Leadership Capacity Framework

Leadership Capacity Framework

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Leaders increase their capacity to lead as they naturally gain psychological maturity. This is characterised by development in the way they think, feel and act. This article outlines the 7 stages of leadership development describing how leaders think, feel and act each stage .

Increasing leadership capacity through gaining greater psychological maturity is natural process which can take over 20 years to complete. Most leaders never fully complete the process and fulfil their potential due to their conditioning, fears and habits.   Psychological maturity is characterised by development in cognition, emotion, and behaviour.  To put it more simply we become more sophisticated in the way we think, feel and act.  Wise leaders ensure that they have developed the necessary psychological maturity to cope with the complexity in their work environment.

To accelerate their natural development, leaders need a map of the terrain and to plan their route.  Pioneers such as Robert Kegan, Jane Loevinger, Susan Cook-Greuter, and Bill Torbert have mapped the terrain for leader development. Whilst each of these pioneers has mapped a different aspect of the terrain, combined they form the Leadership Capacity Framework comprising of seven stages.  If you want to read the work of these pioneers please refer to our bibliography.

Stage 1 - Power
Leaders operating from this level tend to see the world in terms of survival of the fittest and are driven by a need to win at almost any cost.  They see their behaviour as legitimate in the cut and thrust / dog eat dog world of business.  These leaders will seek to exploit situations and will consider other people’s perspectives where it is beneficial to achieving their own goals.  Whilst these leaders are likely to plan ahead and keep to their plan, they will prefer to work on actual tangible activities rather than those that are abstract and conceptual.  There may be a tendency for these leaders to see feedback as a threat to their authority rather than being useful for their leadership development.

To gain their confidence to lead other people these leaders tend to rely on, and be supported by, the power of their position in the organisational hierarchy or the power they can borrow from their superiors or the rule book.

Stage 2 - Inclusion
Feeling included and being part of the team enables these leaders to work at their best. They often provide the social glue within organisations.  These leaders tend to integrate other people’s points of view as part of their own self-concept.  Consequently, they tend to see themselves through other people’s perspectives.  They will tend to try to conform to the rules and norms of their group/organisation and will seek to gain acceptance by controlling their own behaviour. These leaders are very able to adapt so as to fit-in and will tend to become annoyed with others who go against the rules, norms and culture of the organisation.  As such they can be very loyal to their team or company.  These leaders will tend to view feedback as disapproval or as a reminder of the norms that are to be followed.

These leaders are able to influence people through their developing ability to empathise and therefore are able to let go of their need for power and authority.  They also recognise that other people may have a valid contribution to decision making.  To gain their confidence to lead other people these leaders tend to rely on, and be supported by, the relationships they build within their team.

Stage 3 - Competence
These leaders are highly driven to assert themselves through their expertise.  They tend to rely on data and logic to influence and gain support for themselves and their ideas.  Leaders who operate from this level have some appreciation of what they are actually like as an independent person and will attempt to find their niche or cultivate relationships that are in tune with who they are.  However, they tend not to be entirely confident with their authentic leadership and may overly assert their individuality, i.e. when there is a conflict of opinions, or when they are under pressure.  These leaders usually have a tendency to support their emerging individuality with their knowledge and expertise.  They are likely to dismiss feedback from those who are not seen as experts in their field.

Along with their emerging authenticity, leaders at this level are able to start letting go of their need to rely on, and be supported by, others.  However, to gain the confidence to assert their authenticity they tend to rely on their own knowledge and expertise.

Stage 4 - Delivery
The desire to achieve their own, team and business objectives utilising their strengths and fulfilling their potential is a huge driver for these leaders.  They are likely to have a good sense of who they are and how they differ from others, and will have some appreciation of the value of these differences.  These leaders tend to demonstrate authentic leadership with considered self confidence in their own personality.  This confidence can lead people operating from this level to be able to effectively challenge and support other people, create a positive high performing team atmosphere, and foster collaboration.  Whilst they are aware of their own authenticity they tend not to invite others to question their system of values and beliefs that support their sense of self.  Instead they may have a tendency to spend so much time maintaining their sense of self that they may not see the possibilities for transforming that self.  They are generally open to feedback, especially if it helps them improve.

These leaders have tended to let go of the need to be the knowledgeable expert and the source of all the answers to the problems their team is experiencing. Instead these leaders have gained confidence in their authenticity and have recognised their own strengths and weaknesses. They tend to focus on achieving goals and objectives as a means of protecting their right to be authentic. The combination of self knowledge and the need to deliver results often leads these leaders to surround themselves with people who have strengths that cover their own weaknesses.

Stage 5 - Clarity
At this level leaders are driven by their desire to gain clarity through adopting a variety of perspectives. They are aware of the limitations of their own personality and tend to adapt the system or context as a way of coping, protecting self, and finding their place.  Leaders who function at this level have a very good sense of self-awareness and a genuine appreciation of the differences in others.  They are able to take multiple perspectives on matters and recognise there is not always a clear answer to everything.  This can sometimes cause them to feel conflicted in their leadership and have doubt regarding their own inner beliefs. They tend to welcome feedback as necessary for self-knowledge and to uncover hidden aspects of their own behaviour.

These leaders have usually started to lose confidence in their own authenticity often as a result of finding themselves in situations where it no longer produces the results they desire.  This tends to lead them to the realisation that other people view the world differently and that their worldview may not be the only ‘right’ worldview.  They are, however, still driven to find ‘the’ right answer which they assume exists in something or someone.

Stage 6 - Service
These leaders have the ability to view issues as relative to a wider system and see constraints and people’s perceptions as transformable.  As these leaders are no longer ultimately invested in any one self-system they are able to adapt their behaviour to meet the demands of the situation with great agility.  Their sense of identity is usually well integrated and they will tend to have acknowledged the negative aspects of their self, thereby having little need to defend their ego.  As a consequence they focus on how their leadership can be of service to their followers, business and society rather than on their own needs and career.  These leaders tend to see life as inquiry and see irritation as learning about how to transform/create a new self.  This focus on transformation can result in the leader neglecting the pragmatic needs of work.  They may also be seen as working outside of the current organisational culture which could result in communications difficulties and misunderstandings.  These leaders tend to invite feedback as a means to self-actualise.

These leaders have let go of their need to defend themselves.  The energy they would have invested in self-defence can now be invested in serving others.  They have also tended to let go of the need to find the one ‘truth’ or ‘right’ answer.  Instead they are open to working with a multiple of perspective and systems.  This gives them the ability to perceive, think and behave with agility and to be at ease with complexity and uncertainty.

Stage 7 - Chairmanship
The rare ability to view themselves, the situation, the business and society simultaneously, from an external perspective, is a characteristic of leaders at this level. They are able to hold a mirror up to situations and reflect back an unbiased view of reality.  Leaders who function at this level view and critique self and the system from a witness perspective (outside of the system).  This enables them to criticise their own perspective and sense making, and authentically change perspectives to gain greater clarity on a situation. Only by letting go of their own ego can these leaders achieve such a high level of agility.  In their leadership they work with the interplay of awareness, thought, emotion, action and effects, to transform their self, others and the organisation.  These leaders tend to view feedback as a natural part of a living system, essential for learning and change.

As these leaders have let go of their ego they have gained the ability to hold contradictory views without conflict. This often enables them to resolve a paradox by creating something new.


For an estimate of your leadership capacity take a look at our simple Self Assessment Exercise.

For activities to progress through the seven stages of leadership development take a look at our Workplace Development Series.

To ensure that you are engaging in activities that are right for your stage of development download our free Leadership Development Planning Guide and Workbook


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