The organising of the successful London Olympics didn’t rely on only a single ‘elegant’ approach, but instead offered us an inspiring and vivid example of a multi-faceted, or ‘clumsy’, approach – so argued RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor in his annual lecture on 12th September (and accompanying article in RSA Journal).
This ‘clumsy’ approach successfully integrated the solidarity of national pride, the hierarchical leadership of the organising committee and the amazing efforts of individual sportspeople.
A key point Matthew Taylor makes - drawing on a model called ‘Cultural Theory’ - is that the solutions which offer exactly this kind of integration of the competing rationalities - egalitarianism, individualism and hierarchy - are particularly necessary when dealing with the ‘Wicked’ problems of our age.
For Cultural Theory, any successful solution to pressing social ills must ‘consist of creative and flexible combinations of these different ways of organising, perceiving and justifying social relations’, these multiple rationalities.
Currently ‘we’re not developing the kind of solutions that mobilise these [three] forms of social power’, Matthew Taylor told a packed Great Room at the Royal Society of Arts.
‘Organisations don’t mobilise those three sources of power’ - ‘we come up with feeble solutions to big problems’, he said.
Cultural Theory tells us that ‘A clumsy solution... is not a compromise; still less a consensus. Rather it emerges from a messy, noisy argumentative process; a constructive engagement between the three 'active' ways of organising: hierarchy, individualism and egalitarianism'.
For Matthew Taylor, the Olympics therefore offers us just ‘a glimpse of the alignment of forces that could enable significant progress in tackling “Wicked” issues’ - which might include climate change, our ageing population, social injustice and international drug trafficking.
This Cultural Theory approach - propounded by Matthew Taylor - certainly feels intuitively right to me: ‘all the “voices” heard, and responded to by the others’.
And this ‘clumsy’ thinking should impact government policy too: ‘It is therefore important that all the ways of life be taken some sort of account in the policy process’, says Cultural Theory.
This is all well and good - but is there any likelihood that we will move from today’s failing ‘elegant’ policies – and ‘elegant’ leadership - to the ‘clumsy’ leadership, that offers us the hope of something new and more encompassing (and Cultural Theorists argue has already proved its worth in relation to many social issues)?
That what I will start to investigate in this blog post....
How much ‘Clumsy’ leadership is there currently in society?
Whilst Cultural Theory offers an appealing theoretical lens on leadership, I’ve not yet seen it delve into the empirical question of how much of this ‘Clumsy’ leadership actually exists out in the real world - in organisations, in political parties, in NGOs etc.
But I think there might be a way round that impasse. (Let me know if I’m wrong!).
There are types of leadership - described in other theoretical traditions - which seem to me close to indistinguishable from this ‘Clumsy’ leadership. If we pick a model of leadership that does include a credible leadership assessment tool, that has been doing empirical research for many decades, then we might be able to determine the current prevalence of ‘Clumsy’ leaders.
There are various statements of Cultural Theory’s credo that seem particularly clear about what ‘Clumsy’ leadership looks like.
The form of the self - the form of leadership - that statements like these seem so closely aligned with is the ‘Self-transforming mind’ (or ‘Postmodern mind’) found in Harvard Professor Robert Kegan’s model of adult psychological growth. (NB After numerous studies tracking many individuals, the impression developmental psychologist Jean Piaget left us – of significant psychological growth ending around the age of 18 - has been proven to be very wide of the mark.)
In Kegan’s research, the characteristics he found of the Self-transforming/Postmodern mind were that it asks one to win some distance from one’s own internal authority/inner compass or ideology, to be no longer captive of them, so becoming less invested in one’s own point of view. Instead, it examines issues from multiple points of view and sees where seemingly opposite perspectives overlap, becoming friendlier towards contradiction and incompleteness – and even able to embrace contradictory systems simultaneously. It’s also strategic - and can understand and manage tremendous amounts of complexity. Its decisions are based on the common good for organisations and society.
I’m going to begin by mentioning two things that rather give the game away about how common this ‘Self-transforming’ mind will turn out to be.
Firstly, Matthew Taylor - in his 2010 annual lecture (and accompanying pamphlet Twenty-first Century Enlightenment wrote that “In a 2002 overview of survey evidence for the OECD, Kegan concluded than only one in five people across the world have achieved the competencies necessary for what he termed a ‘modernist’ or self-authoring order of consciousness.”
So, less than 20% have reached Kegan’s Self-authoring (Modernist) mind, which is the major milestone in development before the Self-transforming/Postmodernist mind becomes possible. (This Self-authoring mind itself is hugely important in its own right, and the RSA report I co-authored with two RSA colleagues earlier this year - Beyond the Big Society - Psychological Foundations of Active Citizenship - uncovered how Self-authorship is a vital foundation required for enduring ‘active citizenship’. See my blog post about the report ‘How to understand the psychology of active citizenship’ - which includes a description of Robert Kegan’s stages of adult psychological maturation).
The self-transforming mind is also - and this is the second point - the final stage that Kegan’s interview-based assessment process has yet been able to uncover in people’s psychological development.
You should by now have spotted what I’ve spotted, the Self-transforming mind - which is just another name for the ‘Clumsy’ mind, and the foundation for Clumsy leadership - is not going to turn out to be very common at all.
A quick poke around Prof Kegan’s research shows that less than 1% of people have a fully Self-transforming mind. Better news is that 6 or 7% of people are in the half-way stage between Self-authoring and Self-transforming. (I’m taking these figures from Kegan’s book ‘Immunity to Change’ - which includes a helpful condensed overview of his adult development research and its close relationship to leadership).
So, the key question becomes: how can we increase this 1% of ‘Clumsy’ leaders?
Does varying psychological capacity put a cap on the spread of the ‘Clumsy’ leadership that we would like to see?
Yep, I suspect that will be the case.
Take a quick look at what happened with the similarly innovative ‘systems thinking’ approach to creating successful government policy.
When Jake Chapman FRSA wrote his influential booklet – ‘Systems Failure – Why Governments Must Learn to Think Differently’ – he was invited to give numerous presentations across Whitehall and beyond.
“The result was universally the same: real interest in the ideas and their potential, and no willingness to adopt or try any of the ideas or tools in practice,” he says.
We can have a pretty good stab at the hidden reasons why Jake’s transformational systems thinking didn’t take off – despite the seeming wide interest.
Jake’s work supporting the development of High Potential Development group (top civil servants) found that the delivery-focused ‘Achiever’ action logic was prevalent amongst them, in other words Prof. Kegan’s Self-authoring/Modernist mind. There was a strong opinion that imaginative ‘big thinking’ was not a priority.
Yet the only people who went on to actually use any of the innovative systems-focused approaches were those few civil servants who were strongly motivated by later - ie post-conventional - ways of knowing (including the ‘Self-transforming mind).
I suspect that Cultural Theory-based approaches might well hit that same brick wall. (Unless they get a fair bit wiser to understanding the varying capacity of leaders for ‘clumsy’ thinking, and how to boost it).
Another example of an approach to organisational development that might well require this - fairly rare - ‘Self-transforming’ mind is Chris Argyris’ Action Science (which aims for a shift from command-and-control and defensive thinking in organisations to a mutual learning approach). Though Argyris himself appears non-plussed by such arguments, the leading practitioners of his approach seem to admit that Kegan’s Self-transforming mind is the psychological capacity that is required (see ‘Robert Kegan’s Developmental Perspective’).
Our situation is not hopeless: the capacity for ‘clumsy’ leadership can be successfully increased (but will it take the 16 years it took Jonathan Haidt?)
I’m under no - well, few - illusions about how difficult it is to change a person’s rationality, their ‘way of knowing’.
It’s illuminating and fascinating to see the turning-points that led Jonathan Haidt – author of The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Re... - into a new worldview that fully embraced plural rationalities.
“My own intellectual life narrative has had two turning points”, Jonathan shares with us - calling them “a kind of awakening”.
The first was in 1993, when it fully came home to him that there are multiple - equally valid - moral foundations (ie same core insight as Cultural Theory/Matthew Taylor, even if his way of labelling it is different).
“Our minds contain a toolbox of psychological systems, including the six moral foundations”, says Haidt.
“I began to see that many moral matrices coexist within each nation,” he tells us.
Yet a merely theoretical acceptance of multiplicity, of plural rationalities, as a concept seems to come long before Haidt’s day-to-day behaviours, experiences and motivations change. These aren’t transformed until a second turning point - in 2009 - when he evolves from a fairly standard liberal, Obama-fan, view to a truly post-partisan outlook.
“I had escaped from my prior partisan mind-set (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later)”, Haidt realised - “I was no longer on the defensive”.
“It felt good to be released from partisan anger”, he adds.
He found that he could begin to “think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society”.
It appears, from Haidt’s experience, that we might all be able to espouse things theoretically, long before we really live them experientially - a gap of around 16 years in his case.
At the outset of the article based on his annual lecture, Matthew Taylor writes: ‘Most of us would like to live in a more caring, social just, economically dynamic and environmentally responsible country’.
Does this have a ‘clumsy’ appeal to all the plural rationalities?
Research into UK public attitudes by the Values Modes research organisation Cultural Dynamics has found that - except for ‘economically dynamic’ - the topics in this statement are all very appealing to the ‘Inner-directed Pioneer’ segment of the population (closest to Cultural Theory’s Egalitarianism) - but far less so to the two other major segments of the UK population: ‘Sustenance-driven Settlers’ and ‘Outer-directed Prospectors’ (which correspond pretty closely to Cultural Theory’s Hierarchical and Individualist rationalities).
How to increase the capacity for Clumsy leadership?
The RSA report Beyond the Big Society - Psychological Foundations of Active Citizenship mentions a few rather different examples of interventions that helped people’s ways of knowing to change and grow. It highlights a transformational interdisciplinary curriculum (on earth sustainability) at one US college that successfully fostered psychological growth in students – compared to a control group on a traditional curriculum.
Only those students on the transformational curriculum reached the stage of ‘independent knowing’, with other students remaining at developmentally prior levels as ‘absolutist’ or ‘relativist’ knowers, to use the terms developed by William Perry, a pioneer in student development research. (This finding is particularly relevant to the Big Society because those students who progressed developmentally were twice as likely to take on extracurricular ‘service’ projects, and three times as likely to take on leadership positions in community service organisations – as a control group.)
Prof Jake Chapman FRSA has found similarly positive empirical outcomes emerging in his work training public sector leaders at the National School of Government. And a 2004 Australian study found significant change in participants’ developmental stages after a 10-week transformational course, compared to a control group.
Moreover, in the Caribbean nation of Curacao, the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, a major developmental levels intervention - with the support of business and political parties - was organised after the country’s capital was hit by rioting due to industrial conflict. Research – including 5,000 developmental diversity assessments – concluded that 'it is indeed possible to restart and even accelerate the maturation process in individuals, organisations and societies'. The project’s chief organiser – Harvard’s Dr Harry Lasker – also found that screening to gauge developmental diversity 'was an effective way to tailor training content to individual characteristics'.
These are the tip of iceberg - there has been decades of work in areas like developmental curricula, along with such initiatives as Lawrence Kohlberg’s ‘Just Communities’ to support moral development in prisons and schools.
If we help leaders to change - will they then just leave our organisations...?
Adult developmental researchers, coaches, and others have discerned an all-too-common pattern of individuals (leaders) who are on the way to a Self-transforming form of mind finding organisations ‘the wrong context for their work lives’.
‘Even if we support people to grow, they leave organisations before the organisation can get the full benefit of the self-transforming [clumsy!] mind’, writes Jennifer Garvey Berger in her 2012 book ‘Changing on the Job - Developing Leaders for a Complex World’: ‘they find organisations too constraining - and they leave’.
Jennifer adds: ‘It is my strong opinion, though, that as organisations become more powerful and more global, and as threats to our planet become too large for any group or organisation to manage, we will require people with self-transforming minds to be in leadership positions. Such leaders can look beyond their own reputations and their own needs - even their own need to see their vision realised - and hold on to a more connected, global sense of the world’.
In the Curaçao example mentioned above, the training helped many people to move from a mentality focused around hierarchy and fate to one based around achievement and self-authoring one’s own destiny. But once those people went back to their jobs, many of them quit: ‘The organsiation’s top management had requested achievement-motivated workers, but when it got them, the existing organisational structure would not allow achievement-motivated behaviour’, writes Victor Pinedo in Tsunami - Building Organisations Capable of Prospering in Tidal Waves (2004).
It’s often a similar story when residents are asked to engage with their local authority in transforming services - the local bureaucracies aren’t really set up to work with creative and engaged citizens.
(NB I suppose I ought to mention somewhere in this complicated explanation I’m giving that the emerging, latest stages in adult development are characterised by the ability to abstain from automatically trying to explain everything. Now back to my all-encompassing explanation...).
Next steps? Some potential roles for Matthew Taylor’s RSA
If we imagine for a moment that I’m right in the argument I’m making that a kind of integrative ‘Clumsy’ leadership is necessary to deal with ‘Wicked’ issues, and that it is founded on the rare ‘Self-transforming’ stage of adult maturation - then here are some initial ideas for next steps:
Eg across the UK, in organisations, in different professions, in Government depts, in No. 10 Downing Street, in the RSA...
How many have successfully fostered development to the Socialised (traditional) stage, how many to the Self-authoring (modern) stage, how many to the Self-transforming - Clumsy - stage? Which ones appear valid and replicable? Could we help any to become widespread?
A toolkit to help active citizens to uncover how each of the three Cultural Theory rationalities would view any issue, followed by guidance on how to mesh them together to build a powerful and sustainable ‘Clumsy’ solution. (NB Cultural Theory sometimes adds in Fatalism and the Hermit as additional rationalities).
An excellent - though, of course, challengeable - Cultural Theory paper by Steven Ney and Marco Verweij is titled Messy Institutions for Wicked Problems: How to Generate Clumsy Solu.... It looks at a number of approaches to collaboration, strategising and decision-making in organisations to see which ones are most ‘Clumsy’/’Messy’(ie does it honour the 4 or 5 Cultural Theory lenses?).
Candidate approaches researched include Open Space, Soft Systems Methodology, Citizen’s Juries, Bohm Dialogues, Future Search, Wisdom Circles and the Learning Organisation. (It assesses 19 in all).
The most Clumsy/Messy - and potentially Self-transforming - is Future Search, with others like Design Thinking and 21st Century Town Meetings coming close too. Bohm Dialogue, Learning Organisation and Open Space are some of the approaches that only honour one of the rationalities, and so are far from integrative and ‘Clumsy’. (I’m not the only one who might quibble with some of this - but it’s a great step forward to scan the current tools being used in organisations, from NGOs to corporations, and to analyse which are most integrative/Clumsy).
Use Ney and Verweij’s assessment approach - above - but apply it to proposed Government policies.
Another angle on this might be to undertake a before and after adult developmental stage assessment, to see if policies are fostering the growth of ‘Self-authoring’ minds (as the OECD said was so important in the 21st century - see Beyond the Big Society) or Self-transforming minds.
- Cultural Theory’s plural rationalities
- Jonathan Haidt’s moral matrices
- Prof Robert Kegan’s ways of knowing
- Prof Clare Graves/Spiral Dynamics’ ‘Value memes’
- Mark Williams’ ‘10 Lenses’ (actually there are really 11, as he has a clumsy/integrative one too).
- Pat Dade’s 12 ‘Values Modes’ (with its three Maslowian top-level categories of ‘Sustenance Driven’, ‘Outer Directed’ and ‘Inner Directed’)
- Torbert/Loevinger/Cook-Greuter ‘Action Logics’/Ego stages
- Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral stages
- Ken Wilber’s integral approach (though this is an integration, rather than a single model)
(And potentially many others too: Michael Commons, William Perry, Belenky et al, Hall-Tonna, Richard Barrett, King and Kitchener, Marcia Baxter Magolda etc).
I don’t think any publication like this has been attempted before - and it could be very helpful indeed to policy-makers - offering some really fresh thinking on ‘Wicked’ issues.
I suspect that none of these models of plural rationalities will reach a tipping point on their own - but brought together, anything could happen. And bringing the models more closely into some kind of conversation might encourage their own growth into the Self-transforming space.
I even had a first stab at a name for such a publication: ‘Difference is beautiful – crafting policies as if plural rationalities mattered’. Sounds a bi like some kind of unpretty postmodern heap though...
A - the? - leading proponent of Cultural Theory, Michael Thompson FRSA, is broadly supportive of the the RSA putting together a publication like this, suggesting the rather neat title ‘Are You a Clumsy Fellow?’ for it.
A new ‘Clumsy’ leaders network might help, and I’m sure Jennifer Garvey Berger isn’t the only person who’s thought about how to support Self-transforming/clumsy individuals so that they don’t leave their organisations - where their input could be unique and valuable. (This might make a good topic for a research project). The idea that organisational culture often acts as a sorting mechanism to drive away the very people who might be able to succeed with ‘Wicked’ issues is pretty troubling.
Another place to look for ways to turn organisations into supportive and deliberately transformational institutions might be in the work on schools by Eleanor Drago-Severson. Her wonderful 2009 book Leading Adult Learning: Supporting Adult Development in Our Schools is a pioneering look at how school leaders can foster the adult development of their staff by understanding developmental diversity, in order that their schools be the most effective for their students.
Ellie describes 4 practices that schools - and any other organisation - can use to support adult transformation and growth:
- Providing Leadership Roles
- Collegial inquiry
Of course, it may even turn out that the late Elliot Jaques was right all along with his rather prescriptive and hierarchical vision of a ‘Requisite Organisation’ that is designed to reflect, engage and support the different stages of cognitive complexity of staff. (Part of the problem might be that Jaquesians have never properly reworked his model for the world of knowledge-based work?)
The RSA’s Beyond the Big Society report called for ‘transformational learning hubs which run training exercises for community leaders’.
One way I envisage to do this would be to create a secularised, transformational equivalent of the Alpha Course, complete with shared meals - and an active citizenship focus.
The Alpha Course has proven hugely popular with its 'opportunity to explore the meaning of life': it has attracted 3 million participants in the UK, and 15 million worldwide. I think some don’t - initially - even fully realise its Christian basis. It now runs in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and elsewhere.
Could there be a way fuse citizens’ skills, self-development, effectiveness and community engagement (and ‘Social Brain’ reflexivity) into a deliberately transformational 10-week course, that could spread across the 100 countries that have RSA Fellows?
We could call it… the ‘Genesis Course’!
The thorny issues of hierarchy, directionality et al.
I’m not that keen to write about these issues (as an open discussion of them seems rare), but felt that I should. But I’ve now - conveniently - run out of time to do so in this long post . Maybe another time...
Parallels between Spiral Dynamics and Cultural Theory? - A quick linguistic experiment
Spiral Dynamics is one of the many models of plural rationality - with perhaps a 50 year history of applications, including involvement in ending Apartheid in South Africa (as described in The Crucible - Forging South Africa's Future).
I was wondering what would happen if I removed each Spiral Dynamics label for one of the rationalities and replaced it with the equivalent Cultural Theory label.
Will the quotes then easily pass for Cultural Theory insights? Let me know what you think.
(Basically I've swapped out the label 'Blue' value meme and replaced it with 'Hierarchy'; Green with 'Egalitarian'; Orange with 'Individualist'; Purple/Red with 'Fatalist'; and 'Clumsy' for Yellow/integral).
Here are the quotes:
"Building everything from the bottom up is just as bad as top-down. It its egalitarian, power to the people enthusiasm, the Egalitarian/Solidaristic rationality sometimes puts too much of its energy into the lower echelons. Everybody gets a say, whether competent or not. Nobody’s opinion carries more weight than anyone else’s. When misapplied, this noble philosophy only leads to a pooling of ignorance and wasted time. The one or two people with real experise are shouted down by know-nothings getting their share of the consensus. The individualist rationality which plays the game of entrepreneur so well is driven away to less Egalitarian/Solidaristic pastures or starts a business on the side. The Hierarchical rationality blows its whistle and calls for an investigation by a higher authority. The Clumsy mind loses patience an simply disappears.” (Spiral Dynamics, pg 151).
“As the Clumsy awareness peaks, scales drop from our eyes enabling us to see for the first time the legitimacy of all the plural rationalities that have been awakened to date” (pg 277).
Clumsy awareness generates a FlexFlow perspective. This view honours differences between the plural rationalities and facilitates the movement of people up and down the human spiral. This produces a sense of stratification, a recognition of the layered dynamics of human systems operation within people and societies. If the Fatalism rationality is sick, it must be made well. If the Fatalism rationality is running amok, the raw energy must be channeled. If the Hierarchical rationality turns sour and becomes punitive, it must be reformed. Since many of our social ‘messes’ are caused by the interaction of people with different rationalities, such ‘messes’ can only be sorted out through the ‘Clumsy’ complex of intelligences and resources”. (p. 277)
[NB I repeated Fatalism, as Spiral Dynamics includes around twice as many rationalities as Cultural Theory does, so the same Cultural Theory label gets used for rather different thinking systems]
“With Clumsy awareness active one avoids falling into the sink holes in any of the plural rationalities, from Individualism’s unbridled ambition to Egalitarianism’s naive altruism”. (Pg 278)
“Clumsy thinking people are able to fix problems while others fret, manipulate, query higher authority, form study groups, or play theory games”. (Page 277).
And here are a couple of additional extracts - this time from Ken Wilber's book Boomeritis, which is also based on the Spiral Dynamics model of plural rationalities:
"When Egalitarianism dissolves Hierarchy it makes it impossible for Fatalism to develop further, because there is no Hierarchical base to accep the development" (Boomeritis, pg. 380).
"On sturdy Hierarchy and Individualism, Egalitarian ideals can grow" (pg 382).
"When Egalitarianism champions every 'multicultural' movement, it acts to encourage other rationalities not to grow into Egalitarianism. Thus, the more Egalitarianism succeeds, the more it destroys itself.(pg 382).
Spiral Dynamics has interesting findings about which rationalities are most rejecting of particular other rationalities. For instance the peak Orange/Individualist particularly rejects Green/Egalitarian
Co-developer of Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck, warns of 'Mirror Management' and the 'Car Wash Mentality', which can only see a single rationality, and seek to impose 'elegant' solutions: "If what you are about to say or do looks and sounds good to you, don't do it! (Unless, of course, the listeners or readers have the same value systems as you,' he advises in The Crucible.
Do please comment below – I’d love to hear your feedback. Please put me right if I’m going wrong ;-)
– Transforming Behaviour Change – Beyond Nudge and Neuromania, by Jonathan Rowson (free RSA report).
– Leading Adult Learning: Supporting Adult Development in Our Schools, by Eleanor Drago-Severson.
- ‘Changing on the Job - Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger
– Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.
(Contains a great chapter at the beginning which describes the importance of the adult development dimension to organisational change; the rest is about their easy-to-use, yet revealing, ‘Immunity to Change’ tool. Have you used it?).
- Beyond The Righteous Mind: helping Jonathan Haidt understand his ow..., by Matthew Mezey (a previous post in this group)
- How to understand the psychology of active citizenship, blog post by Matthew Kalman Mezey
- The Postconventional Personality - Assessing, Researching, and Theo..., by Angela Pfaffenberger, Paul Marko and Allan Combs
- Robert Kegan’s Developmental Perspective (webpage) (ie how the Self-Transforming/Level 5 mind is needed for Argris-inspired organisation development)
– Development and Assessment of Self-authorship: Exploring the Concept Across Cultures, by Marcia B. Baxter Magolda, Elizabeth Creamer and Peggy Meszaros (Eds.).
- Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Ini..., Joiner and Josephs.
- Action Inquiry - The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership, by Bill Torbert and associates.
- Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, by Don Beck and Chris Cowan
- What Makes People Tick: The Three Hidden Worlds of Settlers, Prospe..., by Chris Rose.
Flying High - a new look at local government leadership, transforma... (free PDF), (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers)
Messy Institutions for Wicked Problems: How to Generate Clumsy Solu... (free PDF), by Steven Ney and Marco Verweij.
- The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative ..., by Roger Martin
– Learning Partnerships: Theory and Models of Practice to Educate for Self-authorship, by Marcia Baxter Magolda and Patricia King.
– Developing Adult Learners: Strategies for Teachers and Trainers, by Kathleen Taylor, Catherine Marienau and Morris Fiddler.
Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions: the Role of Leadership (free PDF), by Keith Grint.
– Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice, by Nancy Evans, Deanna Forney, Florence Guido, Lori Patton and Kristen Renn.
– Transforming Your Leadership Culture, by John McGuire and Gary Rhodes (Center for Creative Leadership)
- An Integrative Approach to Leader Development: Connecting Adult Dev..., David Day et al.
– Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Pr..., by Jack Mezirow and Associates (including Robert Kegan)
- Victor Pinedo in Tsunami - Building Organisations Capable of Prospering in Tidal Waves
- Organization Design, Levels of Work and Human Capability: Executive..., by Ken Shepard et al. (NB Recent bestseller The Leadership Pipeline applies a Jaquesian approach, though without crediting the original source of this approach).
- Executive Coaching: Practices & Perspectives, Berger and Fitzgerald.
Of the executives I have coached through the transition from Achiever to Individualist (ie from Kegan's Self-authoring/Modernist mind on the next step of the journey towards a Self-transforming mind and a post-conventional world view) many have, as you mention above, then left their organisations. This is often because the organisational culture no longer feels comfortable, because the individuals goals and style of working no longer fit with what is expected of a 'good' employee, because the new perspectives and approaches the individual brings are not valued - and indeed are often seen as unhelpful and disruptive, etc.
But it doesn't have to be like this. If the ideas about adult development outlined above were more widely understood by those in HR responsible for adult development and if, in particular, senior leaders understood to need for post-conventional world views for dealing with the complex challenges organisations face, then organisations would be seeking out individuals with the potential to operate at these post-conventional levels, making them feel valued and welcome, and giving them tasks that would play to their emerging strengths. It is noticeable that leadership development is often directed at senior individuals in organisations - but not at the most senior. Some of these by chance will have developed, or be moving towards, a Self-transforming mind - but many won't have. Those who haven't - or at least who don't realise that these different ways of seeing and thinking exist, and that they need to recruit and reward for them - are unlikely to create a senior leadership culture where these 'clumsy' approaches are valued.
These ideas about post-conventional leadership have been around for some decades now, at least in the academic world. Perhaps one benefit to the number and scale of the wicked problems we are facing will be to make us realise that our prevailing ways of thinking are not up to the job of solving these problems and that we need to find more effective forms of mind to deal with them.
I would make a few observations on this article, which I think has a lot going for it.
First is to say that even if you / Kegan are right that only 1% of people are functioning at a self-transforming level, this is not the percentage that matters. What matters is the percentage of leaders. It is actually OK if the majority of the population continue to function at lower levels.
Second is to say that I don't like the term clumsy leadership (and know Don Beck has said the same). It does express something valuable, which is the recognition that linear forms of thinking are no longer adequate when faced with fractal / emergent / complex problems. In that sense it is a step forward. But it fails to make use of the techniques that do exist and which would assist us in finding the "simplicity the other side of complexity". It is possible to design solutions that are functional, elegant and fitted. Clumsy is what we do when we have sufficient complexity of thinking to recognise the problem, but insufficient experience or training in how to deal with those conditions.
I would also caution against the comparison between SD stages and Kegan's, noting that you have hedged your comparison already by recognising that there are more gradations in SD. Spiral Dynamics does not purport to measure quite the same things as other developmental theories, but in my view it maps better to Torbert action logics and to Cook-Greuter. The mapping to Kegan is particularly weak at the Red and Purple stages of the spiral, but where I would moderately accept the use of "fatalist" for Purple, Kegan's word "Impulsive" captures rather more of Red. The positive side of RED is just the opposite of fatalist. Red would often defy fate and challenge it heroically. And just for completeness, I note the widely held error that Spiral Dynamics does not have the academic credibility, which is a claim that suits academics who have aren't willing to study it. But SD is a way more powerful theory which covers areas that are not even attempted by most other developmental approaches. Even more to the point here, it provides a way of understanding and articulating the elegant solutions that are needed.
Lastly, Jake Chapman's observations on the lack of receptiveness in the civil service comes as no surprise. My insider information, stated in Spiral language, is that the culture is strongly in Red-Blue - which means traditional mindests being exploited by power and ego-games. I am told that Orange - the strategic modern thinking system is still remarkably weak. Given that there are very few post-modern / self-aware or self-transforming voices among MP's we have the right to be concerned about the ability of government - whether political or executive, to come up with the solutions we need. Take those mindsets and apply them around a structure of departmental silos supporting competition rather than collaboration and even the most complex and self-transforming thinker will face a huge challenge.
Nice post, Matthew!
I would add that we have some serious research questions still to settle: -
1. How do you best measure "development"? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the tools currently available to measure developmental stage, leadership and leadership effectiveness?
2. How does "development" relate to "leadership" in terms of capacity and motivation to lead?
- and in turn,
3. How is capacity and motivation to lead related to leadership effectiveness in different social contexts?
In effect, it is rather easy to take for granted the assumption that: higher stages of development (however measured) = better leaders (however measured) = more effective leadership (however measured)
But maybe you would argue that the evidence is already there?
I am inlined to feel that if we move at the speed of academic research the world will have collapsed before we deal with today's problems. That is one of the downsides of the linear approaches. We may need the courage of our convictions. We may need to do the job first and prove academic basis for it afterwards. Personally I am more inclined to trust practical results than academic research anyway. I am reminded of Bill Shankly's advice (great Liverpool FC manager, for those who are too young to remember) regarding the dilemma of a striker - whether to go for goal or pass to a team-mate. He said - "If in doubt, put the ball in the back of the net; we can figure out whose ball it should have been afterwards"
I don't know of any academic evidence, but to state the obvious, I am not an academic. I do know that the work that Rand Stagen has done with leadership development in the US has some very strong examples of organisational improvements that arose from working with only the CEO, not teaching any theory, but developing the bandwidth of their perception (seeing more of the picture) so that higher stages are facilitated to open. I have heard the leaders themselves describe the outcomes.
I also know that there are proven correlations between the measured development of Spiritual Intelligence using Cindy Wigglesworth's SQ21 methodology and the stages of development that Suzanne Cook-Greuter tests. This may not be exactly the same thing, but does provide evidence of a correlation between one line of development and another.
I also know for myself that in my own journey, as I have done the work that supported my own development, my capacities as a manager and consultant and leader have grown. In my own estimation that growth was significantly beyond the mere gathering of experience. I also believe that I have heard other mentors and coaches describe similar shifts. I would also say in response to your question 3. that a major component in development is for leaders to understand the range of thinking styles / action logics in those they lead, and to have greater insight in how to utilise those capacities, and how to communicate with those diverse types of people. So the understanding of / feeling for social context is central to the capacity.
Many thanks for these thoughtful responses - that challenge us all to further inquiring, I think!
Nick Shannon is right that research questions about development, leadership and effectiveness are not yet settled. (And proponents of ‘Developmental Science’ like Richard Lerner would probably reject a Kegan-style model completely - due to its directionality, the likelihood that it could be used to spotlight ‘gaps’, like the lack of ‘Self-authoring capacity’ that the OECD was keen to overturn.)
There is research by people like Rooke and Torbert, Harris, Kuhnert and Eigel which might turn out to be the foundation on which some of the connections become settled. There may also be other ways to obtain useful insights. For instance, it may turn out that the humble yet tenacious ‘Level 5’ leaders uncovered by James Collins’ in ‘Good To Great’ in fact hold some developmental stage in common. (Torbert suggests that they are ‘Strategist’, his 7th stage of leader maturation - as described in that Harvard Business Review article).
The RSA’s ‘Beyond the Big Society: Psychological Foudnations of Active Citizenship’ report mentioned some of this whole area of research. For instance, Lauren Harris and Karl Kuhnert’s 2008 article ‘Looking through the lens of leadership: a constructive developmental approach’ (in Leadership & Organization Development Journal) found that:
“For instance workplaces where both employees and leaders are at higher
stages of mental development appear to be far more successful. Research by Karl
Kuhnert and Lauren Harris found a strong positive relationship between a
leader’s developmental level and ratings of their overall leadership effectiveness,
including increased ability to create a compelling vision and think strategically about
the future, to inspire commitment, and to catalyse teams. Similarly, an award-winning
April 2005 Harvard Business Review article by Prof Bill Torbert and David
Rooke – ‘Seven Transformations of Leadership’ – found a strong and statistically
significant correlation between the CEO developmental diversity stage and their
ability to innovate and successfully transform their organisations.”
Here are some links:
Matthew Taylor was himself not entirely convinced by all of this. I put some of his queries to Bill Torbert.
And then relayed Bill’s response back to Matthew Taylor (on his blog):
You mention that great ‘Harvard Business Review’ article by Prof Bill Torbert and David Rooke – ‘Seven Transformations of Leadership’ – which applies Jane Loevinger’s model of individual psychological maturation to help us understand how leaders grow.
(People can read the paper here: http://bit.ly/z5KMg3 – it will help you understand stage labels like ‘Diplomat’ and ‘Strategist’, used below).
You raises some very pertinent criticisms:
1. “Research into organisational success factors is renowned for extolling the virtues of successful firms just before they go over a cliff”.
2. “And – more tellingly – we have to ask why, in a free market, if this style of leadership works, it hasn’t swept all before it.”
3. “Researchers tend to focus on leaders and as ‘Junius’ pointed out in his comments this tends to assume that leaders’ interests are the same as the led and as society’s as a whole.”
I got in touch with Prof Torbert to see how he would response to these criticisms. Here are some of the highlights from his reply:
1. “Research into organisational success factors is renowned for extolling the virtues of successful firms just before they go over a cliff”.
In relation to his study on the impact of leader developmental stage (aka ‘Action Logic’) on organisational transformation in 10 organisations, he writes “four of the five who did well allegedly because the CEO was operating at the [rare/late stage] ‘Strategist’ or ‘Alchemist’ action-logic continued to do well for the following ten years with the same leadership.”
“In the fifth case, the success continued through the leader’s retirement and the first two-year-succession by another leader measured as ‘Strategist’. When that leader died suddenly, an interim leader measured at [conventional and not especially complex] ‘Diplomat’ generously stepped in, continued beyond the initial year, and presided over an ethics crisis that injured the organization.”
Prof Torbert concludes: “What these data suggest to me is that, for enterprises of 1,000 employees or less, the CEO’s action-logic is critical to the organisation’s ability to transform successfully in competitive, rapidly changing environments, unlike the variables cited in many studies of temporary success.”
2. “And – more tellingly – we have to ask why, in a free market, if this style of leadership works, it hasn’t swept all before it.”
Prof Torbert says that he showed in his book ‘The Power of Balance – Transforming Self, Society and Scientific Inquiry’ (1991) – with later evidence broadly supporting its conclusions – “that our surveys of the action-logics [ie develomental stage levels] of persons at different managerial levels find 80% of ‘Diplomats’ at levels no later than supervisor or junior management, while they find 80% of ‘Strategists’ in senior management.”
“Hence, it appears that late action-logics are more successful in this sense in market/organisational terms.”
“However, there are still few ‘Strategists’ (probably no more than 5%) in senior management overall, and this is both because no call for more ‘Strategists’ has yet been widely sent out and because sending out a call for more ‘Strategists’ can’t generate more ‘Strategists’ immediately. Developmental transformation is a painful giving birth that can only be accomplished voluntarily and with the support of still later action-logic mentors.”
“Moreover, late action-logic leaders care about much more than market incentives, and balancing their more complex visions and time horizons, with a market pace and lingo that by-and-large represents ‘Expert’ and ‘Achiever’ action-logic blinders against complexity, is by nature a difficult task. I contend that they are attempting to birth a new, third age of society that learns the trick of co-creative, inter-independent, mutually-transforming power.”
[MKM: Is this 21st century enlightenment?]
“Put differently, most societal/tribal/institutional/scientific action-logics are antagonistic to the efforts of a late action-logic leader.”
Prof Torbert mentions hearing a ‘famous British businessman’ estimate that he had to bring in $50 million per year to his company to legitimise his late action-logic initiatives and activities.
Prof Torbert adds: “we don’t yet have a publicly-available articulation of how to peacefully and co-creatively reconstruct organisations based on liberating disciplines that support both employee development and the organisation’s development to the late action-logics, where efficacy, integrity, mutuality, and sustainability are valued along with wealth. This can only be accomplished via the exercise of mutually-transforming power in preference to unilateral power, in day-to-day, real-time meetings.”
3. “Researchers tend to focus on leaders and as ‘Junius’ pointed out in his comments this tends to assume that leaders’ interests are the same as the led and as society’s as a whole.”
Prof Torbert writes: “With regard to whether executives have society’s interests at heart, the evidence to date is that earlier action-logic executives take conventional values for granted, and conventional market values in the Friedman tradition are precisely contrary to taking society’s interests into account unless required to. By contrast, late action-logics interweave personal, organisational, and societal as well as short-, middle-, and long-term.”
* * *
Bill Torbert makes a point about how leaders at later stages of developmental maturity notice (and can thus act on) a greater number of the 27 potential types of leadership attention. I hope someone does some research on this some day...).
I wonder whether developmental stage will turn out to be central to leadership effectiveness, yet far from sufficient to explain it. (In the same way that Jack Bauer/Dan McAdams argue that ego stage is for well-being: “Ego maturity, that is, high capacities and concerns for meaningful growth and integrative human systems, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for optimal or well-rounded development, just as happiness is necessary but not sufficient.”)
The experience of Jake Chapman FRSA - undertaking leadership training with top civil servants, seems to support the connections with development stage that we’re discussing. In the US, the influential Centre for Creative Leadership seem to lean pretty heavily on Kegan/Torbert-style approaches. And Pacific Integral do a lot of research with the leaders and other that attend their transformational trainings.
Mike makes the point about the need to influence HR/recruitment and senior leaders with information about the key role of developmental stage. This is why I think a good clear case-study around recruiting late stage leaders, and the positive impact it has had, would be so powerful. Swindon seems potentially to have been a place with such success.
I just now found this quote, for the first time:
"I am quite convinced that investment in the LDF [Torbert’s Leadership Development Framework] was one of the best decisions I made as CEO. Improved conversations, renewed confidence and an appetite for innovation, can, in my view, be largely attributed to our work with LDF".
Gavin Jones, Chief Executive of Swindon Borough Council.
(Perhaps Rand Stagen, in the US, has good studies?).
Mike talks about the post-conventional leaders leaving their organisations. Is there some way we could perhaps draw on their expertise to help reform our organisations? (Though perhaps we already do - when they later set themselves up as consultants! Funnily enough, I’ve often thought that the RSA could encourage knowledge-sharing between Fellows using the ‘River Diagram’ approach outlined in the book ‘No More Consultants - we know more than we think’. It revolves around creating maturity models for key areas of skills and expertise. With the maturity models available, it then becomes easier to see where the expertise gaps are, who to learn from etc. They use a ‘River Diagram’ graphic for this. The RSA could play a great enabling role by hosting maturity models for a wide range of skills, on behalf of the UK - or the world!).
Jon is spot on, I think, that it’s the percentage of leaders that matters - not just of the general population. I’ve certainly tried to encourage more research to be done on this!
I agree too about the term ‘Clumsy’ - it’s a pain to have to spend lots of time just trying to overcome everyone’s negative connotations. Why didn’t the Cultural Theorists just use a term like ‘integrative’?
Good point re Red and Cultural Theory’s fatalism.
I’m less convinced that it is an error that Spiral Dynamics currently lacks credibility in academia. I tried hard to help Dr Oliver Robinson find just one good peer-reviewed paper to reference in his upcoming textbook on adult development - so that he would be enabled to include Spiral Dynamics in it (as he wanted to). I don’t think we were able to turn anything appropriate up.