Organizational Shadow at work.

In hindsight, it might seem like an obvious challenge to address, but it can be very difficult to see when we are caught in shadow. What is unseen in your organization? What persistent challenges might point to a core truth you are not willing, as an organization, to face?

These four approaches help explore and resolve organizational shadow issues. These four strategies also point to capacities that Level 5 (Strategist) leaders bring to their organizations.

  1. Identify the conflict.

Organizational shadow produces conflict. Usually, there is a personal, role, or strategic conflict surrounding the issue as the unidentified organizational need creates tension in the system. Yet how we see that conflict often misleads us from the underlying issue. Often, a person or group gets the need “projected” on them and consequently becomes scapegoated or marginalized. This happened in our example when the executive tried to get others to face a problem and was consequently seen as a problem in the organization. When looking at an area of struggle, ask yourself – might someone be getting scapegoated here? This takes us out of the blaming mindset and helps us begin to see the problem more systemically – a key Level 5 move.

  1. Turn the problem into an organizational need.

Looking at the issue systemically, you can often notice that we ascribe negative qualities to the potentially scapegoated person or group and ask, do these qualities represent something we need to have more of, not less of? In our case, the executive had turned into a kind of enforcer, which directly conflicted with the collegial reciprocity at the core of the organizational culture. It was a friendly place, and her behavior was clashing. Asking the turnaround question, we could see how the organization needed more of what she was bringing. In its open, friendly culture, the team avoided effectively dealing with the black-and-white issues that required them to confront themselves. Because of this, she had become the ‘cop’ and alienated herself from everyone on the team. Her ‘difficult behavior’ was now seen as a needed organizational capacity. Level 5 Leaders bring this capacity to identify and integrate organizational polarities that may seem in conflict.

  1. Determine how and why the organizational need has been disowned.

In this example, we can see that the organizational need was disowned because it seemed to conflict with their culture, which they highly valued. There was an implicit assumption that there was no way to deal with compliance that was consistent with their culture. Level 5 leaders see these organizational assumptions as the key drivers of thinking, behavior and results. They also see them as discussable and changeable. Uncovering organizational shadow allows us to see exactly how these hidden drivers of organizational performance have been operating. After identifying the conflict, scapegoating dynamic, and underlying organizational need, it is important to discover how this process has functioned – what mindsets, thinking, decisions and behaviors have held it in place.

  1. Take collective ownership of the organizational need.

In our case, solutions to this contradiction became obvious once the team surfaced out of the shadow. The first step to implementing a solution is to collectively take ownership for the need. Organizational Shadow often points to systemic shifts that need to take place in values, priorities, and behaviors. In the healthcare case, once the problem was identified, the executive team made a commitment to own the problem across the organization. This action immediately relieves the scapegoat of excessive responsibility for the issue and is a critical step in resolving the shadow and ensuring it does not persist. Specific strategies and tactics to address the need can be implemented from there.

In our interview, we also talk about how the very organizational capacities Level 5 leaders foster, particularly social safety and adaptability, are essential for uncovering Organizational Shadow. What makes these issues unlike other organizational challenges is that they are unseen because we are actively, and often unconsciously, avoiding them. For teams to be willing to explore these hidden assumptions and areas of conflict, leaders need to bring a culture of trust, safety, and curiosity. When this is in place, we find that most teams are more than willing, and are often relieved, to bring light to what is in the shadow.


About Geoff Fitch

Geoff Fitch is a coach, trainer, and facilitator of change in individuals and organizations and a creator of transformative leadership education programs worldwide. He is a founder of Pacific Integral with Terri O’Fallon Ph.D., where he was instrumental in developing the internationally-acclaimed Generating Transformative Change program, now offered on three continents and in its 24th cohort. He has researched and developed novel approaches to transformative change in individuals and human systems through these programs. Geoff brings over 30 years of experience in business, management, and organizational leadership, including 18 years in in management in the computer industry and 15 years as a consultant, coach, and trainer in leadership. He has explored diverse approaches to cultivating higher human potential for over 25 years. He holds a master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University and B.S. in Computer Science, magna cum laude, from Boston University.

Learn more about Geoff’s work at

Four Common Types of Difficult Employees And How To Deal With Them

This post is a companion to one of our podcast featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about bad bosses and their impact on organizations. 

One of the managers’ jobs is to create an environment that promotes employee engagement and produces organizational results. Difficult employees adversely impact the team members who work with them. Managers must find productive ways to address these difficulties, or they risk negatively impacting the entire working team. According to a Gallup article published in December 2016, “Compared with disengaged teams, engaged teams show 24% to 59% less turnover, 10% higher customer ratings, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity, 28% less shrinkage, 70% fewer safety incidents, and 41% less absenteeism.” The research suggests that managers who address these difficult employees will produce better organizational results than those who do not.

The following is a guest post written by Jackie Edwards, a professional writer experienced in the HR side of finance and banking. As an employer, your team might not always be filled with employees who support your vision and work hard for you. At some point, you’ll have to deal with a difficult personality in the workplace. As stated in the Journal of Business & Economics, difficult employees can become one of the most challenging issues you face. Here are four common types of difficult employees you’ll likely have to come across and tips on tackling them effectively.

Dark-Side Dan

This is the employee who’s always negative. He’ll explain why it won’t work when you bring up an exciting project. It can be frustrating to deal with someone always raining on everyone’s parade while thinking his way is the only right one. However, a good tip is to see him as offering constructive criticism. He might show you the worst-case scenarios of corporate decisions that could help you make the right choice.

However, dealing with such a difficult personality can be quite straightforward. Hold a meeting with your team, give everyone a chance to discuss their skills and struggles, see what this difficult employee says, and coax them for a reply. You want your team members to be vulnerable at times, as it makes for a supportive, cooperative team.

Power-Hungry Pam

This is the employee who wants your job. She’ll take on leadership roles by trying to be seen as holding a position of power with her co-workers or trying to derail your authority, such as by ignoring your instructions. The best way to deal with highly ambitious employees is to give them lots of work so they won’t have time to try to manage other workers. Therefore keeping the workplace peace intact.

Mr. Excuse

You asked your employee to complete a task by the end of the day, but he had something important to do across town, he had to deal with a co-worker’s problem, or he was stuck with a faulty printer. He always has excuses for not doing work or not listening to your instructions. In a global survey of 10,000 adults, 42 percent confessed to lying about how busy they were at work. Although you might be quick to label this worker lazy, there could be another reason for his annoying behavior. Perhaps they are dissatisfied with work? The best thing to do is have an open conversation with him to understand where he’s coming from and how you can utilize his best qualities while minimizing his future games.

The Toddler

If this employee doesn’t like something, she’ll lose her cool, make sarcastic comments, or get into fights with co-workers. She also doesn’t deal with constructive criticism, which makes dealing with her a nightmare. If she’s a talented worker you don’t want to lose, remind her that her great work will take her far, but she needs to tone down her defensiveness as managers need to be likable to succeed. Having a real heart-to-heart with this employee will show her that you’re willing to support your team members and highlight that you’re after her best interests, which will help her see the error of her ways.

Difficult employees are everywhere and might even be part of your team. The key is knowing how to tackle them effectively so that you can use their skills and decrease workplace drama, which negatively impacts everyone’s productivity.

Four Ways Understanding Developmental Perspective Improves Organizations


This series started with a discussion of different developmental perspectives. Now we turn to applying your understanding of this concept to transforming your organization or improving its effectiveness.

Developmental perspective not only helps you as an individual leader create your growth path, it is also important in transforming your organization. The key to high performance is to align people and roles, considering their developmental perspective. Different organizational functions are best filled by people at different developmental perspectives. We call this their “fit” for the role, or more precisely, how the qualities associated with their developmental perspective align with requirements specific to the job. Both leaders and organizations need to support the health of all employees from a developmental standpoint and create an environment where each individual is in a role where he best fits and can move toward achieving his fullest potential.

For you to be successful as a leader over the long run, it is essential to understand your proper “fit” within the organization—which includes understanding who you are and what you value, where you belong in the organization, and where you belong within the broader team and community stakeholders. It is also important to apply this concept to others as you make hiring decisions, assign people to roles, determine individual roles within a team, and communicate with others. Importantly, the goal is not merely to build an organization with all people at the “highest” developmental perspective, rather it is to select people for roles that allow them to function as effectively as possible individually and collectively. Your organization will be effective if it supports success for people at all levels and aligns them to roles that fit their capacity. Organizations that perceive one perspective as “better” will be less effective than organizations that leverage every perspective and design an organization where all levels can thrive concurrently and are working toward a collective goal of organizational success using a broad range of skills and perspectives.

You can use this developmental model with organizations in several ways:

  1. Make staffing and succession decisions using developmental perspectives. Considering developmental perspective along with past performance and technical and industry skills, align people to the roles that have the best “fit.”
  2. Improve communication skills by applying a general understanding of developmental perspective to guide leaders in improving interpersonal effectiveness. Instead of simply communicating with others as ourselves, we recommend communicating with them based on their perspective. Understanding the perceptions of others from a developmental standpoint can dramatically improve interpersonal effectiveness. This applies to staff, peers, bosses, clients, family members, and other stakeholders.
  3. Improving management and leadership by applying an understanding of developmental perspectives allows a leader to clarify the needs of employees. For example, Expert employees want clear and specific directions and guidelines so they can do their tasks “right.” Individualists want the freedom to determine the best approach to accomplishing tasks. Trying to manage these different developmental perspectives using the same approach will result in frustration and lost productivity.
  4. Comparing the organizational developmental level to your developmental level will help you better understand the organizational culture. Organizations develop along the same trajectory as people: they start with the need to establish basic rules and infrastructure and then move to more complex functioning as they progress through the organizational lifecycle. Understanding the culture will help you because, as an innovative leader, you are continually aligning your intentions and behaviors with the culture and systems of the organization. While we do not address organizational maturity in this book, if you are interested in learning more, you may reference Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership by William R. Torbert, included in the references section of this book.

It is helpful for you to understand your developmental perspective and the perspectives of those around you. You will not be testing everyone in the organization, but you will rather have a sense of the levels of key jobs or roles within the organization and use this understanding as input when designing your transformation initiative. Understanding how to apply this model effectively can greatly improve your communication effectiveness and interpersonal interactions with people who function at different perspectives.

photo credit: Bryan M Mathers