Last week I wrote that adult development was the missing link for many big questions we’re struggling with in business and society. This week Bill Torbert elaborated on his research that business transformation can only be successful when the CEO is at the strategist level of action logic.
In this blog I will explain to you:
- How Bill Torbert describes adult development
- How the first two post conventional stages (individualist & strategist) will look differently at organisational transformation. And consequently,
- How CEO’s succeed in organisational transformation
Bill Torbert describes adult development as occurring through 7 levels of action logics: from opportunist, to diplomat, to expert, to achiever, to individualist, to strategist and finally to the alchemist. Action logic is how people at different levels of development “try to figure out what to do in any situation.”
Bill explained that one of the key characteristics of adult development is that it occurs in sequence. You cannot skip a level and developing up levels requires considerable work. He describes the experience of developing to a new level as being ‘born again’, which emphasizes how these different levels really shift ones perspective of the world. Furthermore, each action logic has a set of assumptions, and in order to grow out of this action logic, you need to inquire into it’s core set of assumptions. If you don’t challenge your assumptions, you will stop developing.
There is a key assumption contained in all levels before the individualist, which is that “the world they see is the real world and that people who don’t agree are stupid”. The individualist challenges this assumption, and starts to understand that people have different world views, different frames of reference, and as a consequence, they will act differently. This shift is the hallmark of post-conventional development.
If you look at organisational transformation from the individualist perspective, suddenly it becomes important to listen to the other perspectives in the organisation. Their feedback will now be seen as valid, and might even challenge a leaders assumptions. From the individualist perspective, this will be seen as a good thing, as an individualist know they do not hold the absolute truth. This is precisely the reason why Bill explained that the individualist starts to prefer difference over similarity.
An Individualist leader understands that, if a key success factor for business transformation is motivating and empowering their people, they will need to motivate them within their own worldview. Listening suddenly becomes a golden skill. Consequently, a unilateral hierarchical approach seems futile, as you cannot force transformation – a painful lesson many organisations still do not get.
The developmental challenge of the individualist
The problem that an Individualist faces is that he has difficulty figuring out how decisions have to be made. Does everybody need to agree? Integrating all “valid” perspectives can be an endless task and will severely hamper organisational effectiveness.
This might be the dark place many developing leaders in organisations find themselves in – not yet knowing how to combine their newly emerged worldview with their old habits of steering effectively. Downshifting back to unilateral control feels wrong, but what do you do? This is the kind of challenge can lead people to develop further.
Enter the Strategist
The Strategist understands that while all perspectives have a value, they are most effective within a certain context. The strategist action logic allows for a new level of discernment, through which effective decision making and cooperation can be combined. Because of a deeper understanding of the different action logic’s, the strategist can devise collaborative processes in which the best of all perspectives can be integrated. They can use the “hot” buttons of the different action logics to motivate and avoid all their “cold” buttons. This way, strategists start to master a shifting of their style depending on who they meet – knowing what to do, when and where.
During an organisational transformation, the strategist is able to generate a shared vision and co-create new structures. These solutions don’t need to be imposed on the employees, as their needs and different developmental perspectives have already been integrated during the creative process.
The three key elements for leading a successful business transformation
A CEO will only be able to succeed in transforming their organisation if they:
1 – understand that people have a different worldview, or level of development (individualist perspective)
2 – are able to appreciate the specific qualities and limitations of the different developmental action logic’s. (strategist perspective)
3 – have the leadership skills to apply their insights into co-creating processes that will result in solutions, systems and structures that engage all different action logics. (applied strategist competencies)
The result is a truly transformed organisation that creates an engaging working environment for all the different action logics. This enables the business to effectively catalyze the motivation and productivity of all employees, in service of realizing its vision and goals. Through integrating the best ideas of developmental perspectives, leaders and CEOs can find highly competitive solutions to the current challenges of organisational life.