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I sincerely hope you and your families are keeping well and safe from the pandemic that is spiking its way around the world again.

Last week I ventured that leaders are not born or made, but that they mature. In doing so, mature leaders not only wake up (become aware) and grow up (learn new stuff), but also show up (in mature form). In a moment of over-confidence, I also undertook to outline a developmental pathway to leadership maturity this week. I say over-confidence because I had a notion of what I would be writing at the time; however, as the week progressed, I realized just how complex the topic might become. Nevertheless, today I am going to borrow from Oliver Wendell Holmes (Senior – I think) who, about a hundred years ago, said:

“I don’t give a jot for simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give anything for simplicity on the other side.”

I am not sure how Chief Justice Wendell Holmes would be coping with VUCA and the pandemic, but I am going to go where he may have feared to tread, albeit with some trepidation!

One model that seems to be at the basis of many developmental theories in some way, relates to our levels of consciousness, our levels of awareness. The first level of consciousness is ego-centric: we see the world, and our language reflects this, from our own perspective. We speak in terms of “I” and “me”, rather like a young child – although, if you look around you numerous adults can be seen to have got ‘stuck’ here.

The next level of consciousness is ethno-centric where we see the world from the perspective of the ‘tribes’ we belong to, our family, business, country etc without being able to look wider than that. When Donald Trump came to power four years ago it was on the back of making the nation proud again – the ethno-centric approach of “us” and “we”.

Interestingly enough, his reluctance to concede defeat may mean that he is at ego-centric level again which highlights how growth in maturity happens in these models. We may grow from one level to the other but in essence what happens is that we include the level we are in and transcend it to the next level which means we will operate normally at the level transcended to but can go back to the previous level when we need to.

The next level to aspire to is world-centricity where our world view and language is about “all of us”. Joe Biden seems to be at this level of consciousness if we listen to what he has to say about not being the President for the Democratic Party (which would have shown ethno-centricity) but a “President for all Americans”. It seems therefore that he has developed over the years from egocentricity to ethnocentricity to world-centricity – that’s how it works.

As I intimated last week, maturity (whether personal or leadership) is not something one learns – so it’s not about Biden having been on more or better courses than Trump. While Trump may have ticked some boxes, Biden seems to have gone through the wake up – grow up – show up journey in whatever way that worked out for him.

Linking back to my newsletter two weeks ago regarding conflict management, how one deals with conflict is also a function of one’s level of consciousness. Put simplistically, at an egocentric level, my opinion is all that matters – it’s my way or the highway. At an ethnocentric level, the opinion of the tribe is what matters. At a world-centric level, everyone’s views matter. Which raises and interesting point: it is easy at world-centric level to facilitate that everyone puts their views on the table but far more difficult to find what to do with that multiplicity of views, how to mold them into a solution. And that’s often where leaders at this level find their greatest challenge. I see two examples of this:

  • One of the reasons the Democrats had lost power in the Senate and Congress prior to 2016 (and thereafter) was that they were seen as wishy washy – they struggled to deal with a multiplicity of views and to come up with clear policy. So, the Republicans, and Trump, were seen to be the stronger option because they gave the voters clearer options.
  • The European Union was an attempt at world-centricity but weren’t really getting anywhere, at least in Britain’s eyes; hence, a reversion to ethnocentricity via Brexit.

These examples reflect that levels of consciousness, as examples of maturity, apply not only to individuals and leaders, but to organisations and countries as well. At a leadership level, fellow South Africans might find it useful to consider the possible levels of consciousness of PW Botha, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Julius Malema as a way of contextualizing what happened under their respective leaderships.

It’s important to bear in mind that these levels should be seen as one way of understanding where people are in their lives, not to be weaponized as judgement. People are where they are in terms of the levels of consciousness not through any fault of their own but because that’s where they are in terms of their maturity. We have all, for whatever reason, only woken up, grown up and shown up at our level of consciousness. So think of it as a way of understanding ourselves and others.

So, how do we mature then, as individuals, as individual leaders? The good news is that one can raise one’s self-awareness regarding which level one is operating at – what language one uses (I, me; us, we; all of us), how one’s emotions support this language, and how we explain our different viewpoints, would be a good start. Having become aware of this (awake), compare how you might answer these at the next level (grow), and then, if you are able to, try to be at the next level (show up). Looks simple, doesn’t it? The bad news is in the last step – to be at the next level of consciousness is different from doing the next level of consciousness. Understanding it cognitively is the easy part – you may be able to understand it cognitively just from reading this newsletter. Being it, however, embodying it, showing up can take a decade or so – but it’s really worth maturing, isn’t it!

Until next week, please stay safe and well.

PS: A cautionary note: please understand that the examples I use and commentary I provide are largely anecdotal and based on my observations of and experience with numerous clients over 20 years. Although I tend to read extensively, I am not a psychologist and the “theories” contained herein are intended to provoke thought, discussion and awareness. I hope that you enjoy them in the manner intended.


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