Blog Categories: Leadership
Posted on June 5, 2019
They’re everywhere. Walk into any workplace and you’ll find them. Regardless of your company’s success or employee-friendly culture, difficult people pose challenges for managers and team leaders each day.
Some are angry; some are anxious. Others are fearful, negative and obstinate. Some spark frequent disputes with their peers. Still others quietly stonewall and fail to follow through on commitments.
You cannot afford to avoid dealing with difficult people. Whether they’re direct reports or peer managers, their frustrating behaviors will take a toll on your ability to manage others and produce stellar results.
The more serious forms of difficult behavior are, in some ways, easier to deal with because they are blatant and often illegal. In cases of harassment, sabotage or physical threats, swiftly follow your clearly outlined company policies and implement the appropriate consequences.
But long before overt infringements arise, there are subtle forms of damaging behaviors that should not be tolerated or allowed to escalate. Confronting and dealing with these sticky situations will prevent more serious problems in the future.
Unfortunately, many managers avoid dealing with difficult people and strong emotions in the workplace. “People problems” are often cited as the most challenging — and time-consuming — part of a manager’s job. One study found that 42 percent of managers’ time is spent on defusing office conflict.
The High Costs of Conflict
Regardless of the form difficult behavior takes, it exacts a serious toll, including high turnover, absenteeism, theft, loss of clients, and low productivity and morale. When managers are distracted and frustrated by difficult behaviors, they have less time and energy to devote to their core responsibility: getting things done through others.
Resorting to firing and replacing people is risky and time-consuming; thus, many executives fail to confront problem behaviors at all. They find workarounds: avoidance, vague feedback, compensation for underperformance by taking on more work themselves. Even worse, they may promote a problem person out of their unit.
With practice, you can improve your ability to deal with difficult behaviors – a move that will free up enormous energy reserves. When conflicts are handled immediately, you and your team will function better, meet deadlines earlier, create more innovative processes and products, and make fewer errors.
Three Important Questions
Three major questions will emerge when you start to explore how to deal with difficult people:
- How do you respond to specific types of problematic behavior?
- What is the impact of your own behaviors and attitudes on others?
- How do you communicate effectively in a disciplinary conversation?
It’s a challenge to deal with behavior that’s not criminal, but nonetheless destructive to the company’s operations and culture. You can’t fire someone for complaining or whining. So, what can you do?
Attempt to clarify and understand the causes of problematic behaviors and intense emotions. You may also need to learn more about handling your own and others’ emotions. This enables you to reflect on your own behaviors and attitudes, as well as identify your part in any given situation. You can then articulate your feelings with transparency and authenticity.
Finally, smart managers know how to deliver constructive feedback that helps others grow and improve their performance. They are not afraid to facilitate discussions. Open-door communication prevents problematic behavior from arising in the first place.
Identify the Problem Behaviors
Everyone talks about difficult people and personalities, but labeling such individuals shifts attention from what they did to who they are. It’s always best to deal with behaviors, rather than personalities – and be as specific as possible.
While problem behavior can stem from an innately annoying personality – or, in some cases, even a personality disorder or other mental problems – these issues are beyond what one can expect to change. When there are deeper issues involved, referral to an Employee Assistance Program is usually advised.
Smart managers confine their discussion to specific behaviors: what was done and/or said. Behaviors and communication patterns are usually clearly identifiable. The situation becomes tricky when intense emotions are triggered.
The Force of Strong Emotions
Strong emotions include anxiety, fear, anger and an intense drive to be right at all costs. Feelings are often at stake (i.e., being perceived as incompetent, vulnerable or unlikable in the office).
When fear kicks in, there’s an immediate fight-or-flight response in the autonomic nervous system. In a nanosecond, people react to powerful emotions without moderation from the more rational parts of their brains. Individuals may resort to strong language or lash out to defend their territory against a perceived threat. Psychologists refer to this as an “amygdala hijacking” – an immediate rush to either strike back or withdraw in submission. (The amygdala, a structure in the brain’s temporal lobe, plays a role in behavioral responses.)
What happens next is the interpretation of events. Most people cling to what their rational minds tell them is correct or “right,” as each of us operates with a set of assumptions about the way the world is supposed to work. We always operate from our own perspective and worldview; therefore, in our own minds, we are right.
As a manager, you can explore the roots of people’s interpretations of events and help them see other perspectives.
Handling Difficult Behaviors
Step One: Develop a Plan
Smart managers can develop a plan for managing anger and other strong emotions in the workplace. This may include establishing policies and retaining employee assistance program counselors to help with more serious problems. When special resources are identified in advance and a clear policy is in place, it’s easier to manage crisis situations.
Step 2: Invest in Training
The wise manager is open to investing in training and personal development programs that focus on emotional intelligence and assertive communications models. Learning how to handle the complex relationships that arise during work projects is an astute investment that will save time, energy and money in the long run.
Understanding basic human thinking styles and behavior patterns will boost your comfort level when handling interpersonal dynamics. Personality-type assessments and 360-degree feedback programs have also proved helpful. The better you know yourself, the greater your likelihood of understanding and tolerating others’ differences. It may be advisable to retain outside consultants and specialists.
Step 3: Invest in Coaching
Consider investing in a coach who can teach your people about human dynamics in the workplace. Greater confidence levels allow employees to work through their anxieties, fears and personality differences. Coaching programs improve individuals’ performance and ultimately increase the bottom line.
What Is Your Part?
It may be hard to admit this, but as a manager you most likely contribute some part to the dynamics among the people in your work group. You need to examine your own behaviors and attitudes to determine the extent to which you play a role in any conflict – even inadvertently. This exploration takes patience and courage, and will most likely require help from a mentor, trusted peer or coach.
One way managers contribute to conflict is avoidance. Ducking problems makes it harder to achieve goals. Conflict arises from people’s needs, and needs that go unmet won’t disappear. They lie in wait for the next opportunity to express themselves.
When conflict escalates, energy is directed toward interpersonal issues and away from tasks. Some managers may be conflict-aversive, thinking it’s best to steer clear of employee strife. But if you reframe conflict as an expression of differences, instead of condemning it, you can confront it, discuss it and make it work.
Smart managers recognize their personal hot buttons and needs. When you bring your anger, suspicions or assumptions into a discussion, a conflict can become even more complex. By asking neutral questions, you can help people determine their differences and common interests, which will bring them closer to agreement.
A Checklist for the Disciplinary Conversation
Inevitably, over the span of your managerial career, certain employees will behave in an unacceptable way, requiring you to call them in for a disciplinary conversation.
Some actions are so egregious that the offender must be fired. More often, the unacceptable behavior doesn’t call for such drastic measures. It’s up to you to decide on some measure of discipline.
Disciplinary meetings will always be more effective if they are the exception to the rule. Positive reinforcement is the most effective method of affecting conduct. If you provide feedback only when people stumble, you are missing the best opportunity to motivate them.
- Communicate company rules well in advance. Some managers prefer to leave the disciplinary policy unspoken for fear of appearing unfriendly or punitive. It’s reassuring to most people, however, to know there are boundaries over which one doesn’t step.
- Don’t act when angry. Strong emotions cloud judgment and impede one’s ability to speak appropriately. Anger also evokes heated responses, taking the focus off the real issues that need to be addressed.
- Reprimand in private. If you embarrass or injure a person’s pride in front of colleagues, you reduce the likelihood that performance will improve.
- Determine whether the problem is with the employee or the work conditions. Ask if anything is hindering the person from doing a good job. This line of questioning demonstrates that you are more interested in performance than blame.
- Frame your complaint in terms of observed behavior. Describe the difference between the desired and actual behavior in a clear, nonjudgmental statement.
- Don’t describe the problem in terms of a “bad attitude” — and don’t assume this to be the case. You don’t know what’s going on in a person’s head. You can observe the behavior and determine whether it stays the same, improves or gets worse. An accusation of a bad attitude will not stick as a defense in a wrongful termination suit.
- Cite the business reasons behind a company policy. You should be able to defend any policy in terms of consequences that affect the business, profitability or employees.
- Gain the employee’s commitment to change. Most people, if their shortcomings are confronted in a calm, professional manner, will make an agreement to improve behavior.
- Coach, but don’t counsel. Coach the employee on improving performance by clarifying expectations. Emphasize the responsibility to behave correctly. Counseling on personal problems should be left to outside professionals.
- If a problem continues, issue an oral reminder. Be specific when describing the behaviors that fail to meet expectations. Make it very clear that this verbal warning is the first step in a formal disciplinary process, and outline subsequent stages. Document the meeting afterward.
- Proceed to a written reminder.
- Consider a one-day paid leave of absence. Use this cooling-off period to focus on transforming behaviors, rather than on punishing. This technique has shown to produce good results, with fewer grievances filed.
- Issue an ultimatum. During the leave of absence, ask people to think about the company’s performance demands and to commit to meeting them the very next day — or go elsewhere.
- Discharge should be viewed as the failure of the process. Most people placed on a decision-making leave will return with a willingness to correct their behavior. When they do not, termination should be the inevitable consequence of that choice.
Follow these procedures consistently to fulfill your ethical and legal obligations. You can then move intransigent employees out of the organization and move forward.
Dealing with Difficult People, 2005. The Results Driven Manager Series. Harvard Business School Press. Boston MA.
Posted on May 31, 2019
We have all been there: presentation coming up, need to develop slides, how to make them interesting, not cluttered? Where to begin, end? What is too much and what is too little on a slide? How many slides are needed? Here is an article written by an expert on Powerpoint who offers advice and, introduces new technology in PowerPoint, e.g., morph, reuse slide, and text icons–all of which can support efficient and interesting slide deck development for a presentation.
Posted on May 7, 2019
Many people agree that our culture is growing more impatient, selfish, disrespectful and ungrateful. Those who haven’t noticed are likely not bothered, and may be contributing to these disturbing tendencies. Not exactly glowing statements on our day and age.
These attitudes and behaviors are also visible in every corner of the working world, as organizations struggle to keep employees engaged, loyal, civil and productive. Employees have no difficulty pinpointing the things that annoy them, while taking little time to reflect on those that please them. A displeased workforce yields low returns on the skills and experience invested in it.
Traditionally, leaders have been responsible for setting the tone and correcting a culture. However, those who portray disturbing behaviors can expect their people to live them out as well. Leaders who can exhibit positive behaviors make a tremendous difference in how their people respond, relate to each other and enjoy their work. Positive behavior depends on a positive mindset, and the cornerstone of it all is gratitude.
Gratitude vs Ingratitude
Gratitude is the appreciation for being a benefactor of something that has made your life better. It’s also a recognition that either you didn’t cause it or deserve it. Gratitude is a thankfulness for what you have, who you are or what opportunities lay before you. It stirs satisfying feelings that are promising, optimistic and calming.
Leaders with gratitude know they’ve been given something from a source bigger than themselves, causing a favorable condition with a lasting effect. This creates a positive mindset that can’t be concealed. That mindset fashions a beneficial outlook, which steers helpful actions. This is the best life enhancing tool for leaders and those they lead.
According to executive coach Christine Comaford in her 2017 Forbes article, Great Leaders have an Attitude of Gratitude – Do You?, a grateful mindset offers leaders a positive emotional reserve that can be tapped when tough situations arise. This is a great tool to thrive under pressure, to be motivated to overcome challenges. Alternatively, ingratitude leads to negative emotions that drag a spirit down. A negative focus doesn’t inspire satisfaction, ideas, solutions or helpful decisions.
Grateful leaders see conditions more positively and experience less stress and fatigue. This allows for a better focus, reason and discernment—in all a healthier leadership. Contrary to this, ungrateful leaders are often burdened with debilitating stress and are more susceptible to burnout. A negative outlook misjudges situations, causing mistakes, missed opportunities and unfortunate responses.
Gratitude often spurs compassion and kindness toward others. This draws employees and forms their loyalty, trust and engagement. People find these qualities difficult to resist. They want to be around a leader who’s grateful, and in turn become more grateful themselves. The opposite effect is true for ungrateful leaders: they are hard to deal with. People avoid them and have no desire to know them. Ingratitude spreads like a disease, causing the culture to grow toxic.
Growing Your Internal Gratitude
No question, gratitude is a perspective that forms your mindset and world view. These act as valuable foundations for a positive, value-based life, both corporately and personally. This benefits the people around you as well. But how can you grow this trait within you? How can the seeds of gratitude get planted in your mind?
A fundamental approach is to take stock of what you’ve been given: what skills you’ve acquired, what opportunities came your way, what successes you’ve enjoyed and what people have made your life better. In other words, deciding to focus on the positive aspects of your life is a primary step to being thankful.
Appreciate the small things you have, the little gains that could have benefitted someone else, but came your way. Everyone’s life can be a celebration of positive things. It’s a choice. Take a look back in time and revisit the journey you’ve been on and see how far you’ve come. Isn’t that worth being thankful? When stress rises think of those things you’re thankful for and foster a better perspective.
Recognizing the relative nature of things can also help develop a spirit of gratitude. You likely know of people who are burdened by things that don’t affect you. There are always tougher stories out there. Being thankful for what you don’t have to deal with can complement the thankfulness for the good things you have.
To keep you on the right track, surround yourself with people that can lift your spirits. These are most likely other grateful people. You’ll be surprised how sufficiently their gratitude wears off on you. An executive coach can put you on the right path and encourage you along the way, helping you to train your brain to lean to the positive side of things.
Building a Culture of Gratitude
Since all leaders mold their culture one way or another, a grateful leader influences their people in ways that demonstrate the benefits of thankfulness. People see the difference and they like it, wanting more of it. Work life becomes more enjoyable and rewarding. Leading by example is the most powerful means to prompt a better environment, as your people take on the culture-enhancing aspects of your gratitude.
Noted author and coach DeLores Pressley puts it simply in Smart Business Magazine, authenticity is the best way to make an impression. Phony gratitude is noticeable. Showing your staff that you’re thankful for them is a significant demonstration of gratitude. People who feel valued return the sentiment.
To solidify this theme, leaders who make it a habit to thank their people build a culture of mutual appreciation and emulation. Find ways to reach out to them and add value with thanks, appreciation, congratulations for accomplishments and helpfulness. Giving them your best, with your time and your skills, tells them you’re grateful for having them on your staff.
Leaders who point to the positives in everyday activities reveal a grateful spirit. Of course, there are negative issues in every organization, and lamenting with grumbling or resentment drags everyone down. However, emphasizing a focus on positive solutions or valued lessons learned draws out thankfulness in everyone. Building on positives enhances the opportunities for more, and it unites people in a common, worthy cause. That’s worth being thankful for, too.
Believing in your leadership abilities and the skills of your people, giving them grace when they err and support when they succeed, crafts a positive and grateful culture that has no limits. Make it your example and your expectation that a positive, thankful mindset is what your organization needs in order to prosper. Certainly no one will object to that.
Posted on May 7, 2019
This article points out the key ways to use strengths, and how we often overuse key strengths. A study is cited on how often managers can overuse signature strength or, as Melinda Gates is quoted as saying: “Often our greatest weaknesses are the other side our strengths.”
From The New York Times:
How Your Strengths Can Sometimes Become Weaknesses
Instead of striving to use your strengths more often, aim to use them more wisely.
Posted on March 6, 2019
The more I read about leadership, self-development and thriving, writing, and finding work-life balance…the more I find this concept of carving out time to quiet. Our biggest thinkers, innovators, and creators, whether past or present, all agree…take time for quiet reflection and calming oneself.
Posted on February 25, 2019
Given the financial and societal impact of global business, there’s an urgent need to understand leaders’ personalities. If we fail to appreciate how personality influences strategic decisions, we risk selecting leaders who are incapable of setting an organization’s direction.
We are in the midst of great social, economic, scientific and political change. Intelligent approaches count more than ever if we’re to build sustainable results in rapidly changing, complex markets. The way we choose strategic plans is influenced by leaders’ personality, priorities and worldview.
Today’s leaders must excel at managing globalization’s systemic challenges. There’s no such thing as economic or political insularity. Every society’s problems affect the international community.
There’s no going back. Business cannot return to the leadership that was effective decades ago. If we’re to move forward, leaders must strive for economic success and the well-being of workers, customers and the environment.
Across the globe there’s growing political unrest, terrorism, climate change, economic disparities among nations and health-care needs for an aging population. If these issues aren’t sufficiently daunting, companies are dealing with continuous invention and experimentation. There’s a technology surplus today; we have invented much more than practical applications require.
The next 20 years will see radical advances in nanotechnology, genomics and gene therapy, robotics, artificial intelligence, bioscience, bioengineered agriculture, environmental and energy research, and medicine. Will our organizations’ leaders rise to meet the challenges?
For progress to occur in nondestructive ways, we need strong, visionary leaders who can unleash the power of emerging technologies and manage global diversity for the benefit of the common good.
But the way we’ve chosen leaders over the last 50 years may not serve us well in coming decades. We used to be a manufacturing society, with leaders who excelled at processes that could be replicated, measured and improved. Operations were key to success, and leaders tended to be obsessive, “by the book,” and conservative. They preserved order and maintained company values.
In contrast, 75% of today’s employees provide services. They’re knowledge workers who perform mental tasks instead of assembling product parts. Companies need leaders who can engage the workforce, manage people, and inspire collaboration and innovation.
Why Personality Type Matters
Evaluation of leadership personality types is an essential part of the selection process for CEO’s and top executives. Most of us intuitively recognize different personality types. We routinely notice personality quirks in coworkers that baffle us, challenging our responses and relationships.
Personality typing is not an intellectual pursuit for psychologists, nor a parlor game that helps us get along with others. Leaders in charge of developing business strategies set priorities based on their personality type and innate drives.
Many popular assessment tools reveal personality preference, including the Myers-Briggs Indicator, DISC personal assessment tool and 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire. Each is useful, yet few of us have a precise understanding of what they divulge.
Leadership selection can no longer be based solely on one’s prior experience or successes. Yesterday’s challenges (productivity, profit, efficiency) remain critical, but today’s leaders must also grapple with new technologies, global diversity, and political and environmental instability.
Basic Personality Types
Freud pioneered our understanding of human nature with his classification of three personality types: erotic, obsessive and narcissistic. One of his students, psychologist Erich Fromm, added a fourth type: the marketing personality.
These terms are somewhat misleading because of their negative connotations. The four types are classified according to what drives people and how they achieve a sense of security.
“Erotics” (not a sexual term) are driven by love, a need to care for others and, in return, be loved and appreciated. These individuals are relationship-oriented. Some management theorists call this personality type “enabling,” while others name it “amiable,” “diplomatic,” “supportive” or “compliant.” Erotics are often found in education, social services and health care, but they exist in every field. When they are most productive, they bring people together, making connections and facilitating collaboration. They seldom turn down a favor or someone in need. The downside to this personality is codependency and indecisiveness.
“Obsessives” are driven by a need for security, consistency, rules and logical order. You’ll spot them in every field—especially government bureaucracies, engineering firms, and law and financial offices. As leaders, they focus on operations, details and numbers. They’re often called “analytical,” “detail oriented” or “numbers people.” Obsessives are guided by rules set by some higher authority (a father figure, strict conscience or “the way things have always been done”). Most middle managers and some top executives are obsessives, especially CFO’s, COO’s and some CEO’s. The most productive obsessives are viewed as “systematic” or ”analytical.”
Obsessives often hold the Number 2 position to a narcissistic CEO—an unbeatable combination of narcissistic vision and obsessive implementation. The problems associated with the obsessive personality type are well known:
- They become mired in details and rules.
- They lose sight of overall goals.
- They’re more concerned with doing things “the right way” than doing the right thing.
- They may become control freaks and/or micromanagers.
- They resist change to the point of obsolescence.
- They can be rigid, judgmental and cheap.
- They insist on being right.
The “marketing personality” describes people who, as the name implies, adapt to the market’s demands. They’re driven by the need to be accepted and fit into society. They sense what the market wants and needs, and they conform to it. They align themselves with key people, thrive on change and seek others’ approval. Most of us adopt some of these aspects to survive in today’s volatile workplace. The biggest challenge with marketing types is their lack of a firm center and continual anxiety. They favor style over substance, spend a lot of energy selling themselves or chasing the next shiny thing, and may be incapable of fully committing to anything or anyone.
“Narcissists” are driven by the need to be unique, express their creativity and achieve greatness, and they’re readily spotted in leadership positions. The term carries a negative connotation, but it was originally meant to be descriptive (neither good nor bad). A narcissist can be productive (or not) and moral (or not). We often misuse the term, applying it to leaders who are egocentric, greedy, self-aggrandizing, and of little benefit to their organizations and colleagues. A productive narcissist may be viewed as a visionary leader.
Narcissists’ need to achieve greatness overrides everything else. They seldom listen to others and often show little interest in their coworkers (except for those who can help them get what they want). Few social controls are built into their mental model of how the world works. They aren’t worried about conscience or losing others’ love or respect, and they don’t bend to peer pressure or what the public wants.
The narcissist has few internal demands to do the right thing. He answers to himself as to what is right, decides what he values and determines what gives him a sense of meaning.
While the other personality types are deeply motivated to do whatever it takes to maintain their sense of security, narcissists never garner security from relationships or skills. Rather, they recruit people to join them in their worldview.
There’s a case to be made for narcissistic CEOs who can lead companies to greatness, inspire followers and achieve game-changing solutions in our rapidly changing world.
“It is narcissistic leaders who take us to places we’ve never been before, who innovate, who build empires out of nothing.” ~ Michael Maccoby, Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Crown Business, 2012).
The Productive Personality Types
All personality types have positive and negative potentials that can be described in terms of two hierarchies: productiveness and moral reasoning.
Productive vs. Nonproductive: Productive individuals are healthier than less developed, or even disturbed, personalities. A productive person is active and enthusiastic—someone who bounces back from failure and perseveres to achieve a reasoned purpose.
In contrast, unproductive people are less free and more reactive. They lack a clear purpose and are driven by addictive needs that make them fearful and dependent.
Moral Reasoning: Higher levels of moral reasoning don’t guarantee that actions will always have their intended benefits; however, we want leaders who seek to achieve a common good, not just feather their own nests.
While morally developed people are almost always productive, there are active, enthusiastic, productive people who cut corners (or worse) and score poorly on the moral-reasoning scale. In other words, being productive doesn’t necessarily mean being good.
Narcissistic or Visionary Leadership?
By creating a vision others can follow, narcissists gain personal security and overcome isolation. This is what motivates them to be captivating, inspirational, charming and seductive.
History and business have witnessed legions of successful, productive narcissists who led their organizations to great success: Napoleon, Rockefeller, Roosevelt and Churchill. In the last 20 years, we’ve enjoyed radical advances from companies led by productive narcissists like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey.
Many companies, even those known for innovation, don’t want to hire narcissists who are visionary. No matter how much their leaders boast of encouraging independent thinking and creativity, many have little tolerance for true originals or mavericks. They prefer the obsessive leader who is driven to please and enforces company rules.
Productive narcissists want to create new paradigms that change the way we live and work. Conversely, obsessive business leaders excel at cutting costs, culling nonperformers from the pack, and implementing the right processes and systems. Which is the better leadership personality type for the future?
The answer, of course, depends on context. At this time in history, we need creative energy and passion more than ever before.
What apparently differentiates the more successful visionary leaders from the failures (besides moral reasoning) is strategic intelligence, which is why leadership personality matters.
Leaders in charge of developing business strategies set priorities based on their personality type and innate drives. Selecting future leaders cannot be based on one’s prior experience or successes without including assessment of leadership personality.
“All people, especially leaders, need a healthy dose of narcissism…it’s the engine that drives leadership.” ~ Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries
Posted on February 19, 2019
Like all maturing adults, leaders progress through sequential developmental levels. At the higher stages, they become more successful. With increased effectiveness, there’s a 38% probability of seeing higher business performance, according to one study.
The increasingly complex and chaotic marketplace poses an urgent need to grow better leaders. Leaders remain confused, however, about how to strengthen their competencies.
Rather than focusing on training, skills and knowledge, developmental-stage theory involves expanding one’s “forms of mind,” defined by leadership coach Jennifer Garvey Berger as our changing capacity to cope with complexity, multiple perspectives and abstraction.
Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, authors of Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015), applied developmental-stage theory to create the Leadership Circle Profile, a 360°assessment tool that measures leaders’ developmental stages.
Similarly, William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs use developmental-stages as the foundation for Leadership Agility 360°, their 360° assessment tool, in Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change (Jossey-Bass 2007).
By identifying stages of progressive development, we can use behavioral action plans and coaching to expand a leader’s forms of mind and modify behavior.
Foundations of Developmental Theory
Developmental theories have been around for decades, based on 50 years of psychological research into how adults mature. The basics are summarized here:
- Just as children improve their cognitive capacities with age, so do adults.
- Adults, however, develop according to needs and opportunities, not because of age.
- Some adults can function only at lower levels of development. A small percentage attains higher levels of awareness, wisdom and compassion.
- As leaders progress through developmental levels, they expand their mental and emotional capacities and become increasingly skilled at handling complexity.
- Each stage describes a form of mind: a way of thinking about responsibility, conflicts, perspective and assumptions (about self, others and the world).
- Leaders may operate partially at one stage and occasionally at the next, but return to old habits before transitioning.
- Transitioning requires changing one’s previous assumptions to expand consciousness.
5 Levels of Leadership
The following table explains how four leadership experts define levels of leadership behaviors and mindsets. Unfortunately, there is no uniform agreement on vocabulary, which has created a confusing array of names and definitions.
(Please note: The rows of stages aren’t equal; that is, while there may be some similarities, the stages are not defined as equivalent to others across the rows.)
Using a broad brush, we can summarize the various stages of leadership development as follows:
- Level 1: Leaders who operate at the first stage of development are focused on their own need to excel, which explains why it’s referred to as an Egocentric, Opportunist or Expert stage. These leaders are acutely aware of what they need to do to succeed and how they must be perceived by others. Leadership at Level 1 therefore tends to be autocratic and controlling. Growth requires one to become aware of, and interested in, other people’s needs and to reach out co-relationally. This is a normal developmental stage for young adults, but ineffective for leaders (although 5% appear to operate at this stage).
- Level 2: Leaders’ abilities to simultaneously respond to their personal needs and those of others is the hallmark of Stage 2, referred to as the Socialized or Reactive mindset by some, and the Diplomat or Achiever stage by others. At this stage, a leader plays by the organization’s rules and expectations and builds alliances, but with a focus on how to best get ahead. One’s emphasis is on the outer game to gain meaning, self-worth and security. At this stage, identity is defined from the outside-in and requires external validation in one of three ways: relationship strength, intellect or results. Leaders fall into three categories at Level 2: Complying, Protecting or Controlling (reflecting overdependence on heart, head or will). Most leaders (nearly 75%, as with most adults) operate at this level.
- Level 3: Referred to as the Creative, Self-Authoring, Individualist or Catalyst stage, Level 3 is marked by personal transformation from old assumptions/beliefs and a quest for external validation to a more authentic version of the self. These leaders want to know who they truly are and what they care most about. They’re on a path to becoming visionary leaders, accepting that authenticity carries a risk of disappointing others, potential failures and hazards associated with contradicting accepted norms. Leaders trade their need to be admired for a higher purpose. They don’t feel the need to be the hero and begin to share power. About 20% of leaders operate with a Level 3 mindset.
- Level 4: Called the Integral, Transforming Self, Strategist and Co-Creator stage, Level 4’s hallmark is one’s ability to focus not only on an organizational vision, but the welfare of the larger system in which a company operates. Servant leadership emerges, as one considers more interdependent components and systemic complexities.
- Level 5: Level 5 is referred to as Unitive, Alchemist and Synergist. Other stages of development may be unexplored, as very few leaders grow past the fourth level. To some theorists, Level 5 encompasses a spiritual focus.
As leaders progress from one level to the next, they expand your strengths and abilities. Leaders can grow into the next developmental stage, recognizing there will be a learning curve and inherent challenges.
Leadership development programs must take developmental stages into account if organizations are to grow better leaders.
Benjamin Franklin built his character around 13 virtues — and following his weekly plan could change your life
Posted on January 19, 2018
When I start to work with a client, I ask them to define what their values/virtues and strengths are — taking the VIA strengths survey helps to determine them. Then I ask them to rate their top 6 values each day on a scale of 1 -10. This exercise was also practiced by one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. Read this article on how esteemed Mr. Franklin defined his values and then contemplated each day how he used them. How many years later and we are still talking about Ben? I would say his method of defining his virtues and living them out served him well … and us.
Posted on June 12, 2017
The Stoics were those Roman and Greek philosophers who flourished in and around the 3rd Century. The Stoic philosophers promtoed ways to manage one’s minds to have a better understanding of the natural world, to be open to a broader view of life beyond pleasure and pain and, to treat others in a fair and just way.
Sounds like a great formula for team work? Yes, and we can also learn a lot from the Stoics about choosing the right actions and priorities which can aid our productive habits. Read on about tips regarding how we think about our time and effort can lead to being more productive, ultimately leading to contributing your talents most effectively.
Posted on May 11, 2017
Many leaders are unaware of how their lack of authenticity chips away at people, breeding dissatisfaction, distrust and disloyalty. Organizational effectiveness and productivity suffer when workers view leaders as inauthentic.
One out of three people distrusts his or her employer, according to the 2017 Edelman “Trust Barometer.” Four out of five don’t see authenticity in their leaders’ performance. When only 20 percent of leaders come across as genuine, they handicap their organizations with insufficient influence, poor worker engagement and, ultimately, disappointing corporate results.
The Real Deal
Authenticity is an emotionally vital state of well-being for employees—one that heavily relies on a leader’s consistent true-ness, explains consultant Karissa Thacker in The Art of Authenticity (Wiley, 2016). Being authentic encompasses several other key leadership mandates:
1. Be self-aware.
2. Earn respect.
4. Convey credibility.
5. Earn trust.
Great leaders know themselves well, notes Brenda Ellington Booth, a clinical professor of management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.
When you recognize your limitations and weaknesses, you can openly admit to them, learn to compensate and find workable solutions. Focusing on self-improvement, with an emphasis on asking others to assist you, is as authentic as it gets.
Leaders who fully understand and express their vision are clearer about promoting it—and more successful in getting others to believe in it.
Being respected begins with showing respect to others, both upline and downline in your organization. Model respect for everyone to imitate, and it will be contagious.
The phrase “leading by example” is more than a suggestion. Leaders who model the behavior they want their organizations to exhibit make the most effective strides in establishing a healthy culture. Employees respect leaders who walk the talk.
Humility, expressed as a willingness to listen to and learn from others, is one of the most effective ways to earn respect, asserts leadership coach Brent Gleeson in his Inc.com article, “7 Simple Ways to Lead by Example.” Authentic leaders recognize they don’t have all the answers, and probably never will. Soliciting others’ ideas showers them with affirmation.
Sincere leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. A genuine, relational approach to people shows them they’re valued, Booth notes. When they see a leader who’s interested in them, they’ll reciprocate, which fuels engagement and productivity.
Relationships ascend to the next level when you seek feedback from your staff, especially regarding how they’re being managed. Your willingness to listen demonstrates an authentic sense of vulnerability that reveals courage, candor and caring.
People don’t believe leaders who exhibit questionable behavior. Being true, inwardly and outwardly, avoids this potential pitfall.
Trueness to oneself is the most basic form of genuineness, which aligns with authenticity. Be the real you. Faking things is deceptive and eventually evident to all. People aren’t fooled for long. They’ll question and distrust inconsistencies. Being true to yourself requires healthy self-awareness and self-worth. Who you are is the person people will see, and it’s the noble character in you they want to see.
Consistency in trueness builds credibility. People know who they’ll face day in and day out, through good and tough times. Great leaders have trained themselves to proactively discern the high road and take it, with honorable motives.
Honesty shouldn’t be the best policy; it should be the only policy. Leaders caught in a lie inflict damage to themselves and those around them.
Exercise judgment when truth must be guarded. Confidentiality is required for credibility. Sensitive, personal or private information must be handled carefully and discreetly. Don’t jump to conclusions or make decisions based on assumptions or rumors. Once inappropriate things are said or misinformation falls into the wrong hands, it cannot be retracted.
Establishing a system of personal checks and balances conveys the importance of accountability. Submitting to the authority of peers or top leaders helps assure people that the decisions governing them can be trusted as prudent and beneficial for everyone (catering to their inward need for safety and assurance).
When you accept blame for errors and give credit for victories, you’re demonstrating accountability and setting the stage for greater trust. Your actions place value on the most appropriate people: those doing the work. Without your people, you accomplish nothing, so be sure to express appreciation. You’ll be rewarded with their trust.
The greatest leaders give their people the most freedom possible to make decisions, pushing authority down to the most foundational level. This is a powerful sign of trust in staff, and it is returned with something just as powerful: trust in the leader. Employees free from overcontrol and micromanaging acquire a sense of empowerment that raises productivity and innovation.
Finally, authentic leaders are flexible. They adapt to shifting situations and go off script if needed, always keeping in mind their people’s well-being. Sticking to routines or insisting on preferences shows inflexibility, which is usually self-serving. Your willingness to change plans in response to a challenge or crisis, with authentic good judgment, is a sign of your trustworthiness.
You owe it to yourself and your people to continually refine your character and insights, as well as think and respond in credible, authentic ways. Work toward making effective decisions and powerful impressions that draw your people into an engaging and productive unity you never thought possible. Let an experienced leadership coach assist with the areas that challenge you the most.