LEADERSHIP MATURITY: the Transformation Factor in Politics

The Transformation Factor in Politics
By John T. Kesler1

Leadership Maturity may be the most overlooked factor in the global political arena. Almost every decision and action of elected public sector leaders has multi-systemic and sometimes national and even global implications. We need the most mature transformative leadership capacities that we can access. Yet, we continue to elect some of the least mature among us as our leaders.

What is Leadership Maturity?
Based on the science of developmental psychology2, Leadership Maturity refers primarily to the capacity for managing complexity and taking multiple perspectives. It does not necessarily correlate with age or IQ: one can be a brilliant and intolerant ideologue or a rigid and narrow elder, for example. Following is a description of some primary stages of Leadership Maturity.

Stage One Leadership Maturity
Stage one Leadership Maturity is reflected in those who are oriented to personal power, self-aggrandizement and self-gratification. These leaders tend to be impulsive, demonize those with whom they disagree, and lash out in reaction to perceived slights. Truth is frequently manipulated to serve the power and ego needs of the stage one leader, and playing on people’s fears is a primary strategy. Stage one leadership maturity qualities are prominent in President Trump.

Stage Two Leadership Maturity
Stage two leaders stand for upholding the identity, values and authority of a collective, such as a group, ethnicity or nation, without much concern for world-centric principles, even if a country such as the United States is founded on such principles. President Trump’s inner circle models such “ethno-centrism.” Stage two leadership of a constitutional democracy is by definition a mismatch if the goal is to uphold constitutional principles.

Stage Three Leadership Maturity
Stage three Leadership Maturity emphasizes reasoning capacities, the foundation of a constitutional democratic republic. People at this stage tend to rigidly lock into an ideologically oriented world view based on an internally consistent point of view. They tend to use their capacity for logic and abstract thinking solely to defend and assert their own positions or political orientation, without being open to evaluating the merits of other points of view. The United States Congress has increasingly been dominated by politicians operating through this stage, which has led to the current gridlock.

Stage Four Leadership Maturity
Stage four Leadership Maturity reflects a greater capacity for exploring multiple points of view and choosing one (an “either/or” pattern of decision making) through linear reasoning. Stage four leaders debate the issues in a forum grounded in constitutional principles, and are open to adjusting their own views in the context of democratic deliberation. They will tend to listen, agree to disagree, sometimes be swayed, and often negotiate civilly and effectively to get things done.

Stage Five Leadership Maturity
When one grows into stage five Leadership Maturity, one begins to see a much larger and more textured range of possibilities rather than being limited to an either/or thinking pattern. In early stage five, one can begin to see that there are flaws in virtually all points of view and eventually perceive that there are also merits in virtually every point of view—a “both/and” reasoning capacity. A classic indicator of mature stage five leadership is the commitment to rich, inclusive dialogue, which is a primary element in most of the “transpartisan” and “bridging” movements emerging across America in the past several years. Perhaps a quarter of adults in the developed world have grown into stage five Leadership Maturity or later stages, with most of them functioning at stage five. Fifty years ago, that percentage was probably less than 10%.

Stage Six Leadership Maturity
Stage six Leadership Maturity provides additional capacities, which overcome difficulties reflected in some stage five leadership. For instance, those at stage five often pursue rich dialogue without achieving concrete results; they tend to have a challenge relating to people at stages three and four of the mainstream community; and they can easily tip into overreaching political correctness.

The good news is that with adequate support and practices virtually anyone can grow from stage five to stage six maturity (and from stage four to stage five, etc.). Stage six Leadership Maturity fulfills the promise of stage five and transcends its possibilities. At stage six Leadership Maturity, one has the capacity to connect with people from every background, weave together solutions that work for everyone, and work effectively with multi-systemic complexity in the context of an ecological and global environment. Those who have fully grown into stage six maturity and above in the developed world are a small percentage, perhaps still less than 5% of the adult population. However, the numbers are increasing rapidly. Should a critical mass of 15 to 20 percent of the adult population grow into stage six Leadership Maturity and beyond, we could witness an astonishing transformation of political culture, processes and, institutions—that is, if we also begin to choose the most mature among us to be our leaders.

1. For more than the past two decades John Kesler, an attorney, has engaged with the social and political implications of leadership maturity. He is certified in evaluating, scoring and debriefing adults with regard to their developmental center of gravity. He founded and is president of the Salt Lake Civil Network (SLCN), a non-profit organization which models, mentors and consults regarding local/global flourishing See: www.saltlakecivilnetwork.org.
2. The six stages of leader maturity above are correlated with the following stages designations used by both Suzanne Cook-Greuter PhD and Terri O”Fallon PhD in their respective human development scoring systems as follows: stage one = 1.5; stage two = 2.5; stage three = 3.0; stage four = 3.5; stage five = 4.0; stage six (integral) = 4.5.

© John T. Kesler 2017