How self-aware really are you? Discover your leadership style and how it’s impacting your business

As an advisor and non exec to agency founders, I wonder if it’s surprising or not to know that I also have a coach myself? My coaching sessions  differ somewhat from the sessions with my own clients, focussing less on knowledge of business strategy and predominantly on how as an individual I can learn more about myself in order to advise with clarity, listen with intention and achieve a quality of mind that allows me to recognise my own thoughts and challenge those of my clients.

Whilst to an outsider it might look like I am ‘hanging out on the plateau’ during these sessions – true there is often no single ‘breakthrough moment ‘ – it is in fact where a great deal of learning is happening.  As such these self-study sessions are invaluable to me (and the impact I have on clients).

A paper I read a short time ago ‘The Spirit of Leadership’ was a hefty but worthwhile use of my time. The part I wanted to share in this article revolves around the very eloquently put belief that,

‘There is no organisational transformation without a preceding transformation in the consciousness of the leadership. The process of cultural evolution first happens in the awareness of individuals. These individuals exert influence on the system and change it. The new system encourages a critical mass of people to develop. As that critical mass develops, the full potential of the new order is realised, the likelihood of regression to an earlier level of development is reduced, and the platform is built for the next evolutionary leap.”

It perfectly summarised how I work with my clients to help them to understand their thoughts and make better business decisions, and in doing so, make impact on their entire organisation.

In the ‘Spirit of Leadership’ there is a section which closely tracks Robert Kegan, an author and professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is at the forefront of stage development research and theory. Kegan numbers the stages of development for leaders in relation to their self-awareness and how that self-awareness in turn impacts on leadership styles and the consequences of that on the team and business growth.

I’ve summarised them below as a good advisor should, but if you feel inclined you can read the full report here. I’m interested to know – where do you think you sit on the sliding scale of self awareness?

The Egocentric Self – my way or the highway
(Kegan Stages 0–2)

The development of the egocentric self involves many stages of development from birth up to and including adolescence. The limit of this structure of identity is that it does not notice other’s (often-competing) needs. It is egocentric. I relate to the other to get my needs met and don’t yet know how to make your needs important to me.

Research suggests that 15% of adults do not fully make this transition and operate in the world as an egocentric self. Leaders at this stage tend to be very controlling, “My way or the highway.” Employees at this stage tend to play out victim or rebel roles. Organisations that operate out of a culture organised at this level are dictatorial and oppressive.

The Socialized (reactive) Self
(Kegan Stage 3)

The new structure of the self can be articulated, as “I am my role.” The self is made secure and valuable by belonging to and succeeding within prescribed socially accepted roles. In this structure, we build a life, often very effectively. The limit of this structure is the unnoticed equating of my self with what I do, what I am good at, and/or how I am accepted by others.

Leaders at this level usually no longer function as dictators; they often care deeply about the employees they manage and function as the benevolent parent. The organisation is hierarchical and efficient. Employee input is solicited, but decision-making and creative expression is still vested in the top. Leadership is often humane but lacks the capability of broadly sharing power.

The Independent (Creative) Self
(Kegan Stage 4)

Transitioning to an Independent Self is the major transition of adult life. Only 25% of adults complete this journey. To make this transition, we face the fact that following our own path often means disappointing others, risking failure, and/or otherwise contradicting the norms that link me to society and make me (as a socialized self) worthwhile and valuable.

As [leaders] begin to see and experience the power, creativity, freedom, and satisfaction of living from my own deep centre, they also value and encourage that in others. They begin to treat others as equal participating members, whose rights, insights, and purposes need to be engaged and creatively aligned. Self-expression and cooperation become new organising principles.

Leaders at this level begin to share power. It is no longer perceived as “letting go” of control but of gaining power by sharing it. The development of self and others is prized. Organisations are structured on high-performing, self-managing teams. Leadership is shared but not yet a true partnership. Creativity and critical decision making is developed and expected at all levels of the organisation.

The Integral Self
(Kegan Stage 5)

Only about 1% of adults develop to this stage. However, another 14% are in transition to it. Here, the inner self-definition shifts from “I am a whole and complete self that coordinates with other whole and complete selves” to an internal realization that, in fact, “ I am not whole and complete.” Rather, I am many selves.

Leaders at this level become community oriented. The workplace becomes a self-renewing organisation where members are true participating partners. The legacy of the leader is connected to developing the organisation into a vehicle for service to a larger constituency. The organisation is seen as a network of stakeholders nested within a larger system of networks. Vision often becomes global and oriented toward service to human welfare. Sustainability and long-term common good become salient values.

The Sacred Self
(Kegan Stage 6)

At this stage, another major shift takes place. Up to this point, the self has been largely seen as located within the body-mind. Now the self realises that “I am not the body, nor the mind.” We identify with the soul — a soul in communion with the divine.

This is the stage where the person experiences the world as one. This oneness is not just an idea; not something gleaned from a book. It is a literal experience of oneness with life itself. This is the birthplace of universal compassion.

Leadership from this level of being seems to be rare, although it becomes more available through long-term integral practices. Leaders at this level function as global visionaries. They enact world service for the universal good.

Whatever level you feel you’re currently working at or transitioning towards, there is something hopeful about the idea we are all capable of new levels of self-awareness and with that the significant business/leadership benefits.

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