What are Developmental Levels (Level 5) and How Do I Test For Them

The term developmental level can be described in several ways, one is different ways of “meaning making” (how each of us make sense of experiences). To determine developmental level, the evaluator looks at cognitive complexity, affective and behavioral questions. An example of meaning making occurs when we receive feedback. Individual responses could range from absolute rejection, because I interpret the feedback as a personal assault, to believing that feedback gives me valuable information about my performance as well as the values of the person providing the feedback. Developmental level significantly influences how one sees one’s role and function in the workplace, how one interacts with other people and how one solves problems. Susanne Cook-Greuter developed the Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF) to describe developmental levels as part of her PhD at Harvard University. This is the theory we recommend, because it is supported by an assessment tool, the SCTi-MAP, which measures an individual’s developmental level. This is currently the most rigorously validated, reliable and advanced assessment tool to assess adult leadership developmental levels.   MAp graphic This graphic to the left shows the results of a client. While we refer to people as being at a developmental level, the test scores actually reflect the range of responses individuals give. Most people’s scores reflect a range of as many 6 or 7 developmental levels. The above graph reflects this range. As you look at the levels across the bottom of the graph – the scores on the left side reflect the % of questions scoring at each level.  With a greater understanding of what a developmental level is and how we assess leaders to determine their level, I return to the discussion of why development matters. Collins provided some strong indicators of what Level 5 Leaders might look like. One could interpret which levels as tested by the SCTi-MAP might correlate to “Level 5” ranging from Achiever to Strategist. I take the position that “Strategist” is the level that can accomplish the transitions Collins describes. I base my hypothesis on work with the SCTi-MAP, experience with leaders across multiple organizations, and additional research. One research study I found influential was conducted by Torbert and Rooke (1998). “In ten longitudinal organizational development efforts, the five CEOs measuring at the late Strategist/Leader stage of development supported 15 progressive organizational transformations. By contrast, the five CEOs measuring at pre-Strategist stages of development supported a total of 0 progressive organizational transformations (no change in two organizations; a three stage regression in one organization; and three stages of progressive development in two organizations). The progressively transforming organizations became industry leaders on a number of business indexes. The three organizations that did not progress developmentally lost personnel, industry standing, and money as well. A second study of the ten organizations four years after the first showed that the ego development stage (developmental level) of the CEO now accounted for 73% of the variance of whether the organization transformed in a developmentally progressive way. While the Torbert and Rooke study looked at the impact of the CEO’s developmental level, they also considered the impact of having at least one person on the leadership team or in an advisory role that consistently functions at this level. The advisor may be a leader, an employee, or a consultant. The important factor is that their advice is given strong consideration in key decisions about business transformation. My experience with clients who have taken the SCTi-Map tends to support this research. At “Level 5”, leaders demonstrate many skills and behaviors not as visible at earlier levels. Some of these behaviors include: an increased ability to take the perspectives of multiple stakeholder groups and find solutions to balance the interests of many differing points of view, balance long and short term interests, and make decisions based on an internal compass over the external pressures. These qualities increase the likelihood of success in transforming organizations. I have worked with leaders who do not demonstrate “Level 5” qualities and have found some consistent themes that have adversely impacted their ability to successfully implement change. The following example is drawn from a composite of several individuals with whom I have personally worked. Steve Bailey was the CEO of a mid-sized company. He was very smart about his company and industry. Normally quite personable, he yelled and belittled his executive team when he became angry. Ineffective at accepting input from others that differed with his own, he demeaned his staff so that his highly skilled team stopped providing differing points of view. Indeed, he had exceedingly high turn-over in his executive ranks, well over 50% for a couple of years. The company began losing money. At this time, his Board charged him with growing the business through acquisition. He hired a coach and made some surface improvements, but did not make sufficient changes in time to save his job as CEO or turn the company around as the Board had required. One of his former employees who left under unpleasant circumstances has gone on to lead international operations for a company that has one of the strongest brands in the world. This indicates that this CEO’s behavior directly caused the loss of highly talented and dedicated employees and adversely impacted business performance. Some sample descriptions of behavioral differences between “Level 4” Leaders and “Level 5” Leaders for illustration purposes:

Characteristics of Achiever Leader (Level 4)

* Focused on empirical data and business case
* Conscious of the importance of communication
* Acts quickly and decisively to assess consequences for ineffective behavior, often without examining the full consequences of this action on the overall organization
* Loses momentum as people are continually overworked on too many concurrent projects without seeing meaningful results
* May declare victory and move on to next project before the change is sustainable
* Able to convey both progress and continued urgency until changes are fully implemented

Characteristics of “Level 5”

* Understands the organization in a larger context of the environment; develops vision and strategies necessary for long-term success while also ensuring short-term success
* “Walk the talk” becomes an expression of one’s moral character and authenticity. Able to deliver clear, concise feedback that empowers people to correct, redirect or recalibrate their behavior and feel motivated to make the necessary changes
* Identifies and praises wins based on the overall project goals; has the ability to maintain momentum and support from key people and the overall organization
* Able to convey both progress and continued urgency until changes are fully implemented

Reflection Questions – Put this article to use:

* What are the 6-8 events and/or choices that brought you to where you are in your work and life?
* Note what stands out in the list you have made: Surprises? Patterns?
* What do you hope to gain from your time investment in leadership development?
* What meaningful impact will it produce in your life? Work?

Maureen Metcalf at Metcalf & Associates, Inc.

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