What’s Your Leadership Level?

Developmental theories have been around for decades, based on 50 years of psychological research into how adults mature. But how do these developmental stages apply to leaders? How do leaders grow into more effective levels of maturity, wisdom, and agility?

Organizational psychologists have since applied the basic tenets of developmental theory to leadership development. Their conclusions are summarized here:

  1. Just as children improve their cognitive capacities with age, so do adults.
  2. Adults, however, develop according to needs and opportunities, not because of age.
  3. Not all adults progress through all stages.
  4. Some adults can function only at lower levels of development. Only a small percentage attain higher levels of awareness, wisdom, and compassion.
  5. As leaders progress through developmental levels, they expand their mental and emotional capacities and become increasingly skilled at handling complexity.
  6. Each stage describes a form of mind: a way of thinking about responsibility, conflicts, perspective, and assumptions about one’s self, others, and the world.
  7. Leaders may operate partially at one level and occasionally on the next, but will return to old habits before transitioning.
  8. Transitioning requires changing one’s previous assumptions to expand consciousness.
  9. Leaders who function at higher developmental stages produce significantly improved business results.
  10. Knowing a leader’s developmental level, coupled with behavioral action plans and coaching, provides a measure of competitive advantage or disadvantage.

Levels of Leadership

The following table shows how four leadership experts define the 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 rows.)

Although there are different names for the leadership stages, they each describe progressive development of leadership effectiveness that shows correlation with business performance. In my next post, I’ll describe more about these stages.

How are leaders being developed in your organization? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn..