Leadership Development:
How Leaders Learn to Handle Complexity

Leadership-DevelopmentIn my last post I asked the question, “How can leaders learn to handle the increasing pace of complexity of business organizations?”  Leadership development must prepare leaders to handle complexity. This is the Big Question from what I observe in my work as a consultant and coach.

Leaders are already working long, hard and fast. And most of them are pretty smart to begin with.

Yet some of the leaders I talk with are feeling like something more is needed. Some new formula, a new concept or managerial fad — something they can do to relieve the burden of stress and strain and to feel once again like they’re “in control,” on top of the incessant demands on their time, skills, and knowledge.

Some feel like they’re in over their heads. Others are hoping that the current challenges are just a passing phase: “It’ll pass, it always does.” But the pace and the complexity doesn’t let up and as one challenge passes, another pops up.  The business environment is never settling down, it’s only getting more creative, chaotic, and complex.

Which has led me to turn to some interesting authors for answers, notably psychologists Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, and Leadership Circle consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams.

What if the ability of leaders to handle complexity was contingent upon their level of consciousness? What does that even mean? What I’m discovering has opened up a new level of thinking about leadership abilities and competencies. It’s all about the inner game, as I mentioned here on this blog in March 2016.

For example, psychologists have known for a long time that children progress through developmental stages, both physically and mentally. So do adults. We don’t stop growing and maturing mentally throughout adulthood, although many get stuck at certain levels. Adults progress in their developmental levels not according to age, however. A 20 or 30-year-old can be wise just as a 70-year-old can be immature and egocentric.

And leaders also exist at different developmental levels and vary greatly in their maturity and ability to handle challenges. So here’s what “level of consciousness” means as applied to the developmental stage of leaders:

“Performance, individually and collectively, is always consistent with our level of consciousness. We cannot perform at a higher level of performance than is built into our operating system. Likewise, an organization cannot perform at a higher level of performance than the collective consciousness of its leadership.” Authors Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results

The level of maturity of individual leaders and an organization’s collective leadership must be more than a match for the challenges facing organizations today and in the future. Consciousness of leaders must evolve to a high level if we are to meet the complexity of 21st century business challenges.

When we understand adult developmental stages as described by the psychologists, we gain a better understanding of the developmental stages of leaders and how this impacts business performance.

Perhaps leadership development programs are going about it wrong. Instead of training the outer competencies like strategy, finance, and communication, shouldn’t we develop leaders’ inner game and operating systems? How do we transform leaders into more mature, wiser, and creatively-conscious human beings?

And that’s what my next post is about. How would you describe level of maturity or consciousness of your boss?

I’d love to hear what it’s like for you in your organization. Give me a call. Or, you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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