Are you starting to wonder where all the outstanding leaders are in the world? And why it’s so hard to find them in public office or in business? So hard, in fact, that it would be fair to ask ourselves if leaders such as Nelson Mandela are anomalies – rare gems – that, against all the odds, are able to pull off spectacular change projects and positively impact others’ lives.

Looking at the best leadership research over the past couple of decades reveals why leaders who are a significant cut above the rest are like hen’s teeth.

Researchers Daniel Goldman, Jack Zenger, Joe Folkman and Robert Kegan say: Extraordinary leaders have a high degree of self-awareness and emotional maturity after spending years honing and developing their skills of self-insight and self-management.

Critical thinkers who can hold multiple perspectives and make knowledge-based decisions that are consultative and wise, they’re often quite courageous. They have learned to balance their creative and intuitive tendencies with their analytical problem solving power.

They’re highly skilled at forming effective relationships with a wide range of people and have deep empathy for the people they connect with. They understand and have learned to integrate and leverage their trigger points and their reactive tendencies. They’re able to hold a strategic and global view and have a broad involvement with their communities.

They’re visionary human beings and have a strong degree of personal integrity.

These leaders not only deliver on the bottom line but have a strongly positive influence on their organisations’ cultures. Employees find it inspirational to work there, are supported to develop and flourish in their career and show little desire to leave. These leaders are emulated by many and are the sort of people most of us dream of working with.

So again we can ask, where are they? For so many people their daily experience is at the other end of the scale. They are involved – or have been – with organisations where leaders paint a great picture to the outside world but whose thinly veiled culture is based on fear and mistrust and dominated by the dysfunctional ego where employees are fearful of displeasing, speaking out, making a mistake or being in the “out” crowd.

Kegan, one of the world’s foremost researchers in helping us understand the stages of development or consciousness that human beings move and grow through, has highlighted statistics that help us understand this glaring absence.

In a six-stage model which begins at stage one “childhood”, at least 70 per cent of adults exist at what he terms stage three or below. Marked by a high level of societal conditioning and reactivity where success or failure is measured in the external world through career, achievements and relationships, stage three people lack the ability to have insight into what drives their thinking, behaviour and value systems.

What is more concerning is that about 13 per cent of adults exist in the “adolescence” phase of stage two – a self-preoccupied phase focused on looking out for number one and getting needs met through others – or are transitioning out towards stage three. It’s estimated that at least 5 per cent of the world’s leaders are in the “adolescence” stage also.

What Kegan and other researchers are very clear about, and is of deep concern for us all, is that our complex, digital world of work requires behaviour, particularly from leaders, that is beyond the capacity of stage three adults – let alone stage two.

But moving out of this stage is considered the major and most difficult life transition – traditionally, the hero’s journey.

As the individual moves towards stage four, they become more reflective and less likely to define themselves from their external achievements/relationships/status. They begin to form an independent and creative sense of self – one that is no longer concerned with pleasing others or living up to others’ expectations.

When Einstein commented that the significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of consciousness that created them, he was alluding to the “solvers” as being those who press forward on the consciousness journey of self-awareness.

Based on the research indicators, Donald Trump is clearly not in that category. Trump is, however, who he is. But in a global leadership position he can only ever come unstuck. The higher he ascends in leadership positions, the greater the liability.

However, his run for the US Presidency has an upshot – and this is what I am grateful for – his deficiencies remind us all what qualities embody true leadership – and the impact when unfit leaders are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Source: The New Zealand Herald


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