Developing Leaders:
From Reactive to Creative Mindset

Developing-LeadersIf we’re going to do a better job of developing leaders, we must understand adult developmental stages, or how people grow their mental capacities as they mature. I’m not referring to how we acquire more knowledge or skills. How do leaders expand their awareness, consciousness, and ability to understand and manage complexity? How do leaders develop their capacities to handle complex problems, a chaotic and uncertain market place, and conflicting needs of stakeholders?

In my exploration about how adults and leaders develop as they mature, I’ve learned there are many theorists with similar models. Robert Kegan writes about the Self-Sovereign Stage (Egocentric) as we transition from adolescence to adulthood, the Socialized Self (Reactive) where we define our identity from external sources, and the Self-Authoring Stage (Creative), where we create a sense of internal control and identity. There is a fourth stage, the Self-Transformative Stage (Integrative) where we operate with higher purpose and manage multiple perspectives and complexity within a system.

The terms in parenthesis are from the five stages of leadership as defined by The Leadership Circle and authors Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams in their book, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results. This model describes leaders who operate with progressively effective levels of mind:

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

Developing leaders requires that we view their developmental stages as having strengths and limitations. Each of these stages is progressive and transitional. Leaders transition when they run into limitations in their thinking and ability to handle increasing levels of complexity. An egocentric leader, for example, finds that autocratic control only works in certain conditions and is inadequate for influencing large groups of people who prefer more democratic and autonomous responsibilities. A Reactive leader who has created a self-identity based on external expectations will eventually experience a need to be more self-authoring.

Leaders at the Reactive level often care deeply about their employees and manage people as benevolent patriarchs or matriarchs. The organization is efficient. Employee input is solicited but decisions are made by the top leadership team. There is no power-sharing. High levels of engagement are not likely.

The problem is that most change efforts seek to create business cultures that are flatter, leaner, more agile and more engaged. And in order to do so, leadership must expand their consciousness and capacities to handle more complexity.

This drives the need for leaders to transition from a Reactive mindset to a Creative mindset. Because most change efforts are attempts to improve engagement and participation, leaders who resist transitioning to a higher order of thinking — to a Creative mindset — will falter. This is why most transformative change efforts fail to sustain.

“Most transformation and major change initiatives cannot be sustained because leaders, operating from Reactive Mind, cannot replicate Creative practices and structures…on their own. They cannot transform their organization from within because their Reactive IOS (internal operating system) cannot replicate Creative Structures within them.”  ~ Anderson and Adams, Mastering Leadership

I will describe in more detail the facets of Creative leadership in my next post. What’s your thinking about the developmental stage you see yourself experiencing? Does any of this make sense to you? And how does it fit in with other views of how leaders operate? For example, emotional intelligence comes into play at each level of development. And I’m sure age and maturity are also part of the picture.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call. Or, you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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