Are you missing out on 75% of professional leadership potential?
Deploy the 3-D developmental strategy and transcend the limits of competence-based leadership development.
This article will describe what the next level in leadership development is and how to access it. Firstly, the strengths and limitations of the concept of competence building are explained. Then the two missing dimensions of leadership development are highlighted. This offers a 3-D view of the leaders’ developmental axes and unveils the larger unexpected growth potential. Lastly, one condition that greatly enhances this development is revealed.
Traditionally leader were sometimes chosen because of their excellence and expertise in certain topics but lately this approach has been superseded by what is called the competence based approach.
The improvement that the competence approach has brought us is that it describes concrete behaviour. It recognizes effective leading does not happen just by being an expert in a certain topic or even by knowing a lot about leadership as such. Next to knowledge, the competence approach also includes skills and attitude, displayed in a meaningful professional context. This type of leadership development is called a competence, capacity or skill building approach.
A competence-based approach including skills development is better than just appointing the biggest expert as the leader and expecting them to miraculously grow people skills.
To become a good leader many competences need to be developed, for instance listening, argumentation and project management. If we imagine those competences as lines, then on the line of a certain competence it’s possible to score from low to high. Putting all the relevant leadership competences in a bar chart, we can use the overview to strategically grow into a better all-round leader.
This approach gets us from “put biggest expert in charge” to “put a knowledgeable manager with great people skills in charge”. A big improvement. We now have a reasonably good leader for an average modern company with average workers to manage. But of course, the complex and demanding world we are heading towards challenges the survival of the average. To merely survive we increasingly have to deal with greater complexity than this approach can get us to.
Also, at a certain point in their individual development use of a competence approach tends not to lift leaders, but rather weigh them down. As a leader you start to suspect: “What got me here, won’t get me there”.
For example: William, a managing director of a school, realizes that what got him in this leadership position was his strong vision, talking a lot about that vision during meetings, explaining to his employees what they need to do and managing them by giving regular feedback, mostly constructive criticism and some compliments. It dawns on him (after reading some inspiring books on leadership) that his ideal image of wise leadership is quite a long way off from his current management behavior. He starts to suspect there is another part of reality that he is not putting to his advantage yet, but he doesn’t have the map of the territory he wants to explore. He realizes that instead of being “merely” an effective manager he now aspires to be a wise leader. Taking an honest look at his behavior, he is often far from his ideal image of an inspiring leader. From being ‘effective’ to being ‘wise’ is a big journey.
The limitation lies in the fact that the competence based approach, although promoting development, is a “flat” approach. As we will see, the competence based approach doesn’t explicitly include two other vital dimensions (axes) of human adult development.
Meeting the Limits of the Competence Based Approach
There’s a drive within every human being to keep developing, bringing one’s authenticity into the world and making a contribution. Many of us are more than ready for the next level of that. We just didn’t realize the next level involves including one or even two other dimensions of reality. We will find what we seek in a different direction.
Next to our inner evolutionary drive inviting us to keep developing, there is a powerful outer pull towards development. We currently live in such a rapidly changing world, affecting the business and government environments, that it is becoming painfully clear to us we really can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.
We have to grow into being able to wisely handle a more complex playing field both individually and collectively. This is another reason why “just” a competence based approach to leadership development is not cutting it any more. According to research (Kegan, 1994) many leaders experience a big gap between their perceived level of ability to deal effectively with complex issues, and the level of ability needed in the situation. They perhaps might not in the first instance so much perceive the gap, as experience the symptoms of it, in the form of stress, overwhelm and breakdowns. This gap can be made smaller, not with more of the same level skills, but with a skill-set from the next stage of development combined with state-training. We’ll discuss both stage and state in the next part.
The Importance of Recognising Stages in Human Development
As many authors have shown (for example Joiner & Josephs 2007) human development unfolds in discrete steps. Exact definitions of these steps differ, but researchers in the field of adult development agree that it is valuable to discern plateaus in which our development is relatively stable. These plateaus are known as stages or levels.
A rigorous definition and description of developmental stages can be found elsewhere (see Joiner & Josephs as a start). We’ll give a few remarks though. Stages are always traversed in a particular order. Like a seed that sprouts and develops leaves before it blooms, human developmental stages have a certain order that cannot be cut short.
Reaching a certain stage is an enduring acquisition, for example, when we have learned to interpret and use language, we will have permanent access to the capacities of this stage.
Also we need to keep in mind that human development advances in several lines of development. We grow cognitively, ethically, interpersonally, emotionally, spiritually, etc. In these fields we can have reached different stages. A person can have thoroughly developed her cognition and ethics, but largely ignored emotions and spirituality. It is therefore an oversimplification to assess somebody as “being at” a certain stage.
However, it is very valuable to be aware of your current stage of development (in a certain line of development) because this knowledge helps you to identify the skills-set you can consider developing in order to support your growth and effectiveness to deal with larger complexity. Later stages include and transcend previous skill-sets.
An example will make this clearer. Instead of sticking to procedures the way they have always been done someone might come up with a more efficient way, growing from a stage of conventions to a stage of result-orientation. Skills that help with this include innovative thinking and brainstorming. In the earlier stage of following conventions these skills are of little use and so they are likely only acquired at this point of the development of this person.
This shows us that if the demands of our world and work outstretch our capabilities it might be necessary to grow to a new stage and develop the accompanying skill-set. To develop these skills without advancing to a new stage is virtually impossible because the necessary paradigm-shift has not taken place.
Managing Our State of Being
But there is more to our capabilities than our skills and stage… In different days and in different moments of the day we have a different state of being. We can for example be fresh in the morning and tired in the evening, or just the other way around. We occasionally have brilliant moments of insight or we’re just spaced out for a moment. All these are our states.
So, a stage is relatively stable and constant, our state shifts all the time.
If we don’t also develop our state-management capacities we won’t be able to perform well in challenging situations. Training these means learning to recognise our different states and how these change our thinking and acting. Also we can learn how to change a state in which we perform poorly into an effective one.
State training teaches you how to self-regulate your state of being, like putting yourself in a flow-state of alert and relaxed presence. This state training is important because being able to take in the complexity does not always lead to better solutions. It can, without practices that allow us to cope, add to the overwhelm.
The value of state development can be illustrated with the following quote by the contemporary integral philosopher Ken Wilber:
… what you’re really doing when you center is that you are in a sense placing yourself in the very center of the cyclone. You’re placing yourself in pure emptiness to the extent you have access to that. So what steps into that emptiness is the highest structure available.”
(Ken Wilber, personal communication, 2011)
So, for people in a leading role with a reasonably well developed set of management skills, who aspire to be all they can be in service of making a positive contribution it might be time to consider consciously drawing from the power the other two dimensions of “stage” and “state” development have to offer.
In order to evolve in that direction, we need to stop neglecting the relevant and more complex skill-set of the next stages. Although there is a developmental focus in a competence based approach, it is limited to the skill-set matching the two most common levels in leadership development. One stage is mostly concerned with doing it right, managing people and stuff, through procedures and tracking. The next conventional stage is focused on achieving results, improving products, workers, and revenues. The skills-sets needed to function at these stages of leadership are vital to good leadership and can continually be developed further.
However, the relative traction in leadership performance improvement one might get from that might disappoint. The next level leader being assessed by conventional leadership skill sets might get a burn out or “bore out” because they are not being met at their level. The most painful situations occur when a next level leader has a manager at conventional stage of development; not only is their manager unable to appreciate their contribution to the company fully, often they are being measured against assessment systems that under-use and underestimate their professional maturity.
It is like putting a kindergarten teacher in charge of a PhD student. The feedback might be true (your handwriting is a bit sloppy, and you need to practice the proper way of tying your shoelaces) but not necessarily helpful to the leader, their growth or the optimal contribution to the organisation.
3-D Development Strategy
In order to transcend the limits of competence based leadership development (while keeping its assets) we can deploy the 3-D development strategy. The next level of leadership development enacts more of human potential. It consists of an integral combination of competence (hereafter referred to as “skill”), stage and state development.
The three dimensions of leadership development are:
1. Skill dimension: A competence based approach is great at bringing an expert to the level of an inspiring manager. What knowledge, skills and attitudes are present and needed for this person to grow into a good manager in his organizational niche?
2. Stage dimension: Human adult development turns out to have distinct levels where the next level transcends and includes the previous. Metaphor: A child that has learned to walk can still crawl (include) but will prefer walking (transcend) as it is faster, more efficient and more grown up.
3. State dimension: Your “vibe” or state of being has a big impact on your surroundings and on your effectiveness. This includes growing your ability to bring forth a leadership presence of inclusiveness, confidence, and clarity, also under duress; Recovering out of a triggering situation; Re-centering oneself quickly into being calm and assertive again.
How to Access the Next Level of Leadership Development?
Deploy a 3-D leadership strategy: Tune up, Grow up and Wake up
Tune up your leadership skills: Keep expanding your skills; excelling further in your talents and polishing up the weaker points. This is classic competency development. Supporting activities: Ask for feedback, practice self-reflection, and evaluate projects. Get a coach.
Grow up into the next stage: There are about five sequential levels of adult leadership development. Growing into a next stage of development is a transformative experience that cannot be forced, but it can be facilitated. It can sometimes go together with a crisis, like a (near) burn-out or bore-out. Supporting activities: learn about adult stage development, emulate inspiring leaders, get tested on your “action logics” development followed by mentoring. Get an integrally informed coach with expertise and personal experience in stage development.
Wake up your present state: Work actively on your inner state management. This is about developing your capacity to influence your own physiology with use of awareness, intention, posture and breath. Grow your ability to bring forth a leadership presence of inclusiveness, confidence, and clarity. Re-centering oneself under pressure. Being directive without aggression. Listening without taking it personally, especially when challenged. Being calm and assertive. Tolerance of temporary discomfort. Supporting activities: Healthy living patterns (food, sleep, and exercise), mindfulness, Leadership Embodiment practice. Get an embodiment coach with executive coaching expertise.
How to Enhance 3-D Leadership Development?
Lastly, the one condition that greatly enhances development is a social support system. This is the fourth S in the series: Skill, Stage, State with Social support. To regularly convene with like-minded leaders brings support, recognition of joint challenges and it provides the leader with living examples of the next level. The right mix of support and challenge propels us to great heights, both in our individual capacity to handle complexity and in our collective ability to navigate large scale system transformation wisely.
If you’re a leader resonating with this story:
Check out further resources section below or consider getting an integral coach to support your stage development and practice leadership embodiment for your state development. You’re welcome to connect to the author for a free strategy call about this material and your professional development.
If you’re a HR-professional or a leadership program developer:
Consider including stage awareness and state training in leadership programs. You’re welcome to connect to the author for a free strategy call about this material and about what it might mean for your organization.
– Leadership Agility; a book and leadership development method by Joiner, B. and Josephs, S. (2007) that is integrally informed and research-based and is combining skills (called capacities) and stages.
– Leadership Embodiment; a method of cultivating a presence of confidence, connection and clarity, developed by Wendy Palmer that is combining state and skill development.
– Integral Theory by Ken Wilber is providing the map of the adult developmental territory. Including unpacking these concepts: levels (= stages) and lines of development, states of being, types, and quadrants. An expert in this field is Zachary (Zak) Stein.
– Research by Barrett C. Brown, PhD on the specific competences of next level leaders; combining later stages and skills. http://research.fielding.edu/2012/04/barrett-chapman-brown-completes.html, http://integralthinkers.com/leadership/conscious-leadership/
– Evolutionary Leadership; a book by Peter Merry; applying Integral Theory to leadership skills and tools.
– In Over Our Heads: The mental demands of modern life; by Kegan, R. (1994)
You are welcome to ask the author for web-links and further recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Anouk Brack, MSc in Biology, is a human potential developer fascinated by human evolution. She supports passionate professionals to work effectively from their inner compass. She is an EMCC certified coach specialized in leadership development and is an accredited Leadership Embodiment trainer (trained by its founder Wendy Palmer). She offers Leadership Embodiment training in and around the Netherlands.
She is founding director of Experience Integral (2009) offering embodiment of integral leadership for sustainability to leaders, facilitators and consultants. She is a leadership coach at AnoukA Training. Since 2000 she has been working at Wageningen University of Life Sciences in the Netherlands at the Chair Group Education and Competence Studies where she is a senior professional skills trainer. Currently she teaches the master courses: “Integral Leadership for Sustainability”, “Facilitating innovative learning processes” and “Intuitive Intelligence.” She is an international associate since 2011 of Mark Walsh’s Integration Training. She co-founded the Centre for Embodied Wisdom with John Tuite and James Knight in 2013.
She lives in Arnhem in the Netherlands with her husband and business partner Rik Hoevers (www.sacredgeometry.nl). She practices Leadership Embodiment and meditation, enjoys writing blogs, doing fitness training and residing in her hammock.