Welcome: Background Material

Harvard Business Review, April 2005
By David Rooke and William R. Torbert

MOST DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGISTS agree that what differentiates leaders is not so much their philosophy of leadership, their personality, or their style of management.
Rather, it’s their intemal “action logic”-how they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged.
Relatively few leaders, however, try to understand their own action logic, and fewer still have explored the possibility of changing it.
They should, because we’ve found that leaders who do undertake a voyage of personal understanding and development can transform not only their own capabilities but also those of their companies. In our close collaboration with psychologist Susanne Cook-Greuter – and our 25 years of extensive survey-based consuiting at companies such as Deutsche Bank, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Hewlett-Packard, NSA, Trillium Asset Management, Aviva, and Volvo – we’ve worked with thousands of  executives as they’ve tried to develop their leadership skills. The good news is that leaders who make an effort to understand their own action logic can improve their ability to lead. But to do that, it’s important first to understand what kind of leader you already are.

The Seven Action Logics

Our research is based on a sentence-completion survey tool called the Leadership Development Profile. Using this tool, participants are asked to complete 36 sentences that begin with phrases such as “A good leader…,” to which responses vary widely:

  • “…cracks the whip.”
  • “…realizes that it’s important to achieve good performance from subordinates.”
  • “…juggles competing forces and takes responsibility for her decisions.”

By asking participants to complete sentences of this type, it’s possible for highly trained evaluators to paint a picture of how participants interpret their own actions and the world around them; these “pictures” show which one of seven developmental action logics-Opportunist, Diplomat, Expert, Achiever, Individualist, Strategist, or Alchemist-currently functions as a leader’s dominant way of thinking. Leaders can move through these categories as their abilities grow, so taking the Leadership Development Profile again several years later can reveal whether a leader’s action logic has evolved. Over the past 25 years, we and other researchers have administered the sentence-completion survey to thousands of managers and professionals, most between the ages of 25 and 55, at hundreds of American and European companies (as well as nonprofits and governmental agencies) in diverse industries. What we found is that the levels of corporate and individual performance vary according to action logic. Notably, we found that the three types of leaders associated with below-average corporate performance (Opportunists, Diplomats, and Experts) accounted for 55% of our sample. They were significantly less effective at implementing organizational strategies than the 30% of the sample who measured as Achievers. Moreover, only the final 15% of managers in the sample (Individualists, Strategists, and Alchemists) showed the consistent capacity to innovate and to successfully transform their organizations. To understand how leaders fall into such distinct categories and corporate performance, let’s look in more detail at each leadership style in turn, starting with the least productive (and least complex).

The Opportunist

Our most comforting finding was that only 5% of the leaders in our sample were characterized by mistrust, egocentrism, and manipulativeness. We call these leaders Opportunists, a title that refiects their tendency to focus on personal wins and see the world and other people as opportunities to be exploited. Their approach to the outside world is largely determined by their perception of control – in other words, how they will react to an event depends primarily on whether or not they think they can direct the outcome. They treat other people as objects or as competitors who are also out for themselves. Opportunists tend to regard their bad behavior as legitimate in the cut and thrust of an eye-for-an-eye world. They reject feedback, externalize blame, and retaliate harshly. One can see this action logic in the early work of Larry Ellison (now CEO of Oracle). Ellison describes his managerial style at the start of his career as”management by ridicule.””You’ve got to be good at intellectual intimidation and rhetorical bullying,” he once told Matthew Symonds of the Economist. “I’d excuse my behavior by telling myself I was just having ‘an open and honest debate.’The fact is, I just didn’t know any better.” Few Opportunists remain managers for long, unless they transform to more effective action logics (as Ellison has done). Their constant firefighting, their style of selfaggrandizement, and their frequent rule breaking is the antithesis of the kind of leader people want to work with for the long term. If you have worked for an Opportunist, you will almost certainly remember it as a difficult time. By the same token, corporate environments that breed opportunism seldom endure, although Opportunists often survive longer than they should because they provide an exciting environment in which younger executives, especially, can take risks. As one ex-Enron senior staffer said, “Before the fall, those were such exciting years. We felt we could do anything, pull off everything, write our own rules. The pace was wild, and we all just rode it.” Of course, Enron’s shareholders and pensioners would reasonably feel that they were paying too heavily for that staffer’s adventure.

The Diplomat

The Diplomat makes sense of the world around him in a more benign way than the Opportunist does, but this action logic can also have extremely negative repercussions if the leader is a senior manager. Loyally serving the group, the Diplomat seeks to please higher-status colleagues while avoiding confiict. This action logic is focused on gaining control of one’s own behavior – more than on gaining control of external events or other people. According to the Diplomat’s action logic, a leader gains more enduring acceptance and infiuence by cooperating with group norms and by performing his daily roles well.

In a support role or a team context, this type of executive has much to offer. Diplomats provide social glue to their colleagues and ensure that attention is paid to the needs of others, which is probably why the great majority of Diplomats work at the most junior rungs of management, in jobs such as frontline supervisor, customer service representative, or nurse practitioner. Indeed, research into 497 managers in different industries showed that 8o% of all Diplomats were at junior levels. By contrast, 8o% of all Strategists were at senior levels, suggesting that managers who grow into more effective action logics-like that of the Strategist -have a greater chance of being promoted.

Diplomats are much more problematic in top leadership roles because they try to ignore conflict. They tend to be overly polite and friendly and find it virtually impossible to give challenging feedback to others. Initiating change, with its inevitable conflicts, represents a grave threat to the Diplomat, and he will avoid it if at all possible, even to the point of self-destruction. Consider one Diplomat who became the interim CEO of an organization when his predecessor died suddenly from an aneurysm. When the board split on the selection of a permanent successor, it asked the Diplomat to carry on.Our Diplomat relished his role as a ceremonial figurehead and was a sought-after speaker at public events. Unfortunately, he found the more conflictual requirements of the job less to his liking. He failed, for instance, to replace a number of senior managers wbo had serious ongoing performance issues and were resisting the change program his predecessor had initiated. Because the changes were controversial, the Diplomat avoided meetings, even planning business trips for the times when the senior team would meet. The team members were so frustrated by the Diplomat’s attitude that they eventually resigned en masse. He “resolved” this crisis by thanking the team publicly for its contribution and appointing new team members. Eventually, in the face of mounting losses arising from this poor management, the board decided to demote the Diplomat to his former role as vice president

The Expert

The largest category of leader is that of Experts, who account for 38% of all professionals in our sample. In contrast to Opportunists, who focus on trying to control the world around them, and Diplomats, who concentrate on controlling their own behavior. Experts try to exercise control by perfecting their knowledge, botb in their professional and personal lives. Exercising watertight thinking is extremely important to Experts. Not surprisingly, many accountants, investment analysts, marketing researchers, software engineers, and consultants operate from the Expert action logic. Secure in tbeir expertise, they present hard data and logic in their efforts to gain consensus and buy-in for their proposals. Experts are great individual contributors because of their pursuit of continuous improvement, efficiency, and perfection. But as managers, they can be problematic because they are so completely sure they are right. When subordinates talk about a my-way-or-t he-high way type of boss, they are probably talking about someone operating from an Expert action logic. Experts tend to view collaboration as a waste of time (“Not all meetings are a waste of time – some are canceled!”), and they will frequently treat the opinion of people less expert than themselves with contempt. Emotional intelligence is neither desired nor appreciated. As Sun Microsystems’ CEO Scot

McNealy put it;”l don’t do feelings; I’ll leave that to Barry Manilow.” It comes as no surprise, then, that after unsuccessfully pleading with him to scale back in the face of growing losses during the dot-com debacle of 2001 and 2002, nearly a dozen members of McNealy’s senior management team left.

The Achiever

For those who hope someday to work for a manager who both challenges and supports them and creates a positive team and interdepartmental atmosphere, the good news is that a large proportion, 30%, of the managers in our research measured as Achievers. While these leaders create a positive work environment and focus their efforts on deliverables, the downside is that their style often inhibits thinking outside the box. Achievers have a more complex and integrated understanding of the world tban do managers who display the three previous action logics we’ve described. They’re open to feedback and realize that many of the ambiguities and conflicts of everyday life are due to differences in interpretation and ways of relating. They know that creatively transforming or resolving clashes requires sensitivity to relationships and the ability to influence others in positive ways. Achievers can also reliably lead a team to implement new strategies over a one- to three-year period, balancing immediate and long-term objectives. One study of ophthalmologists in private practice showed that those who scored as Achievers had lower staff turnover, delegated more responsibility, and had practices tbat earned at least twice the gross annual revenues of those run by Experts. Achievers often find themselves clashing with Experts. The Expert subordinate, in particular, finds the Achiever leader hard to take because he cannot deny the reality of the Achiever’s success even though he feels superior. Consider Hewlett-Packard, where the research engineers tend to score as Experts and the lab managers as higher-level Achievers. At one project meeting, a lab manager-a decided Achiever – slammed her coffee cup on the table and exclaimed, “1 know we can get 18 features into this, but the customers want delivery some time this century, and the main eight features will do.””Philistine!” snorted one engineer, an Expert. But this kind of conflict isn’t always destructive. In fact, it provides much of the fuel that has ignited -and sustained-the competitiveness of many of the country’s most successful corporations.

The Individualist

The Individualist action logic recognizes that neither it nor any of the otber action logics are “natural”; all are constructions ofoneselfandthe world. This seemingly abstract idea enables tbe io% of  ndividualist leaders to contribute unique practical value to their organizations; tbey put personalities and ways of relating into perspective and communicate well with people who have other action logics. What sets Individualists apart from Achievers is their awareness of a possible conflict between their principles and their actions, or between the organization’s values and its implementation of those values. This conflict becomes the source of tension, creativity, and a growing desire for further development. Individualists also tend to ignore rules they regard as irrelevant, which often makes them a source of irritation to both colleagues and bosses. “So, what do you think?” one of our clients asked us as he was debating whether to let go of one of bis star performers, a woman who had been measured as an individualist. Sharon (not her real name) had been asked to set up an offshore shared service function in the Czech Republic in order to provide IT support to two separate and internally competitive divisions operating there. She formed a highly cohesive team within budget and so far ahead of scbedule tbat she quipped that she was “delivering services before Group Business Risk had delivered its report saying it can’t be done.” The trouble was that Sharon had a reputation witbin the wider organization as a wild card. Although she showed great political savvy when it came to her individual projects, she put many people’s noses out of joint in the larger organization because of her unique, unconventional ways of operating. Eventually, the CEO was called in (not for the first time) to resolve a problem created by her failure to acknowledge key organizational processes and people who weren’t on her team. Many of the dynamics created by different action logics are illustrated by this story and its outcome. The CEO, whose own action logic was that of an Achiever, did not see how he could challenge Sharon to develop and move beyond creating such problems. Although ambivalent about her, he decided to retain her because she was delivering and because the organization had recently lost several capable, if unconventional, managers. So Sharon stayed, but only for a while. Eventually, she left the company to set up an offshoring consultancy. When we examine in the second half of this article how to help executives transform their leadership action logics, we’ll return to tbis story to see how both Sharon and the CEO migbt bave succeeded in transforming theirs.

The Strategist

Strategists account for just 4% of leaders. What sets them apart from Individualists is tbeir focus on organizational constraints and perceptions, which they treat as discussable and transformable. Whereas the Individualist masters communication with colleagues who have different action logics, the Strategist masters the second-order organizational impact of actions and agreements. The Strategist is also adept at creating shared visions across different action logics – visions that  encourage both personal and organizational transformations. Accordingto the Strategist’s action logic, organizational and social change is an iterative developmental process that requires awareness and close leadership attention. Strategists deal with conflict more comfortably than do those with other action logics, and they’re better at handling people’s instinctive resistance to change. As a result. Strategists are highly effective change agents. We found confirmation of this in our recent study often CEOs in six different industries. All of their organizations had the stated objective of transforming themselves and had engaged consultants to help with the process. Each CEO filled out a Leadership Development Profile, which showed that five of them were Strategists and the other five fell into other action logics. The Strategists succeeded in generating one or more organizational transformations over a four-year period; their companies’ profitability, market share, and reputation all improved. By contrast, only two of the other five CEOs succeeded in transforming their organizations-despite help from consultants, who themselves profiled as Strategists. Strategists are fascinated with three distinct levels of social interplay: personal relationships, organizational relations, and national and international developments. Consider Joan Bavaria, a CtO who, back in 1985, measured as a Strategist. Bavaria created one of the first socially responsible investment funds, a new subdivision of the investments industry, which by the end of 2001 managed more than $3 trillion in funds. In 1982, Bavaria founded Trillium Asset Management, a worker-owned company. which she still heads. She also cowrote the CERES Environmental Principles, which dozens of major companies have signed. In the late 1990s, CERES, working with the United Nations, created the Global Reporting Initiative, which supports financial, social, and environmental transparency and accountability worldwide. Here we see the Strategist action logic at work. Bavaria saw a unique moment in which to make ethical investing a viable business, then established Trillium to execute her plan. Strategists typically have socially conscious business ideas that are carried out in a highly collaborative manner. They seek to weave together idealist visions with pragmatic, timely initiatives and principled actions. Bavaria worked beyond the boundaries of her own organization to influence the socially responsible investment industry as a whole and later made the development of social and environmental accountability standards an international endeavor by involving the United Nations. Many Achievers will use their influence to successfully promote their own companies. The Strategist works to create ethical principles and practices beyond the interests of herself or her organization.

The Alchemist

The final leadership action logic for which we have data and experience is the Alchemist. Our studies of the few leaders we have identified as Alchemists suggest that what sets them apart from Strategists is their ability to renew or even reinvent themselves and their organizations in historically significant ways. Whereas the Strategist will move from one engagement to another, tbe Alchemist has an extraordinary capacity to deal simultaneously with many situations at multiple levels. The Alchemist can talk with both kings and commoners. He can deal with immediate priorities yet never lose sight of long-term goals. Alchemists constitute i% of our sample, which indicates how rare it is to find them in business or anywhere else. Through an extensive search process, we found six Alchemists who were willing to participate in an up-close study of their daily actions. Though this is obviously a very small number that cannot statistically justify generalization, it’s worth noting that all six Alchemists shared certain characteristics. On a daily basis, all were engaged in multiple  organizations and found time to deal with issues raised by each. However, they were not in a constant rush-nor did they devote hours on end to a single activity. Alchemists are typically charismatic and extremely aware individuals who live by high moral standards. They focus intensely on the truth. Perhaps most important, they’re able to catch unique moments in the history of their organizations, creating symbols and metaphors that speak to people’s hearts and minds. In one conservative financial services company in the UK, a recently appointed CEO turned up for work in a tracksuit instead of his usual pinstripes but said nothing about it to anyone. People wondered whether this was a new dress code. Weeks later, the CEO spoke publicly about his attire and the need to be unconventional and to move with greater agility and speed. A more celebrated example of an Alchemist is Nelson Mandela. Although we never formally profiled Mandela, he exemplifies the Alchemist action logic. In i995. Mandela symbolized the unity of a new South Africa when he attended the Rugby World Cup game in which the Springboks, the South African national team, were playing. Rugby had been the bastion of white supremacy, but Mandela attended the game. He walked on to the pitch wearing the Springboks’ jersey so hated by black South Africans, at the same time giving the clenched fist salute of the ANC, thereby appealing, almost impossibly, both to black and white South Africans. As Tokyo Sexwale, ANC activist and premier of South Africa’s Gauteng province, said of him: “Only Mandela could wear an enemy jersey. Only Mandela would go down there and be associated with the Springboks… All the years in the underground, in the trenches, denial, self-denial, away from home, prison, it was worth it. That’s all we wanted to see.”

Evolving as a Leader

The most remarkable – and encouraging – finding from our research is that leaders can transform from one action logic to another. We have, in fact, documented a number of leaders who have succeeded in transforming themselves from Experts into Achievers, from Achievers into Individualists, and from Individualists into Strategists. Take the case of Jenny, one of our clients, who initially measured as an Expert. She became disillusioned with her role in her company’s PR department and resigned in order to, as she said,”sort out what I really want to do.” Six months later, she joined a different company in a similar role, and two years after that we profiled her again and she still measured as an Expert. Her decision to resign from the first company, take a “sabbatical,” and then join the second company had made no difference to her action logic. At that point, Jenny chose to join a group of peer leaders committed to examining their current leadership patterns and to experimenting with new ways of acting. This group favored the Strategist perspective (and the founder of the group was profiled as an Alchemist), which in the end helped Jenny’s development. She learned that her habit of consistently taking a critical position, which she considered “usefully objective,” isolated her and generated distrust. As a result of the peer group’s feedback, she started a series of small and private experiments, such as asking questions rather than criticizing. She realized that instead of seeing the faults in others, she had to be clear about what she could contribute and, in doing so, started the move from an Expert to an Achiever. Spiritually, Jenny learned that she needed an ongoing community of inquiry at the center of her life and found a spiritual home for continuing reflection in Quaker meetings, which later supported (and indeed signaled) her transition from an Achiever to an Individualist T\vo years later, Jenny left the second job to start her own company, at which point she began profiling as a Strategist This was a highly unusual movement of three action logics in such a short time. We have had only two other instances in which a leader has transformed twice in less than four years. As Jenny’s case illustrates, there are a number of personal changes that can support leadership transformation. Jenny  experienced loss of faith in the system and feelings of boredom, irritability, burnout,depression, and even anger. She began to ask herself existential questions. But another indication of a leader’s readiness to transform is an increasing attraction to the qualities she begins to intuit in people with more effective action logics. Jenny, as we saw, was drawn to and benefited hugely from her Strategist peer group as well as from a mentor who exhibited the Alchemist action logic. This search for new perspectives ofren manifests itself in personal transformations: The ready-to-transform leader starts developing new relationships. She may also explore new forms of spiritual practice or new forms of centering and self-expression, such as playing a musical instrument or doing tai chi. External events can also trigger and support transformation. A promotion, for example, may give a leader the opportunity to expand his or her range of capabilities. Earlier, we cited the frustration of Expert research engineers at Hewlett-Packard with the product and delivery attitude of Achiever lab managers. Witbin a year of one engineer’s promotion to lab manager,a role that required coordination of others and cooperation across departments, the former Expert was profiling as an Achiever. Although he initially took some heat {“Sellout!”) from his former buddies, his new Achiever awareness meant that he was more focused on customers’ needs and clearer about delivery schedules. For the first time, he understood the dance between engineers trying to perfect tbe technology and managers trying to deliver on budget and on schedule. Changes to a manager’s work practices and environment can also facilitate transformation. At one company we studied, leaders changed from Achievers to Individualists partly because of simple organizational and process changes. At the company’s senior manager meetings, for example, executives other than the CEO had the chance to lead the meetings; tbese opportunities, which were supported by new spirit of openness, feedback, and frank debate, fostered professional growth among many of the company’s leaders. Planned and structured development interventions are another means of supporting leadership transformation. We worked with a leading oil and gas exploration company on developing the already high-level capabilities of a pool of future senior managers; the managers were profiled and then interviewed by two consultants who explored each manager’s action logic and how it constrained and enabled him or her to perform current and recent roles. Challenges were discussed as well as a view of the individual’s potential and a possible developmental plan. After the exercise, several managers, whose Individualist and Strategist capabilities had not been fully understood by the company, were appreciated and engaged differently in their roles. What’s more, the organization’s own definition of leadership talent was refrained to include the capabilities of the Individualist and Strategist action logics. This in turn demanded that the company radically revisit its competency framework to incorporate such expectations as “sees issues from multiple perspectives” and “creates deep change without formal power.” Now that we’ve looked generally at some of the changes and interventions that can support leadership development, let’s turn to some specifics about how the most common transformations are apt to take place.

From Expert to Achiever

This transformation is the most commonly observed and practiced among businesspeople and by those in management and executive education. For the past generation or more, the training departments of large companies have been supporting the development of managers from Experts into Achievers by running programs with titles like “Management by Objectives,””Effective Delegation,” and “Managing People for Results.” These programs typically emphasize getting results through flexible strategies rather than through one right method used in one right way. Observant leaders and executive coaches can also formulate well-structured exercises and questions related to everyday work to help Experts become aware of the different assumptions they and others may be making. These efforts can help Experts practice new conversational strategies such as,”You may be right, but I’d like to understand what leads you to believe that.” In addition, those wishing to push Experts to the next level should consider rewarding Achiever competencies like timely delivery of results, the ability to manage for performance, and the ability to implement strategic priorities. Within business education, MBA programs are apt to encourage the development of the more pragmatic Achievers by frustrating the perfectionist Experts. The heavy workloads, use of multidisciplinary and ambiguous case studies, and teamwork requirements all promote the development of Achievers. By contrast, MSc programs, in particular disciplines such as finance or marketing researcb, tend to reinforce the Expert perspective. Still, the transition from Expert to Achiever remains one of the most painful bottlenecks in most organizations. We’ve all heard the eternal lament of engineers, lawyers, and other professionals whose Expert success has saddled them with managerial duties, only to estrange them from the work they love. Their challenge becomes working as highly effective Achievers who can continue to use their in-depth expertise to succeed as leaders and managers.

From Achiever to Individualist

Although organizations and business schools have been relatively successful in developing leaders to the Achiever action logic, they have, with few exceptions, a dismal record in recognizing, supporting, and actively developing leaders to the Individualist and Strategist action logics, let alone to the Alchemist logic. 1 his is not surprising. In many organizations, the Achiever, with his drive and focus on the endgame, is seen as the finish tine for development: “This is a competitive industry -^ we need to keep a sharp focus on the bottom line.” The development of leaders beyond the Achiever action logic requires a very different tack from that necessary to bring about the Expert-to-Achiever transformation. Interventions must encourage self-awareness on the part of the evolving leader as well as a greater awareness of other worldviews. In both business and personal relationships, speaking and listening must come to be experienced not as necessary, taken-for-granted ways of communicating predetennined ideas but as intrinsically forward-thinking, creative actions. Achievers use inquiry to determine whether they (and the teams and organization to which they belong) are accomplishing their goals and how they might accomplish them more eftectively. The developing Individualist, however, begins to inquire about and retlect on the goals themselves-with the aim of improving future goals. Annual development plans that set new goals, are generated through probing and trusting conversation, are actively supported through executive coaching, and are carefully reviewed at the end of the cycle can be critical enablers at this point Yet few boards and CEOs appreciate how valuable this time investment can be, and it is all too easily sacrificed in the face of short term objectives, which can seem more pressing to leaders whose action logics are less developed. Let’s go back to the case of Sharon, the Individualist we described earlier whose Achiever CEO wasn’t able to manage her. How might a coach or consultant have helped the CEO feel less threatened by Sharon and more capable of supporting her development while also being more open to his own needs and potential? One way would have been to try role-playing, asking the CEO to play Sharon while the coach or consultant enacts the CEO role. The role-playing might have gone as follows: “Sharon, I want to talk with you about your future here at our company. Your completion of the Czech project under budget and ahead of time is one more sign that you have the initiative, creativity, and determination to make the senior team here. At the same time, I’ve had to pick up a number of pieces after you that I shouldn’t have had to. I’d like to brainstorm together about how you can approach future projects in a way that eliminates this hassle and gets key players on your side. Then, we can chat several times over the next year as you begin to apply whatever new principles we come up with. Does this seem like a good use of our time, or do you have a different perspective on the issue?” Note that the consultant in the CEO’s role offers clear praise, a clear description of a limitation, a proposed path forward, and an inquiry that empowers the CEO (playing Sharon) to reframe the dilemma if he wishes. Thus, instead of giving the CEO one-way advice about what he should do, the coach enacts a dialogic scenario with him, illustrating a new kind of practice and letting the CEO judge whether the enacted relationship is a positive one. The point is not so much to teach the CEO a new conversational repertoire but to make him more comfortable with how the Individualist sees and makes sense of the world around her and what feedback may motivate her to commit to furtber learning. Such specific experiments with new ways of listening and talking can gradually dissolve the fears associated with transformational  learning.

To Strategist and Beyond

Leaders who are moving toward the Strategist and Alchemist action logics are no longer primarily seeking personal skills that will make them more effective within existing organizational systems. They will already have mastered many of those skills. Rather, they are exploring the disciplines and commitments entailed in creating projects, teams, networks, strategic alliances, and whole organizations on the basis of collaborative inquiry. It is this ongoing practice of reframing inquiry that makes them and their corporations so successful. The path toward the Strategist and Alchemist action logics is qualitatively different from other leadership de-velopment processes. For a start, emergent Strategists and Alchemists are no longer seeking mentors to help them sharpen existing skills and to guide them toward influential networks (although they may seek spiritual and ethical guidance from mentors). Instead, they are seeking to engage in mutual mentoring with peers who are already part of their networks (such as board members, top managers, or leaders within a scientific discipline). The objective of this senior-peer mentoring is not, in conventional terms, to increase the chances of success but to create a sustainable community of people who can challenge the emergent leader’s assumptions and practices and those of his company, industry, or other area of activity. We witnessed just this kind of peer-to-peer development when one senior client became concerned that he, his company, and the industry as a whole were operating at the Achiever level. This concern, of course, was itself a sign of his readiness to transform beyond that logic. This executive-the CEO ofa dental hygiene company-and his company were among the most successful of the parent company’s subsidiaries. However, realizing that he and those around him had been keeping their heads down, he chose to initiate a research project – on introducing affordable dental hygiene in developing countries-that was decidedly out of the box for him and for the corporation. The CEO’s timing was right for such an initiative, and he used the opportunity to engage in collaborative inquiry with colleagues across the country. Eventually, he proposed an educational and charitable venture, whicb the parent company funded. The executive was promoted to a new vice presidency for international ventures within the parent company – a role he exercised with an increased sense of collaboration and a greater feeling of social responsibility for his company in emerging markets. Formal education and development processes can also guide individuals toward a Strategist action logic. Programs in which participants act as leaders and challenge their conventional assumptions about leading and organizing are very effective. Such programs will be either long term (one or two years) or repeated, intense experiences that nurture the moment-to-moment awareness of participants, always providing the shock of dissonance that stimulates them to reexamine their worldviews. Path-breaking programs of this type can be found at a few universities and consultancies around the globe. Bath University in the UK, for instance, sponsors a two-year master’s degree in responsibility and business practice in which students work together during six one-week get togethers. These programs involve small-learning teams, autobiographical writing, psychodrama, deep experiences in nature, and a yearlong business project that involves action and refiection. Interestingly, many people who attend these programs report that these experiences have had the transformative power ofa life-altering event, such as a career or existential crisis or a new marriage.

Leadership Teams and Leadership Cultures Within Organizations

So far, our discussion has focused on the leadership styles of individuals. But we have found that our categories of leadership styles can be used to describe teams and organizations as well. Here we will talk briefly about the action logics of teams. Over the long term, tbe most effective teams are those with a Strategist culture, in which the group sees business challenges as opportunities for growth and leaming on the part of both individuals and the organization. A leadership team at one of the companies we worked with decided to invite managers from across departments to participate in time-to-market new product teams. Seen as a risky distraction, few managers volunteered, except for some Individualists and budding Strategists. However, senior management provided sufficient support and feedback to ensure the teams’ early success. Soon, the first participants were promoted and leading their own crossdepartmental teams. The Achievers in the organization, seeing that others were being promoted, started volunteering for these teams. Gradually, more people within the organization were experiencing shared leadership, mutual testing of one another’s assumptions and practices, and individual challenges that contributed to their development as leaders. Sadly, few companies use teams in this way. Most senior manager teams operate at the Achiever action logic-they prefer unambiguous targets and deadlines, and working with clear strategies, tactics, and plans, often against tight deadlines. They thrive in a climate of adversity (“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”) and derive great pleasure from pulling together and delivering. Typically, tbe team’s leaders and several other members will be Achievers, with several Experts and perhaps one or two Individualists or Strategists (who typically fee! ignored). Such Achiever teams are often impatient at slowing down to reflect, are apt to dismiss questions about goals and assumptions as “endless philosophizing,” and typically respond with hostile humor to creative exercises, calling them “off-the-wall” diversions. These behaviors will ultimately limit an Achiever team’s success. The situation is worse at large, mature companies where senior management teams operate as Experts. Here, vice presidents see themselves as chiefs and their “teams” as an information-reporting formality. Team life is bereft of shared problem-solving, decision-making, or strategyformulating efforts. Senior teams limited by the Diplomat action logic are even less functional. They are characterized by strong status differences, undiscussable norms, and ritual “court” ceremonies that are carefully stage-managed. Individualist teams, which are more likely to be found in creative, consulting, and nonprofit organizations, are relatively rare and very different from Achiever, Expert, and Diplomat teams. In contrast to Achiever teams, they may be strongly reflective; in fact, excessive time may be spent reviewing goals, assumptions, and work practices. Because individual concerns and input are very important to these teams, rapid decision making may be difficult. But like individual people, teams can change their style. For instance, we’ve seen Strategist CEOs help Individualist senior teams balance action and inquiry and so transform into Strategist teams. Another example is an Achiever senior team in a financial services company we worked with that was emerging from two years of harsh cost cutting during a market downturn. To adapt to a changing and growing financial services market, the company needed to become significantly more visionary and innovative and leam how to engage its workforce. To lead this transformation, the team bad to start with itself. We worked with it to help team members understand the constraints of tbe Achiever orientation, which required a number of interventions over time. We began by working to improve the way the team discussed issues and by coaching individual members, including the CEO. As the team evolved, it became apparent that its composition needed to change: Two senior executives, who had initially seemed ideally suited to the group because of their achievements, had to be replaced when it became clear that they were unwilling to engage and experiment with the new approach. During this reorientation, which lasted slightly more than two years, the team became an Individualist group with emergent Strategist capabilities. The CEO, who had profiled at AchieverAndividualist, now profiled as a Strategist, and most other team members showed one developmental move forward. The impact of this was also felt in tbe team’s and organization’s ethos: Once functionally divided, the team leamed to accept and integrate the diverse opinions of its members. Employee surveys reported increased engagement across the company. Outsiders began seeing the company as ahead of the curve, which meant the organization was better able to attract top talent. In the third year, bottom- and top-line results were well ahead of industry competitors. 

• • *

The leader’s voyage of development is not an easy one. Some people change little in their lifetimes; some change substantially. Despite the undeniably crucial role of genetics, human nature is not fixed. Those who are willing to work at developing themselves and becoming more self-aware can almost certainly evolve over time into truly transformational leaders. Few may become Alchemists, but many will have the desire and potential to become Individualists and Strategists. Corporations that help their executives and leadership teams examine their action logics can reap rich rewards.

Published in Industrial and Commercial Training Vol. 36 No. 7, 2002. Updated 2016

The author

Susanne R. Cook-Greuter is an Independent Scholar, coach, trainer of coaches and Principal of Cook-Greuter and Associates, LLC and the Center for Leadership Maturity

Stages, Action logics, Training, Adult Development

This paper introduces the concept of developmental stages or action logics as increasingly complex and flexible systems of meaning making to the management field. It adds the developmental perspective (vertical transformation) to the training and development concept of growth as lateral expansion. It outlines the major shift from viewing people mostly as different types to also considering differences in the differentiation and integration of their meaning making capacity. First, there is a brief overview of the developmental approach, and the assumptions shared in the field of adult development research. Next the spiral Leadership Maturity Framework, and its measuring instrument are described, and the reader is walked through two examples of what it means to interpret the world from different mind sets. Finally the benefits of a developmental perspective are outlined. It is predicted that postconventional leaders can more flexibly and successfully tailor their interactions to the differing needs of those they work with to create greater capacity throughout the system. Clare W. Graves explained adult development aptly in The Never Ending Quest: “At each stage of human existence the adult man (sic) is off on his quest of his holy grail, the way of life he seeks by which to live. At his first level he is on a quest for automatic physiological satisfaction. At the second level he seeks a safe mode of living, and this is followed in turn, by a search for heroic status, for power and glory, by a search for ultimate peace; a search for material pleasure, a search for affectionate relations, a search for respect of self, and a search for peace in an incomprehensible world. And, when he finds he will not find that peace, he will be off on his ninth level quest. As he sets off on each quest, he believes he will find the answer to his existence. Yet, much to his surprise and much to his dismay, he finds at every stage that the solution to existence is not the solution he has come to find. Every stage he reaches leaves him disconcerted and perplexed. It is simply that as he solves one set of human problems he finds a new set in their place. The quest he finds is never ending.”

Different, but equal:
Different psychological assessments and insights about what makes for effective leadership, personal satisfaction and better teamwork have been around for a long time with new arrivals on the scene every year. Mostly these assessments look at how people differ from each other in terms of personality traits: We assess, for instance, people’s type (MBTI, Enneagram), career preferences, teamwork, leadership, interpersonal, or learning style. By helping people understand these preferences for themselves and others, we hope to expand their behavioral repertoire and to help them work with and/ or manage others more effectively. In all of these measures we are assured that it really doesn’t matter which style we prefer and which type we are. All are equally valid ways of behaving. What does matter is how well an individual’s styles fit the context and the task, and how well he or she can read and interact with people who have different preferences. The greater the capacity to read others’ different personalities and respond with skill, the better the outcome for everyone involved. We also notice that some people find it easier than others to both learn these distinctions and to modify their behavior to accommodate to others’ processing preferences. This is so because they are more aware of their own behavior as well as more artful in dealing with their own and others’ interior landscapes. Goleman’s work (1995) regarding emotional intelligence speaks to these differences in level of competence and self/other awareness.

Different and better:
We suggest here that another way people differ from each other, the developmental stage, is as important and sometimes more so than how they differ in personality type and preferences. Argyris and Schön (1977), early advocates of organizational learning, brought the concept of mental models to management. They proposed a two level approach of adult reasoning: Model II was not just different in style from model I, but better, more adequate for dealing with complexity and constant change. Model II reasoning is better than model I because it is more flexible, inclusive, long-term, and dynamic as well as less selfdefensive, static and preprogrammed or automatic. These authors argued that people’s different mental models profoundly affect how they see others and how they interpret what they see, and therefore, what strategies and defenses they use to navigate work life. Senge (1990) introduced another two-level model. He distinguishes between conventional linear thought and systems thinking which resembles in many ways Argyris’ and Schön’s distinctions. Both Model II and systems thinking emerge after Model I and linear thought have been mastered. Both Argyris and Schön and Senge advocate that we should develop to the more complex forms of thinking outlined in their theories. They imply that the form emerging later is better than its predecessor in terms of behavioral flexibility and reasoning capacity.

The developmental perspective:
Even before that, Piaget (1954) had studied how children develop into young adults through many transformations while Maslow (1968) had investigated The Farther Reaches Of Human Nature. Beginning in the sixties, other psychologists (Loevinger, 1966; Kohlberg, 1969; Graves, 1970) began to focus on how adults develop from the baby’s narrow, self-centered view of the world to the mature wisdom and powerful action of exemplary adults. These researchers showed that we can identify not just two different ways of adult meaning making, but several. Each meaning making system, world view, or stage is more comprehensive, more differentiated and more effective in dealing with the complexities of life than its predecessors. Hand in hand with creating new theories about adult development, these pioneers also designed measuring tools to assess differences in meaning making capacity. Drawing on many sources and on their extensive research in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Loevinger and Wessler (1970) created an effective and efficient measurement instrument to assess adults’ stage. Their instrument, The Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT) is one of the most widely used and best validated in the field of personality assessment. It has been used in thousands of research projects worldwide. Full-range developmental thinking has been slow to be integrated into the work place. Torbert (1987) was an early proponent of developmentalism applied to leadership and organizational change work. We will use his familiar stage names below to outline the development of professionals and include the names we use in the Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF). It is based on the most finely-tuned, validated, and practice-tested assessment tool in the field- The Leadership Maturity Assessment (the MAP). In the 21st century, developmental thinking is now researched and applied at the leading edge of most professional disciplines. This is in response to a need for profound and rapid change. Much of the impetus to spread developmental thinking throughout society and to solve problems from a more developmentally informed perspective comes out of the Integral Institute, a think tank in Boulder, Colorado, led by Ken Wilber. In 2014, The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) published a paper announcing vertical development as the first of 10 major new trends in business consulting.

What do we mean by development?
When we talk about development in the context of human development, we distinguish between horizontal and vertical development. Both are important, but they occur at different rates. Lateral growth and expansion happens through many channels, such as schooling, training, self-directed and life-long learning as well as simply through exposure to life. Vertical development in adults is much rarer. It refers to how we learn to see the world through new eyes, how we change our interpretations of experience and how we transform our views of reality. It describes increases in what we can pay attention to, and therefore what we can influence and integrate. In general, transformations of human consciousness or changes in our view of reality are more powerful than any amount of horizontal growth and learning. Most learning, training and development is geared towards expanding, deepening, and enriching a person’s current way of meaning making. It’s like filling a container to its maximal capacity. We develop people by teaching them new skills, behaviors and knowledge and to apply their new competencies to widening circles of influence. Vertical development, on the other hand, refers to supporting people to transform their current way of making sense towards a broader, more comprehensive perspective (see Figure 1). Developmental theories provide a way of understanding how people tend to interpret events and, thus, how they are likely to act in many common and uncommon situations. Although people may use several perspectives throughout the day, they tend to prefer to respond spontaneously with the most complex meaning making system, perspective, or mental model they have mastered. This preferred perspective is called a person’s center of gravity or their “central tendency” in meaning making.
Figure 1 Lateral or horizontal growth and vertical transformation

The metaphor of climbing a mountain can serve as an illustration of what it means to gain an increasingly higher vantage point. At each turn of the path up the mountain I can see more of the territory I have already traversed. I can see the multiple turns and reversals in the path. I can see further into and across the valley. The closer I get to the summit, the easier it becomes to see behind to the shadow side and uncover formerly hidden aspects of the territory. Finally at the top, I can see beyond my particular mountain to other ranges and further horizons. The more I can see, the wiser, more timely, more systematic and informed my actions and decisions are likely to be because more of the relevant information, connections and dynamic relationships become visible. 

Development in its deepest meaning refers to transformations of consciousness. Because acquisition of knowledge is part of horizontal growth, learning about developmental theories is not sufficient to help people to transform. Only specific long-term practices, self-reflection, action inquiry, and dialogue as well as living in the company of others further along on the growth path has been shown to be effective. Company cultural also influences who thrives and develops. 

In general, full-range human development theories share the following assumptions: 

  • Development theory describes the unfolding of human potential towards deeper understanding, wisdom and effectiveness in the world.  

  • Growth occurs in a logical sequence of stages or expanding world views from birth to adulthood. The movement is often likened to an ever widening spiral. 

  • Overall, world views evolve from simple to complex, from static to dynamic, and from egocentric to socio-centric to world-centric. 

  • Later stages are reached only by journeying through the earlier stages. Once a stage has been traversed, it remains a part of the individual’s response repertoire, even when more complex, later stages are adopted.  

  • Each later stage includes and goes beyond the previous ones. That is, the earlier perspectives remain part of our current experience and knowledge (just as when a child learns to run, it doesn’t stop to be able to walk).  

  • Each later stage in the sequence is more differentiated, integrated, flexible and capable of optimally functioning in a rapidly changing and complexifying world.  

  • People’s stage of development influences what they notice or can become aware of, and therefore, what they can describe, articulate, influence, and change.  

  • As development unfolds, autonomy, freedom, tolerance for difference and ambiguity, as well as flexibility, reflection, and skill in interacting with the environment increase while defenses decrease.  

  • A person who has reached a later stage can understand earlier world-views, but a person at an earlier stage cannot understand the later ones.  

  • Development occurs through the interplay between person and environment, not just by one or the other. It is a potential and can be encouraged and facilitated by appropriate support and challenge. The depth, complexity, and scope of what people notice can expand throughout life. Yet no matter how evolved we become, our knowledge and understanding is always partial and incomplete. 

The Leadership Maturity Framework of human development: 

The Leadership Development Framework (LMF) is one such full-range model of mental growth in adulthood that describes the stages of development from egocentric opportunism to wise, timely and world-centric action. Torbert (1987) first developed the contours of the LMF based on a creative synthesis of existing theory and his own original research and adaptation. At the same time, he collaborated with Cook-Greuter (1999) who revised and expanded the WUSCT (1970) assessment tool to better capture professional subjects in organizational contexts. The MAP goes beyond the original instrument in the range of mature worldviews it covers and in its expanded stage descriptions and much broader application. We use the MAP both as a diagnostic tool and as basis for feedback and integrally-oriented coaching with clients and organizations. 

The LMF is based on research that documents the human potential for life-long transformation. When applied to managers and leaders, the LMF provides a way of understanding how they tend to interpret events and, thus, how they are likely to act in a given situation or conflict. Although people may have access to several action logics as part of their repertoire, they tend to respond spontaneously with the most complex action logic they have available, or from their center of gravity. However, under pressure and rapid change conditions, people often resort to behavior patterns from earlier stages. In contrast, moments of perceiving life in ways associated with stages much later than one’s center of gravity are rare. These can be glimpsed during flow states or temporarily manifested under ideal support conditions. 

Overall, the LMF framework describes nine ways of adult meaning making. The LMF refers to adult stages or action logics because it focuses on how professionals tend to reason and behave in response to their experience. Most developmental theories also divide the full spectrum trajectory of human consciousness into four main tiers: 

  1. Preconventional, 

  2. Conventional, 

  3. Postconventional, 

  4. Transpersonal. 

Despite the vast arena open for development, most people in modern society function at the conventional stages (~75 to 80%). Only about 10% to 20% of adults demonstrate postconventional action logics. Transpersonal ways of meaning making are even rarer. This is not surprising because any society must rely for its smooth everyday running on a citizenry that works within its existing institutional structures and values. At the same time it is also needs visionaries who can anticipate and creatively adapt to changing contingencies and life circumstances. As the speed and reach of global change and challenge increase, it becomes more urgent for society that more leaders develop postconventional capacities and a global mindset. 

In general, postconventional individuals are more likely middle-aged, more educated and/or experienced, and they have achieved higher levels of professional standing than their conventional counterparts. Developmentalists would interpret this to mean that people with later-stage action logics have achieved success for themselves and their organizations because of their capacity for more integrated and complex thinking, doing and feeling. They have a broader, more flexible and more imaginative perspective on the whole organization and its multiple contexts. They tend to cultivate relationships with many stakeholders, see promising connections and opportunities in novel places, and deal with problems in adaptive and proactive ways. Initial research with leaders who are at these postconventional action logics shows that their companies do better than those run by their more conventional counterparts. See Rooke et al. (1997), Laloux (2014). 

Figure 2 depicts how the nine stages that are addressed by the LMF evolve through the four tiers of a full spectrum model of consciousness. However, only the seven most commonly encountered stages in the corporate world will be referred to in the rest of this paper. These range from the preconventional Self-centric (Opportunist), through the conventional action logics of Group-centric (Diplomat), Skill-centric (Expert) and Self-determining (Achiever), to the postconventional stages of Self-questioning (Individualist), Self-actualizing (Strategist) and Construct-aware (Alchemist) 

Table 1 gives a brief overview of each of the seven main action logics. It shows what rules each logic applies as well as the main perspective and focus of attention at each level. You can find more information about my work and applications of the LMF on http://www.cook-greuter.com/ and in a book by Torbert and Associates (2004) that offers many additional, more in-depth descriptions and case studies. The percentage distributions given in Table 1 are from my Harvard dissertation research study. The subjects (N= 4510) represent a general adult population with subsamples drawn from many diverse occupations from artists to accountants, from college students to CEOs, from prisoners to priests. 

Figure 2 The path of development in the leadership maturity framework

In general, every concept or topic that can be considered is viewed and acted upon differently by people at different stages. Two examples serve to illustrate this point. A developmental perspective allows the manager or leader to better align his or  her interaction with the capacity of the receiver and to proactively manage anticipated reactions and possible conflicts. 

No matter how skillfully a superior tries to critique a Self-centric (Opportunist) employee, any such attempt will be reacted to as a personal affront or threat to their sense of self and power. The aggressive Opportunist will fight back, argue, and blame something (bad luck) or others (so and so screwed up) for the failure, but never admit to having made a mistake or needing correction.

Table I Brief overview of each of the seven main action logics

Some examples of how different action logics matter 

First, let’s look at the concept of “feedback” and how it is understood (see Table II)

Table II How understanding and response to feedback changes with increasing development. 

The more withdrawing type of Stage 2/3 will try to avoid direct confrontation with the boss and instead manipulate the situation and other people behind the scenes in order to protect him or herself. The more forceful type of Opportunist will use might to get his or her way. Diplomats (Stage 3), on the other hand, tend to listen respectfully to any criticism, say “Yes, I understand,” but meanwhile feel put on the spot and defensive as they want to please and fit in. They tend to avoid conflict at all cost and cannot yet reflect on their behavior and its consequences. In order to help Diplomats save face, feedback is often best given in concrete behavioral terms and in group settings without naming individuals. Let’s now look at what methods of influence people at different stages might use (Table III). To reiterate a basic developmental tenet, people at later action logics can understand people from earlier stages, but the reverse is not true. From the perspective of a Diplomat, (3) an Achiever boss (4) is a problem as soon as he or she asks for initiatives and independent decisions. That is precisely what Group-centric employees are not yet ready and capable of doing. Instead they desire to be supported, to follow rules and regulations, and to loyally uphold existing culture and practices. Diplomats will find Self-questioning, Individualist leaders even more disconcerting as they provide less guidance and are likely to “break” the rules. Experts (3/4) and Achievers(4) also often find postconventional managers strange because they often seem aloof or out of touch with the more immediate, practical and action-driven concerns of their more conventional colleagues. 

Table III Methods of influence used by people at different stages

Different strategies, structures and tools and different kinds of interventions are necessary both to support people at the level at which they are already operating and to facilitate transition towards greater integration and wider worldviews. In turn, the level of development of the managers, consultants, and coaches constrains what they can see, understand and how effective they are in their efforts to help others develop and mature. While Self-questioning (Stage 4/5) leaders generally appreciate diverse views & are eager to listen to many voices, only Strategists (Stage 5) can take a fully developmental perspective on self, others and organizations, and comprehend the complex dynamics of interrelated systems. Strategist leaders are also better equipped than those with earlier action logics to engender transformational change in others and to make timely and effective decisions based on input from multiple constituents, short and long term strategic considerations, and to do so under conditions of pressure and ambiguity.

Benefits of a developmental perspective: As I have tried to show with a few illustrations, a developmental perspective is useful in many ways. It aids the work in organizations on multiple levels. It often provides a more powerful explanation for misunderstandings and conflict among people than personality type and style alone. People with identical personality profiles on the MBTI, for instance, can differ by several levels on a developmental scale. Goleman (2000) offers an interesting hybrid between style and stage using different levels of emotional intelligence to describe six leadership styles. His research showed that leaders with the greatest emotional intelligence (high self-awareness, selfmanagement and social skills) – that is those who would also likely test high on a developmental test – had the most positive effect on working climate. His “coercive” style has much in common with the Opportunist action logic while the “authoritative” style is comparable to the Strategist capacity.

Having the additional information about a person’s center of gravity within the developmental trajectory can make a significant difference in how we interact with them, how we support, challenge and coach them. It also affects what we can reasonably expect of them and, in turn, of ourselves as their leaders, coaches and coworkers. A developmental perspective allows for a better match between people and their functions and tasks. Skill-centric (3/4), for instance, do especially well in situations where they can exercise their expertise in routine contexts or excel at applying their knowledge to improve existing technology or procedures, be that as an officer of an agency or as a nuclear engineer in a laboratory. Self-questioning folks (4/5) are best employed in situations where looking at underlying assumptions and out-of-thebox thinking benefit the organization. Often they do best when they are left alone to ponder various approaches and to come up with novel solutions. Self-actualizers (5) will be particularly effective when a longer-term perspective is needed and the diverse claims of many stakeholders have to be reconciled through collaborative inquiry. Generally, postconventional leaders will be in a better position to guide their organizations to successfully change and adapt in complex environments and through turbulent times than conventional leaders. In conclusion, I submit that the developmental perspective offers a framework for understanding and assessing the current capacity and the growth potential of individuals, teams, and whole organizations. It allows the creation of development plans that are tailored to the clients’ specific needs and growing edge. An ideal plan supports both horizontal consolidation and expansion, and it facilitates transition to the next, more complex meaning making stage. If we align an intervention with the client’s level of preparedness for insight, selfreflection, and for modifying his or her behavior based on their action logic not just their “type” or “style,” both intervener and recipients will be better served. While developmental testing may be used in the UK for selection purposes, there are constraints in the US against employing it for that reason. However, there are many instances where training professionals as well as internal & external consultants can make major contributions by looking at individuals, executive teams, groups and whole organizations through the lens of a developmental framework. Developmentally tailored interventions can go a long way towards positive results. They are able to address long-standing conflicts not otherwise amenable to change. Finally, while lateral development and skill training have been the traditional domain of Training and Development, developmental interventions deliberately aim at both lateral growth and vertical transformation as necessary correlates to life-long learning and adaptation to the ever greater demands of a rapidly changing global society.

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leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler)

Open the file in a new tab The Hidden Talent

In Cross-cutting Issues in International Transformation 

Interactions and Innovations among People, Organizations, Processes, and Technology Edited by Derrick Neal, Henrik Friman, Ralph Doughty, and Linton Wells II, December 2009

Washington, D.C.:  The Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University.


This book is a compilation of papers presented at the International Transformation Conference in Stockholm, Sweden on June 2–3, 2009. The conference was hosted by the Swedish Defence Research Agency at their Division of Information Systems in Kista. The papers are organized according to the categories of culture, interagency, transformation initiatives, leadership, and adaptive organizations. This sequence was chosen to group papers with common themes so that readers could follow the logic and findings of each paper more easily. 

The book represents the views of the authors, most of whom are members of the International Transformation Chairs Network that was founded in the United States in 2004 by retired Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski, who then served as the Director of the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Force Transformation. Since that time, the organization has added members from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Singapore, and NATO. 

The mission of the International Chairs Network is to provide a forum to challenge thinking, leverage shared knowledge, and inform the debate about the international security implications of global transformation. The vision of the group is that the efforts of these types of activities will ultimately result in a group of national security leaders who are prepared for a future filled with complexity, chaos, and surprise. Publication of this book is one step in the process of reaching this goal. 

We hope that this book is valuable to you as you seek to transform your part of the world. 

Ralph O. Doughty, Ph.D. MG USA (Ret) Chair of Interagency and Multinational Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Martin Rantzer Director, Information Systems Division, Swedish Defence Research Agency, FOI

Essay 7 Emergent Leadership Linking Complexity, Cognitive Processes, Adaptability, and Innovation 

By Sandra Martínez 


A paradigm shift in our understanding and practice of leadership is required to meet 21st-century national security challenges. The author argues that emergent principles and processes observed in complex natural and social systems offer valuable insight, a framework for inquiry, and a blueprint for change. The author explores the phenomenon and mechanisms by which emergence of novel structures and processes arise in systems operating at the “edge of chaos” and discusses the opportunities and constraints of self-organization, linking social science literature to literature on command and control generated by the Department of Defense. Then the author presents a conceptual framework for leadership development and “systemic interventions” to support transformation. The Leadership Development Framework is compatible with a view of leadership that is emergent, collaborative as well as competitive, and complex, and captures the dynamic outcomes of interdependencies among many agents. A description of the pilot action research project conducted in 2008 at the U.S. Army War College on complexity leadership and development, supported by the Transformation Chairs, follows. The author concludes with recommendations for the education and development of national security professionals based on the results of the study and emergent principles. 


Advances in information and communications technology enable continual interaction among individuals, teams, networked groups, organizations, and societies. In this way, technology has accelerated the process of globalization, the process whereby ideas, labor, capital, and goods cross national borders with few barriers. This dynamic exchange has qualitatively changed the environment by making it more complex. Globalization has created interdependencies among and between nation-states, markets, non-state actors, and other constituent parts of our social, biological, and physical ecosystems. Contrary to initial predictions, the process of globalization has not brought about a convergence of culture but, rather, reflexivity about one’s own culture and identity in relation to others (Guillén, 2001). Information technology has rendered knowledge accessible along the critical dimensions of time and cost, with both positive and negative outcomes. The churn of ideas and practices made possible by this interconnectedness presents great opportunities for innovation and creation of wealth. However, it has also introduced the challenge to national security of asymmetric conflict with unofficial actors or rogue states that leverage the power of a networked organization using these technologies. It has also wrought the reality of 24/7 media and communication, which has increased the strategic significance of information warfare. In summary, the dynamic complexity of the environment, intensified by the advances in information and communication technology and other new technologies, has changed the “metabolic rate” of knowledge processing and creation and the rules of the game, and thus the dynamics of power. 

It is clear from the 2008–2009 financial crisis that we have not fully considered the effects of these interrelationships, nor do we understand the rules governing these interdependent complex systems in which natural and human systems collide. Yet, the challenges of natural security in such an environment require us to strive to understand the logic, underlying structures, patterns, and mechanisms of the interrelated systems within which we live and to which we contribute so we can use this knowledge to act effectively. 

This essay argues that a new way of understanding the world, a shift in paradigm, is required to successfully negotiate constructive action in this environment. This shift involves drawing from the advances in our understanding of dynamic complex systems—knowledge originally developed in the natural sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology that for the last 15 years has influenced the social sciences. Drawing from the body of knowledge based on emergent principles or complexity science to understand social systems in the context of national security issues, in particular, has a history and numerous precedents. After World War II, the mathematician John van Neumann explored self-replication in machines in his work with cellular automata—abstract robots represented as cells on the computer screen operating under a set of rules. This research was partly motivated by the problem of the reliability of U.S. Air Force missiles (Goldstine, 1972). Vice Admiral Cebrowski and John Garstka (1998), in their development of the concepts of network-centric warfare, also drew from this scientific foundation. The U.S. Department of Defense Capstone Concepts for Joint Operations of 2005 described the organization of the Department of Defense, its adversaries, and the environment as complex adaptive systems. In addition, the United States Army Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design (2008) incorporates the concepts of complex adaptive systems; discusses nonlinearity; recommends approaching problems in a more holistic and less reductive manner; emphasizes the importance of reflection, learning, and adaptation; and quotes John Holland (1995), who was one of the key theorists in the development of emergent phenomenon, to describe distributed, noncentralized “direction.” However, a paradigmatic shift, as we know from the work of Kuhn (1962), involves a fundamental change in the set of assumptions that undergirds a causal explanation of the world. This transformation in thinking and practice has not occurred within U.S. national security institutions. A better understanding of the mechanisms supporting emergence and selforganization and the role of leaders in shaping and influencing direction and outcomes within organizations and interorganizational initiatives is necessary. 

Paradoxically, although the great power of computers allows us to explore and gain insight into the self-organizing process of physical, biological, and social systems, which are often accessible on our own computer screens, we concurrently are confronted with the limits of our knowledge. We realize that we can never know and understand complex systems completely and that these systems are creative and ever-changing, and do not easily yield to prediction or control. The emergence of order spontaneously from the interaction of agents loosens the deterministic, linear connection between a particular action or cause and the ensuing outcome challenging our conventional rationalist paradigm. Richardson (2008) emphasizes the incompressibility of our knowledge of systems—that we cannot represent a system accurately in anything less than a representation of the whole system because whatever we omit may have nonlinear, and thus unpredictable and disproportionately large, effects. Nonetheless, we can move forward with the knowledge that we possess to enlighten particular aspects of a system. Ironically, as the scale of our exploration in time and space enlarges, we begin to recognize the limits of our understanding. Some humility and even reverence in the face of this creativity, recognizing our place in the universe, may be an important aspect of this paradigmatic shift (Kaufmann, 1995). 

Although there are many critical processes of national security, including strategic planning, that would benefit from a deeper understanding of emergent principles, it is perhaps in the domain of command and control principles, processes, and practice where its effect is most overarching, for several reasons. First, the principles of centralized command and control, although they have been slowly changing for centuries, are core values of the military—often unexamined principles emphasized in military training and education (Alberts, 2007) and reinforced by professional norms and promotional systems. Second, leadership principles and practice cross domains, influencing all other activities and domains within the national security community. Finally, command and control practices directly affect the culture and structure of our organizations through which and across which our projects and initiatives are realized. 

It is the unanticipated emergence of “new higher-level systemic patterns or structures functioning according to new laws and consisting of new properties” that characterize complex systems (Jay, 2004) that is so exciting because of what it offers in terms of contributing to our understanding about how novel social structures and processes— indeed, transformation and innovation in social systems—occur. As innovation is fundamentally about generating the novel, research about emergent processes will offer insight into innovation (Goldstein, 2005). Some theorists believe that the bifurcations of self-organization are the primary sources of creativity, diversification, and innovation in systems (Nicolis & Prigogine, 1989). 

Even though there is some overlapping between chaos theory and complexity theory, in the study of social systems we are primarily using complexity theory, as it accounts for the capacity of systems to carry information about themselves and their environment and act based on that information, to replicate their ideas at remote sites, and to engage in deliberate adaptive behavior (as well as unconscious adaptation) based on past experiences and anticipated outcomes (Marion, 1999). Although bordering on chaos, complex systems are more stable than chaotic systems. However, complex systems are nonlinear and unpredictable for several reasons. First, they are sensitive to initial conditions—conditions that can reverberate and amplify through an interactive system to lead to outcomes grossly out of proportion to the initial size and intensity of the cause. Second, several phenomena present themselves as a result of the interaction of agents within the system. Interaction among agents can release potential energy to affect behavior and outcomes in unpredictable ways, first observed by Poincaré and referred to as “resonance.” Another phenomenon, correlation, results when two particles collide and their behavior begins to act in synchrony (Marion, 1999; Prigogine, 1996). This essay argues that these social mechanisms help explain what is described in network-centric warfare as self-synchronization, and that it is correlation that offers constructive constraints to the process of selforganization. These properties of complex systems preclude a reductive approach to systems that assumes that with knowledge of most or almost all of the facts governing the constituent parts of a whole, one can control and predict outcomes of the whole system. Complexity argues for a more holistic understanding of systems. 

Emergent Leadership 

The common conceptualization of leadership is that in which the authority to lead is primarily vested in an individual whom we assume has the ability to predict, plan, and control outcomes. The desirable attributes of the leader associated with this model are based on assumptions of a linear relationship between organizational design, strategy, human behavior, and the desirable outcome of organizational effectiveness; however, these expectations do not capture the reality, nor are they compatible with the nonlinear world in which we live. This conventional perspective views the major functions of a leader to be designing the organization to “fit” the environment, planning the strategy, and hiring the “right” people to effect specific performance outcomes. The perspective about what is effective leadership arising from this viewpoint does not consider the possible effects of interaction and mutual influence among many agents within the organization and throughout the larger system of systems in which the organization operates, frustrating expectations of simple cause–effect relationships. In effect, within the conventional perspective on which most research is based, leaders are viewed as either heroes, in the case of organizational effectiveness, or scapegoats when the outcome is failure, without consideration of the nonlinear and emergent properties of the situation. (Plowman & Duchon, 2007) 

From this new perspective, leadership is viewed as a process and an emergent event arising from dynamic interaction among agents over time (Lichtenstein et al., 2006). One leader may emerge at a particular moment to advance common interests and goals and then recede to let another individual or group lead at another point “leadership in complex systems takes place during interactions among agents when those interactions lead to changes in the way agents expect to relate to one another in the future” (Hazy et al., 2007, 7), whether the changes are the result of changing perceptions about objectives or strategy or norms relating to behaviors. 

Complexity Science 

Although delving deeply into the mechanisms supporting the process of emergence is not within the scope of this essay, some explanation of “singularities” will offer a foundation by which to advance our dialogue. Singularities are the critical points, transition points, or phase transitions, when a disordered state reaches a threshold and undergoes a transformation process of self-organization when previously disconnected elements or agents begin to interact in concert in an ordered pattern. These singularities mark the emergence of order out of chaos. 

As the self-organization process may be modeled mathematically, it is possible to configure a visual representation of its behavior—a phase portrait. The trajectory of behavior of the system in time may be traced by a point representing the state of the system along critical dimensions corresponding to the degrees of freedom as it moves in time through phase space. The mathematical powers of computation offer us the opportunity to learn more about systems,—how they change, and how new structures are formed by exploring attractors and bifurcations in the phase portrait. 

In the process of self-organization, singularities or critical points are embodied in “attractors” and “bifurcations” in the phase portrait. Attractors act like gravitational pulls to attract systems to their orbit. Leadership in complex dynamic systems is most analogous to a strange attractor. The trajectories of strange attractors, although stable, never repeat themselves and have the capacity to change, diminish in size, or involve a narrower or broader range of beliefs and behaviors in the social system. Qualities of strange attractors represent long-term behavioral tendencies of a system and are products of nonlinearity and interactivity. Within the leadership realm, they can represent a prevailing ensemble of interconnected values beliefs, ideas, norms, symbols, attitudes, and action tendencies that support a particular leadership prototype (Marion, 1999). Panzar et al. (2007) argue that the challenge of organizations is to simultaneously engage the potential of three types of dynamical leadership attractors—formal leadership, emergent leadership, and shared leadership—to effectively meet the challenges of complex environments. 

In his description of the “far-from-equilibrium” phenomenon, by which systems adopt novel processes and structures, Prigogine (1996) discusses the role of bifurcations in thermodynamic systems. A system is stable until it reaches a critical threshold on a path or trajectory between near-equilibrium and far-from-equilibrium called the point of bifurcation, when a critical parameter crosses a threshold. At this point, the system crosses the boundary to a landscape of different attractors available to the system. It is an unstable system until it “chooses” to fluctuate to one of the alternative attractors to regain its stability. Bifurcations are the point in the trajectory when one kind of attractor is transformed into another. What is so captivating about this discovery is that in moving to a different trajectory from instability, the system selforganizes to realize some degree of learning, innovation, and even transformation. This appears to be a mechanism for innovation, radical change, and structural change. Through this process, new levels of order spontaneously emerge in nonequilibirum systems, resulting in greater system capacity to adapt to outside conditions (Marion, 1999; Prigogine, 1996). 

Although those holding conventional views of social systems view this instability and these fluctuations as undesirable, effective leaders understand that these “far-from-equilibrium” states might seek to generate learning and new order for the system within this emergent process. Moving from a paradigm of leaders who predict and control for specific outcomes to those who appreciate the generative potential of instability, the question becomes, how does leadership support the potential for learning and the realization of transformation, adaptability, and resilience in an organization or institution? 

Command and Control Literature of the U.S. 

Department of Defense 

Linking the broader social science literature with U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) literature is important for several reasons. First, to draw effectively from knowledge created in academic networks we need to integrate the contributions of both communities. The Minerva Initiative, introduced by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2008, highlights the need for deeper and broader conversations between the DOD community of researchers and analysts and academia to mutually benefit both communities. The military has a great legacy of action research, which can be exploited in the most positive sense to more effectively translate advances in understanding so they may be of use to practitioners. 

Alberts & Hayes (2003, 2006) draw from the “edge of chaos” metaphor in their research on edge organizations. In their analysis of the practice and principles of command and control (C2), Alberts & Hayes (2006, 2007) identify three essential factors of C2 in the structures and processes of a given enterprise: the degree of constraint in patterns of interaction, the degree of control in the allocation of decision rights, and the degree to which information is distributed (see figure 1). Alberts & Hayes (2006) argue that, although a traditional C2 might be appropriate for a limited set of conditions, different approaches to leadership ranging from traditional C2 to highly distributed forms of leadership are required to function effectively in the networked environment of the 21st century. This model is a useful tool for practitioners, theorists, and analysts in examining their assumptions about authority and control and in moving toward different models of effective leadership. Alberts and his coauthors apply the term edge organizations to those organizations that leverage turbulence by exercising few constraints on patterns of interaction among agents, broadly allocating decision rights, and allowing information to be widely distributed to accelerate rates of learning to maintain competitive advantage. 

Alberts, Garstka, and Stein (1999) developed the key tenets of networkcentric warfare based on a new mindset about warfare, in which combat power and strategic advantage are achieved by leveraging the advantages of geographically dispersed, network-centric operations to achieve commanders’ intent. The authors articulated a process whereby sharing of information among agents effects a high level of shared 

Figure 1: C2 Approach Space (Source: Alberts, 2007) 

situational awareness and understanding “that can be exploited via selfsynchronization.” Several case studies offered some evidence to support the theory (Gonzales et al., 2005; U.S. Department of Defense, 2006). 

The author asserts that self-synchronization can often be more usefully understood as an emergent process of self-organization, whereby the phenomena described earlier—correlation and resonance—help explain the mechanisms by which selfsynchronization occurs. Correlation can be seen to represent constraint on the system, as it binds self-organizing within behavioral limits structured by, for example, “implicit command intent,” as behaviors that adopt a certain level of synchrony and act with some degree of harmony. Resonance describes how potential energy is released when individual agents interact, and could be viewed as the more expansive force that is constrained by the correlation mechanism. 

Linking the Cognition of Emergent Leadership to Innovation 

Recent advances in social sciences underscore the role of cognition in decision-making, and, by extension, innovation. Boisot and his colleagues (Boisot, 1998, 2007; Boisot & MacMillan, 2007; Boisot et al., 2007) have contributed substantively to our understanding of knowledge processes within and between systems. Rejecting the embedded notion, which is especially trenchant in the world of information and communications technology, that information has a reality totally separate from the social and cognitive processes that give it life, Boisot (2007, 7) fully examines how “[I]nformation only becomes knowledge if it gets internalized and becomes part of the recipient’s expectation structure—that is, if it affects the recipient’s belief structure, taken as a disposition to act.” In the elaboration of his three-dimensional Information-Space, or I-Space, Boisot highlights the nuances of organizational and institutional behavioral patterns that support information processing and knowledge creation by tracing the dynamic behavior of data flows. The three dimensions of Boisot’s ISpace capture the forming and structuring of phenomenon, and then the dispersion of information, that characterize agent behavior. The three dimensions are the degree of codification by assignment of perceptual and conceptual categories, the degree of abstraction (structuring the form by reducing number of attributes), and the degree of dispersion of information (Boisot, 1998). 

What patterns of collaboration characterize an effective project team, an organization, or even a society? How does the team or organization support or experiment with new ideas? What beliefs do they have about effective leadership? What is their learning curve; that is, what patterns are associated with both their distribution of information and knowledge and their behavioral patterns in terms of rethinking and restructuring ideas, beliefs, and behavior? Boisot and MacMillan (2007) emphasize the importance of the mindset of the leader, entrepreneur, and institution in supporting learning and innovation. Real innovation does not correspond with situations when all the facts supporting an action are known or even exist. As a consequence, to be innovative, there must exist a disposition toward risk to act under conditions of uncertainty, when the justification for acting is based on conjecture and belief, rather than facts, because they are unavailable. As a consequence, important capacities are the recognition by the agent of the underlying relationship between the type of justification for action and the action itself; the level of awareness and flexibility to distinguish between uncertainty and risk, to deal with uncertainty constructively, and to choose among different levels of risk, dependent on the situation; and an understanding that an agent can influence and shape “plausible and possible” worlds to make them more “probable and actual” (Boisot & MacMillan, 2007). Innovation is integrally connected to effective knowledge management, which balances exploitation of existing capacities with the process of exploitation—the creation of new knowledge. 

Leadership Development Framework 

Given the high levels of uncertainty, complexity, and volatility existing in the world today, how should we conceptualize effective leadership? How does our understanding of emergent processes, nonlinearity, and the interdependency of systems affect what constitutes effective leadership? How can we develop and support leadership processes that undergird flexible, adaptable organizations with capacities for both competition and collaboration? In the introduction to this essay, the author proposed that a paradigm shift in our understanding of leadership is required—one that is responsive to the challenges of the 21st century and incorporates the knowledge of recent advances in science, especially complexity science. On the basis of material presented in this essay, it is possible to describe a conceptual framework to approach leadership and leadership development that is compatible with both the complexity of the networked and interdependent environment and the challenges it presents to national security. 

The leadership development framework (LDF) is grounded in constructive development theory—a conceptual approach firmly grounded in the knowledge that human beings naturally continue to develop through adulthood, progressing through distinct stages. This theoretical framework asserts other tenets, including that development is more than acquiring new information and consists of qualitative changes in the way we know or make sense of the world, that the demands placed on adults frequently surpass their developmental capacities, that development is stimulated through the continuing interaction between the individual and the environment, that individuals are active participants in their own growth, and that an individual’s development, both the enhanced understanding and skills within one’s present stage of development and movement from one stage to the next stage, benefits from support for this emergence, extension, and elaboration as a way of knowing and the skills associated with each stage (Popp & Portnow, 2001, 49–52). 

The framework is cognitive and interpretive, in that it links actionlogic to action. The way we make sense of the world and how we interpret our experience influences our actions. We justify our actions, and we act in ways that we believe will bring about particular results or outcomes based on our map of causal relationships. The relationships between belief and action we espouse may not be the same ones that we, in reality, enact, or we might be unaware of them; nevertheless, the strength of the link between our cognition and action remains the same. 

Several theorists have identified specific stages of development characterized by distinct ways of organizing information (cognitive frameworks)—the manner in which individuals construct their experience and knowledge to create meaning. The stages of individual development, called action-logics1 in the LDF and described in more detail below, correspond closely to the stages of development identified by other development psychologists, including Kegan (1994; Torbert, 1991), Alexander (Alexander & Langer, 1990), Kohlberg (1984), Loevinger (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970), and Wilber (2000). The Leadership Development Profile (discussed below) emerged from Cook-Greuter’s theoretical and empirical work to enhance Loevinger’s work (Cook-Greuter, 1990, 1999; Torbert et al., 2004). 

This essay proposes that the LDF is compatible with what has to this point been referred to as emergent leadership—a perspective that incorporates what we have learned about interaction, learning, change, and innovation in systems from complexity science. The larger framework of emergent leadership incorporates the generative and constructive power of action. Thus, a critical epistemological stance of this approach is that actors not only interpret the reality of their environment but also, in doing so, contribute to the construction of the reality around them. In other words, individuals do not act on a larger reality that exists separately from themselves but, rather, participate in the construction of the system or systems of which they are part through their beliefs, and attitudes and the expression of these ideas in their actions. This is not to be confused with the Newtonian position, which asserts that actors can control their environment in which an assumption of linearity prevails. Nor, in contrast, should this position be conflated with an extreme phenomenological position that posits that the world does not exist separately from our construction or representation of it. The emergent leadership framework, as does the LDF, takes a realist approach to constructivism. 

The LDF identifies and describes seven stages of leadership, characterized by an increasingly complex manner of understanding oneself, perceiving the world, interpreting experience, and interrelating with others and the environment: the Opportunist, the Diplomat, the Expert, the Achiever, the Individualist, the Strategist, and the Alchemist. Table 1 distills a large body of literature describing the qualities of each of the seven stages, from the Opportunist through the Alchemist. (More detailed description of each stage are available in Rooke & Torbert, 2005, and Torbert et al., 2004). Some dimensions along which individuals transform are the main focus of their awareness, their perspective on relationships, their sources of satisfaction, their relationship to power, and the valuable contributions they make to an organization. For example, an Achiever welcomes feedback, is increasingly self-aware, and prefers to work in teams. The Achiever’s main focus is on achievement in the near future and planning and making a strategy for the future. A Strategist’s main focus is the interplay between visions, strategies, actions, and actual outcomes and is increasingly able to deal with complexity and paradox, as well as being willing to act “outside the box.” Each successive later stage reflects a more complex understanding of interdependencies of entities, whether individuals, teams, organizations, or interorganizational systems, as a basis for action, as well as high-level capacities for mutual feedback, sharing power, and temporal orientation. An important dynamic of this model is that with the development to each successive stage, the individual does not abandon the capacity to act from the orientation of earlier action-logics. An individual’s self-awareness of their tendencies to think and act in with a particular action-logic, as well as the relationship between the mindset and the action, enables the person to act from a chosen perspective purposefully and with full awareness. In other words, in developing to a later stage, the individual enhances a repertoire of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors by which to respond to the environment. Relevant to our understanding of organizational transformation, Rooke and Torbert (1998) found a statistically significant relationship between the actionlogic of the Strategist and a chief executive officer’s ability to lead successful organization transformation. 

The leadership development profile (LDP) is the assessment instrument associated with the LDF, developed over the past 20 years through modifications of Jane Loevinger’s Washington University Sentence Completion Test through a collaboration of Susanne CookGreuter, Dal Fisher, David Rooke, and Bill Torbert. The Washington University Sentence Completion Test is one of the most widely used and thoroughly validated instruments in pscyhometrics (Loevinger 1985; Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Torbert et al., 2004). The LDP consists of 36 sentence stems that are completed by those taking the assessment. The answers are coded, interpreted, and analyzed in a rigorous process (Torbert et al., 2004). The measure is designed to capture the level of leadership development of the individual by identifying the dominant action-logic of an individual; that is, how the individual interprets their environment and explains their actions.


Table 1: Action-Logics: Seven Transformations of Leadership (Source: drawn from the work of David Rooke and Bill Torbert) 

This action-logic, or map by which the individual makes sense of the world, is scalable. In other words, the behavioral tendencies based on a causal map can characterize an individual, a team, an organization, an inter-organizational initiative, or a society. This does not mean that all individuals within a group or organization possess an identical map; however, there exists sufficient coherence and compatibility that a particular action-logic does, in fact, characterize how action is justified and the domination of one action-logic over others. However, alternative action-logics or leadership attractors may exist in the landscape of a system. In addition, for example, the recognition of a great discrepancy between the stated goals and actual outcome of an initiative or strategy of an organization or a nation can lead to a bifurcation, when the landscape of attractors changes dramatically. 

The foundational argument of this essay is that maintaining competitive advantage in a network-enabled and interdependent world calls for a new perspective—a paradigm shift in our thinking about leadership and leadership development 

Drawing from this framework, the author has identified leadership capabilities required within organizations operating in national security. These capabilities can be applied to individuals, as well as teams and organizations or networked communities. 

1. Sufficient cognitive agility to reconcile multiple and diverse mental frameworks (Kegan, 1994; Rooke & Torbert, 1998). 

2. Sufficient cognitive complexity to respond and adapt to diverse and changing environmental and internal stimuli. Applying Ashby’s law of requisite variety to social systems (Ashby, 1956), individuals, teams, organizations, and societies must have enough variety in their cognitive frameworks to be able to adapt to a range of circumstances. A subset of this capability is to have a high degree of self-awareness, enabling the entity (whether an individual, a team, an organization, or a society) to be able to identify the assumptions being brought to bear relating to particular situations and to understand the limits of their application to act effectively (Alexander & Langer, 1990; Argyris & Schön, 1974; Scharmer, 2007). 

3. A worldview consistent with complexity; for example, embracing uncertainty and change as opportunity, learning from diverse points of view, and tolerating differences. 

4. Enhanced capabilities for mutual feedback and power sharing (Argyris, 2004; Torbert et al., 2004). 

5. An ability to recognize emergent patterns in both social and physical systems (Plowman & Duchon, 2007; Scharmer, 2007) 

6. An ability to harness collective intelligence by working in an inclusive, collaborative way to grow communities of trust, including the ability to encourage conversations, enhance connections to share information, and support mutual sensemaking (Plowman & Duchon, 2007; Scharmer et al., 2004). 

7. An understanding of sense-making and learning processes and how they contribute to an organization’s capability for innovation, adaptation, and timely action (Boisot & MacMillan, 2007; Senge, 1990; Weick, 1995). 

8. Ability to maintain perspective from multiple temporal realities concurrently; that is, being actively aware of how the past is influencing the present and how current actions might affect the future (Jaques, 1982, 1989; Senge et al., 2005; Torbert et al., 2004). 

These capabilities and cognitive frameworks (action-logics) are compatible with an emergent perspective, representing movement toward a different paradigm or, if you will, toward an alternative leadership attractor, and they are captured in the administration of the LDP. There is a growing body of literature and consensus that supports their effectiveness in “leading” complex adaptive systems. 

LDF and LDP Compatibility With Emergent Processes 

The LDP is one of the few highly validated instruments that are compatible with the conceptual foundations of complexity theory. The framework and profile are consistent with viewing leadership as a dynamic emergent phenomenon in complex social systems, whereby “leadership can be enacted by any interaction in an organization” (Hazy et al., 2007, 2), rather than being lodged within one person or role. 

As leaders advance to later-stage action-logics, they acquire higher level capacities to learn, adapt, offer and accept feedback, and share power. The leader’s capacity for encouraging conversations and mutual sense-making required for network-enabled operations is emphasized. Acting from later-stage action-logics, individuals and organizations are not fearful or perplexed by complexity, change, or paradox—conditions characteristic of “far-from-equilibrium” states—but, rather, recognize the generative capacity of these states and seek to use these challenges productively and positively as opportunities for learning and development for themselves, their organizations, and their societies. 

Emergent Leadership Action Research Project 

The author of this article designed and conducted a pilot project exploring leadership and leadership development that was integrated into the delivery of an elective in Defense Transformation for resident students at the U.S. Army War College during the academic year of 2007–08 and was supported by the Transformation Chairs Network, formerly of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This study was designed as an action research study (Reason and Bradbury, 2001), in that the “human subjects” acted as full participants in the study to maximize both their learning and development and the validity of the findings using their contributions and insights. 

The research objectives were to increase understanding of the relationships between leadership and organizational development and transformation in the context of multinational, interagency, and joint military projects and missions; gain knowledge about how to structure projects and programs of leadership development to support and accelerate effectiveness and transformation at our institutions; and support leadership development of individual participants. 

The LDP was the instrument used to assess the leadership development of the participants in the study. The results of the assessment and the debriefing sessions with individual participants, as well as participant observations made by the author as principal investigator during the course of the 10-week course, were used as data sources. 

The demographics of the 14 participants are presented in table 2. In summary, it was a small, self-selected group that included both military and civilian U.S. Army personnel. Two of the participants were from foreign military services—one European and another Asian. Ten were colonels, and two were lieutenants. The two civilians had equivalently high ranks in the civilian core. Thirteen were students, and one participant was a faculty member. The elective was taken in the final 3 months of a highly selective resident program for developing leaders at the strategic level in national security. A high degree of trust was established among the students and between the students and the faculty. 

Table 2: Demographics of Participants in Leadership Study 

This study was an exploratory, inductive study, rather than a statistical one. The participants were not randomly chosen but were a small group of self-selected participants who, as evidenced by their choice of electives, were interested in transformation and leadership. By virtue of their presence in the highly selective group of resident students at the U.S. Army War College, they most likely demonstrated strong leadership in either field operations or enterprise management within the DOD or the foreign equivalent. 

Results of the Study 

The distribution of the action-logics is represented in table 3 and is compared with samples representing other populations reported in studies by Torbert and Harthill. In summary, 7% of the study sample scored at the Expert level, 50% scored at the Achiever level, 21.5% at the Individualist level, and 21.5% at the Strategist level. Note that the sample of students, managers, and supervisors represented in the far left column were assessed between 1980 and 1995 and were predominately from the United States. The sample of consultants and managers were assessed between 1993 and 2006 and were predominately in the United Kingdom. In this simple comparison, we see that the shape of distribution of action-logics remains similar across all samples; however, as the complexity of experience reflected in the sample increases, the top of the bell curve moves to the right, toward later-stage action-logics. 

The framework was found to be viable for use in the context of national security professionals, in that the logic of the framework resonated with the participants in the context of their experience. They readily used it to explain the outcomes they had experienced in previous leadership experience and to design strategies about how to address organizational and leadership challenges in their future. The framework seemed to help participants understand their own behavior. In summary, the conceptual framework created a tangible path for development, including the consideration of strategies for their future leadership growth in the context of their next position. This qualitative finding is valuable because the LDP had not been previously been used within the population of national security workers. This pilot project demonstrated that the framework was viable from the point of view that it made sense to them and generated interest in their own development. 

We cannot generalize from this very small sample to a larger population; however, on the basis of these results, one can extract a number of insights. Our institutions of national security are, for the most part, producing and rewarding Achievers. Even though Achievers play a very important role in organizations, we need to support the development of the action-logic of Strategists to accomplish the organizational transformation necessary in so many of our institutions. Although Achievers become involved in the crafting of plans and strategies for the future, they tend to focus on achieving shorter-term goals, sometimes forsaking longer-term strategic outcomes. Given the challenges of the 21st century for high levels of collaboration, innovation, learning, and adaptability, institutions need to encourage 

Table 3: Distribution of Action-Logics (Source: Harthill, Inc. and Sandra M. Martinez) 

and offer support to Strategic Leadership—leadership that is “adept at creating shared vision across action-logics” (Rooke & Torbert, 2005, 71) and can deal with the interrelationships of personal, organizational, national, and international developments. Research has shown that Achievers need to develop through an Individualist stage, in which they question the cultural prescriptions for behavior and the goals and strategies of the organization within which they function and as they seek to reconcile personal, professional, and organization needs. In the context of this framework, we need to support this development of motivated, high-potential leaders to move through a period that is inherently unconventional to reach a higher-level capacity for leadership. 

Larger and longitudinal research projects measuring the same dimensions are necessary to answer such questions as, is the U.S. military leadership in a phase transition? What are some of the emerging characteristics of the merging military or national security leader? What are the factors influencing this transformation? What is the range of variability of leadership development among different military hierarchy, different services, or other constituent groups? 


To meet the challenges of the 21st century, our institutions of national security need to effectively engage in multimodal ways of supporting leadership with enhanced capacities for collaboration, innovation, and in general, achieving productive outcomes for systemic interventions at many levels in complex environments. 

Our educational institutions play a vital role in meeting these challenges. I recommend curricula for national security professionals that fully integrate tangible and effective programs of leadership development within more traditional academic programs. Several DOD educational institutions are currently designing or implementing hybrid Master’s degree and certificate programs that include resident and distance-learning elements in which the institutions integrate this type of leadership development into the curriculum. On the basis of this pilot study and the principles presented in this essay, the recommendations are to use leadership development assessments designed to measure capabilities related to cognitive complexity and effectiveness in complex environments, offer feedback to students in a learning environment in relationships of trust and in the context of the challenges of their current and future positions, and accompany this process with opportunities for reflection to support increased awareness about how participants perceive and structure reality and how this influences their behavior and, ultimately, their effectiveness within their organization and larger network of individuals with whom they interact. 

For students to progress, they require opportunities to experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving in the context of their professional and organizational challenges. The academic elements of these programs should include carefully selected content about emergent principles that will contribute to the students’ understanding of how complex adaptive organizations function and will offer new meaningful insights about leadership as a process in general, as well as their own perceptions and behavioral tendencies related to leadership. In addition, the content, assessments, and activities of the program should be linked to the students’ understanding of innovation, learning, and transformation in complex adaptive systems. Faculty need to subscribe to a framework that is compatible with the paradigm presented and commit to developing relationships of trust with the students and sharing power in the classroom to encourage learning. 


Technological and organizational innovation are intrinsically intertwined processes involving exploration at many systemic levels including the individual, organizational, interorganizational, and societal. Sustaining innovation requires a mindset or action-logic that understands complex adaptive systems and that can leverage advantageously a balance between the exploitation of information and knowledge already possessed with the exploration for new knowledge to achieve desirable outcomes. 

To maintain competitive advantage, our institutional action-logic and practices need to reflect a high level of complexity about the interrelatedness of systems—more specifically, in this context, the integration of technological, social, cultural, and cognitive elements of the innovation process—drawing from the most advanced knowledge in the physical and social sciences. To maintain a competitive position and contribute to sustaining both national and international security, we must leverage the creative capacity of our systems, rather than suppress them by unwarranted attempts to control exchange of information and creation of knowledge. In contrast, individuals, teams, and the leadership culture of our institutions need to understand better what risk means in a highly interrelated and complex world. We cannot accomplish these objectives in an interdependent world without achieving a faster “rate of learning” than our adversaries, which involves leveraging the collective intelligence of all our resources. Ready or not, whether we like it or not, the “edge of chaos” is generally where we are operating or need to be functioning. Recently, there seems to be a reluctance to use the term “transformation” within the DOD; however, it seems clear that organizational and institutional transformation is exactly what is necessary to accomplish the paradigmatic shift in thinking and behavior that is required for sustained learning and competitive advantage and for securing the common good. 

The individuals and organizational cultures that support thinking at the threshold of complexity we have described require high levels of self-awareness, tolerance for a broad diversity of thought and approach, capacities for sharing power, and a range of temporal orientations and mutual feedback. This essay has presented a framework for conceptualizing these capabilities and some methods and tools for realizing the transformation.

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