Yes, we can learn about anything. Practice, discipline and reflection can help us learn new skills and master old ones. But you can only be as efficient as your paradigm lets you. It’s like driving a car: you can learn about mechanics, practice via videos but unless you can reach the pedals and see over the wheel, you won’t be good at it. It’s the difference between 9 year-old and 45 year-old: the former can dream about becoming the best driver, only the latter can actually be it.
The Inner and Outer Game of Leadership Development
Of course, skills (outer game) are essential to reach leadership mastery but it is only half of the equation, and the weakest one. Have you ever experienced the situation where you learned a great skill, like active listening, skill that you practice more and more but that disappears the minute stress puts pressure on you to a point where the old habit comes back? In French we say: ” chassez le naturel, il revient au galop” (“the leopard can’t change it’s spots”). It means that if you don’t have the inner spirit of valuing listening as a stance rather than a skill, it will feel like dressing up for a circus: it doesn’t fit you really; you will revert to your old self.
This doesn’t mean that your self (your consciousness, your belief system, your decision making system, your mental models, your inner game as Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams put it in their book Mastering Leadership) can’t grow and switch paradigm to reach new values, new beliefs, and new mental modes. They say that the most crucial variable in that shift is age; hence maturity is key to leadership development. I’d add that self-development and self-reflection definitely help too.
Why Is Leadership Development Important?
An organization can only be as powerful and efficient as its operating system (Anderson and Adams, 2016), meaning the leadership system (the top levels of leadership) and the inner operating system of each leader within that leadership system (their thinking mode and paradigms). So, if the CEO’s operating system sees control as the only way to lead, there is a fair chance that the company will not be thriving: the employees being too busy covering their ass (excuse my French) and feeling inadequate under such scrutiny.
Researches show that powerful leadership is the one that can use complexity to its advantage, and only mature leaders can achieve exactly that. What is a mature leader? It is not a bedridden person all rusty and dusty, it is rather someone sharp who presents well-honed skills and a highly evolved consciousness and way of thinking. It is a person who can trust its peers and empower its direct reports so that the organization is co-leading using the best expertise available. He is confident that who s/he is is beyond what s/he does.
The opposite is the leader who identifies itself to its skills and can’t perceive the world differently. S/he tends to be controlling, complying, micro managing or autocratic. In fact, the less mature leaders process the world by seeing problem threats that triggers fear and reaction to that fear. So they might throw any good strategy through the window once pressure places them in fear (which is basically every day).
A mature leader will see the world differently and set a purposeful vision that inspires passion and leads towards action despite problem or complexity. It is the recipe for success and especially in a complex world. They learn from problems and difficulties, in a way that rises the whole organization. The are ego-less and purpose-ful.
How to Grow Maturity
If maturity is a key component to efficient leadership but is not only linked to age, how can we reach it? I see it as similar to plants: they grow through stages and need specific components to the process to develop from a seed to a beautiful radiant plant. As it is obvious that children grow following stages of development, the same applies for leadership, even though it is less expected and much less visible.
It is true that there is a link between age and maturity but it is not hampering someone spiritual who self-reflect and actively seek feedback in the purpose of growing to reach the next stage sooner that someone more rigid holding too much to its position for too long. I’m sure you recognized quite a lot of leaders in your circle. To paraphrase Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams what you hold in your consciousness tends to manifest. Which reminds me of a video about Rick Tamlyn and the power to create the life you want because It’s All Made Up. What you think becomes words that become reality. What you hold back could be a miss opportunity that leads to future deception.
So to help you on your quest towards maturity, here is a fantastic question borrowed from the book Master Leadership: How mature is your inner game for the stage you are on, or to which you aspire? This simple question can open your mind and shed some light to the places in your life that need or want to grow. Sometime the people closer to you are your teachers, as they are the one complaining about your shortcomings. So listen carefully to and thank them, which is the first step towards maturity: get out of yourself and see the interconnectedness of everything. But that is another topic entirely.
Leadership & Change Coach
Author of The Expat Method, Mastering Personal and Organizational Change.