5 Levels of Leadership:
Most Leaders Are Reactive

Levels-of-LeadershipThere are five levels of leadership, according to experts. Just as children progress through developmental stages so do adults. Leaders are no exception, they operate at different levels of consciousness.

I’ve been exploring these levels of leadership as described in The Leadership Circle book called Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results by authors Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams.

Their Universal Model of Leadership is based on these five levels of leadership stages:

  1. Egocentric
  2. Reactive
  3. Creative
  4. Integrative
  5. Unitive

The five percent of leaders who do not make the transition from stage one to stage two continue to operate with an Egocentric Mind and are autocratic and controlling, dictatorial and oppressive —“my way or the highway.” Egocentric Mind in adolescence is normal. In adulthood, it is pathology. In leadership, it is destructive. Most managers and leaders, however, operate at the Reactive level (70%).

  • The ability to hold both our needs and the needs/feelings of others simultaneously is the hallmark of the Reactive level. We learn societal rules and play by them in order to meet expectations. We dive into our chosen professions and work hard on honing our outer game. We gain the Domain Knowledge required to succeed in a chosen field. We create businesses, build careers, climb ladders, get married, have families, and establish the homestead.

Leaders at the Reactive Level often care deeply about their employees and manage and function as benevolent parents or patriarchs/matriarchs. The organization is ordered and efficient. It is competency driven and mechanistic. It uses all of the scientific management tools. Employee input is solicited, but decision-making and creative expression are still vested with top leaders.

Leadership is often humane, but lacks the capability of broadly sharing power. People are informed but not involved in decision-making. People feel supported financially and treated fairly, but most are not expected to be involved in important decisions. The institutional style that emerges with Reactive leadership is a large, efficient hierarchy—an ordered and layered bureaucracy. Its political climate requires loyalty and obedience.

Fully 70% of leaders operate with a Reactive mindset. Only 20% of leaders transition into the Creative operating stage with a mere 5% able to mature into an Integrative mindset. Reactive mindset is typical of most managers and leaders. Yet when we look at transforming an organization into more participatory engagement, or into flatter shared responsibilities, we find that Reactive leadership reaches its limitations.

To explain why, I’ll share with you three types of Reactive leadership driven by three preferred strengths that if not managed well, can become liabilities. Most of us gravitate toward a preference for our capabilities with relationships, our intellect, or our drive for results. Which one do you prefer to use in your management style?

What’s been your experience working for Reactive leaders? Give me a call. Or, you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.


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