Leaders develop, if they develop, through a series of sequential stages, and these same stages exist in all cultures. They are, therefore, universal and invariant, built into human nature. To ignore Flyright (web)this reality is to jeopardize our efforts to transform organizations and develop effective leaders. Transformative change requires all stakeholders to shift to a higher stage of development. Unless this personal transformation occurs, any improvement will be temporary. The organization will likely revert back to normal, its prior equilibrium, since the inner game runs the outer game.

Personal transformation is the movement from one stage to the next. At each progressive developmental stage a new, higher-order structural design principle is established to relate the self to the world. Reality does not change. What changes is the way we organize the self–world relationship. As the self adopts a higher-order IOS, the interface between the self and the world is at once more complex, simple, and elegant. Now it can handle more complexity with more grace, greater ease, and less energetic cost—in short, mastery. Unsolvable dilemmas (adaptive challenges) at previous stages evaporate in the new reality. What was not possible in the prior stage becomes doable. The person experiences a new burst of creativity, efficacy, freedom, power, and joy. The organization experiences a person standing more fully in their leadership capacity. The world gains someone capable of greater contribution and service.

As leaders move to higher levels (higher versions of themselves), so too evolve the system and culture. The evolution of the individual and organization is interdependent. The organization cannot organize at a higher level of performance than the consciousness of its leadership. Until the system organizes at the new level, it hinders the development of most people in the system. Moreover, advanced business structures place an evolutionary demand on all stakeholders. As conscious leaders invent higher-order systems, the design mandates development in everyone. As critical mass develops to a new stage, a new tipping point is reached, enabling the system to sustain its evolutionary leap.

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

Yes, 70–85% of change efforts fail, but we can do better if we manage change in Creative and Integral ways, addressing the inner and outer demands of transformation. We must be willing to go through the same Metanoia (shift of mind and heart) that we want for the enterprise and engage in the difficult, ongoing dialogue that surfaces what is hidden in our culture, thus allowing personal transformation to translate into cultural and systemic change.

For organizational change to be real, we need to personally transform ourselves. Much “resistance to change” is actually the struggle people have with reorganizing their identity. People need help and support to make this inner journey. They seldom get it in change efforts. We know that personal transformation precedes organizational transformation; however, until recently we lacked the development pathway for creating sustainable personal and, therefore, business transformation.

The inner dynamics of identity are powerful forces. They operate at both individual levels (who I am) and at collective/cultural levels (who we are). For most of us, these powerful forces were organized years ago. They have decades of momentum behind them. If these internal dynamics are ignored, they can easily scuttle the most well-intentioned change process.

Deep systemic change occurs only if we can be the change we want to see. This shift is what we mean by evolving from one level to a higher-order level. We describe these five levels of leadership as: 1) Egocentric, 2) Reactive, 3) Creative, 4) Integral, and 5) Unitive.


Excerpted from Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams (Wiley, 2015)

Bob Anderson is Chairman and Chief Development Officer and Bill Adams is CEO of The Leadership Circle and the Full Circle Group. They are coauthors of Mastering Leadership (Wiley). Visit www.fcg-global.com or http://www.theleadershipcircle.com.