5 Levels of Leadership:
From Expert to Synergist

5-Levels-of-LeadershipMy previous posts about 5 levels of leadership were based on what I’ve been reading in Mastering Leadership by Anderson and Adams. There are many other theorists and authors that propose five levels of leadership development. What’s key to understanding is that in order to develop as a leader, one must grow one’s level of personal maturity and mastery.

There seems to be increasing agreement that leadership effectiveness is highly correlated with the developmental stage of a leader. Over the last 30 years, a series of studies have shown that as a manager matures through progressive levels of mental and emotional development,  he is more effective as a leader. (For example, read the studies by William Torbert.)

At higher developmental stages, a manager becomes more strategic in thinking, more collaborative, more proactive in seeking feedback, better at resolving conflicts, more active in developing subordinates, and more likely to redefine problems and capitalize on the interdependence of the system.

In the book Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change by William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs, I encountered yet another framework of developmental stages with a different set of names for each level. (For my previous posts on developmental stages of leaders, read here. I think it’s confusing that there are so many different labels for the stages of adult development, but so be it.)

In this book the authors name their stages as follows:

  1. Expert
  2. Achiever
  3. Catalyst
  4. Co-Creator
  5. Synergist

The Expert Manager

This stage is defined by the authors to describe managers who are strongly motivated to develop subject matter expertise. Such managers assume that their leadership power comes from expertise and positional authority. Expert managers have a tactical orientation and value their capacity for analytical problem-solving. These managers have behaviors that are the least agile of the five levels  and comprise 45 percent of all managers. Experts are best suited for environments where success can be achieved by making incremental improvements to existing strategies.

The Achiever Level

These managers are defined by their strong motivation to accomplish outcomes valued by the organizations with which they’ve identified themselves. They believe their power comes not only from authority and expertise (as at the Expert level), but also from motivating others by making it challenging and satisfying to contribute to important outcomes. They are adept at strategic thinking. Achievers are highly effective in moderately complex environments where the pace of change requires episodic shifts in corporate strategy. About 35 percent of managers have developed from the Expert level to the Achiever level.

Heroic and Post-Heroic Leadership

These two levels operate with what’s called Heroic Leadership (for more on this, read the article in Forbes here.) That is, they assume sole responsibility for setting their organization’s objectives, coordinating the activities of their subordinates, and managing their performance.

About 90 percent of all managers operate with such a Heroic leadership mind-set. (These percentages are based on four research studies involving a total of 384 managers, so they are approximations only. For more information, see Leadership Agility.)

What is meant by Post-Heroic Leadership will be the subject of my next post, as we explore the other three levels of leadership development, which the authors term levels of Leadership agility. As you can imagine, with progressive developmental stages, the leader is less concerned with being the hero and more interested in co-creating success with shared responsibilities. The hero becomes the servant leader.

In the meantime, think about the bosses you work for. Are they Expert or Achiever leaders? And, if you are the boss, do you see yourself operating as an Expert or an Achiever? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call. Or, you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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