What kind of leader are you? Are you able to inspire those around you to do their best work and help your company thrive in a complex world? And does being a good leader leave you drained and exhausted or are you able to handle it with lightness and enthusiasm?
The answer depends on what stage of leader you are. That insight comes from Bob Anderson, founder of the Leadership Circle, which has led leadership workshops for more than 30 years, and co-author of the new book Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results. Anderson says there are five stages of leadership, and where you fall on that scale will determine both your effectiveness and efficiency as a leader. “Each progressive stage ushers in greater leadership capacity to meet complexity with lower energetic cost,” he explains. Each stage leads to the next, and moving from the stage you’re in to the stage above will help you build an organization and culture that can better compete in a complex world.
1. Egocentric leadership
This lowest leadership stage is “quite adolescent and immature,” Anderson says. Fortunately, many leaders seem to evolve past it on their own. “A small percentage of adult leaders are operating from this mindset.” Still, if you find that the only way to get anything done is to tell employees explicitly what to do and then ride herd on them until they do it, there’s a good chance you’re stuck at the Egocentric stage.
2. Reactive leadership
This is the leadership stage where most managers find themselves, Anderson says. “Most leaders functioning from this mindset do not realize how much of their leadership behavior is being run on autopilot, shaped by the outside expectations of those in their past and current circumstances. Reactive leaders are authored by others.” They also tend to create organizations that are very hierarchical and depend on top-down control, he says, “with those below cautiously doing what is expected.”
If, like many leaders, you’re at the Reactive stage, it’s worth making the effort to change, Anderson says. “These kinds of cultures are rapidly becoming a competitive disadvantage.”
3. Creative leadership
“Creative leaders are self-authoring,” he says. “They are ‘at choice’ about how they show up in most circumstances, instead of acting on autopilot, authored by others. They lead from their own deeply held discerned purpose and values.”
Many companies are struggling to transition from Reactive Leadership to Creative Leadership, Anderson says. “In order to be more competitive in the midst of escalating complexity, most organizations are striving to become more creative cultures–innovative, engaged, adaptable, accountable, open, etc.,” he says. “Creative Leadership is required to sustain that transformation.”
4. Integral leadership
This form of leadership, Anderson says, “is built for complexity. It sees wholes, not merely parts. It is capable of holding significant diversity of opinion and deeply conflicted positions in dialogue without reacting to ‘fix’ things or champion one perspective over another.”
This ability to hold the tension of conflicting opposites allows high-order solutions to emerge, he adds.
Unfortunately, he says, “integral cultures are very rare. They tend to be highly engaging, self-managing, flat, and lean. Leadership is widely shared as the organization tends to consist of interdependent networks rather than hierarchical silos.”
5. Unitive leadership
“Leaders at this stage of development are operating from the enlightened awareness that all is an astonishing unity. We are not separate selves. We are inherently one,” says Anderson.
This type of leadership is not just rare but exceedingly so, Anderson says. In fact, it’s so rare that he knows of no organization that operates at this level. But there are a few individual leaders who function quietly but powerfully from this perspective, he says.
If you’re one of them, your employees are lucky indeed.