Why Maturity Matters
In Our Political Leadership

Part One

(of four parts)2

of

A CALL FOR AN INTEGRAL POLITICAL MOVEMENT

 

As an American citizen, having a peaceful transfer of presidential power and honoring the results of an election are important to me.  I wish President Donald Trump the very best in leading the United States in the most enlightened way that he is able and in being willing to respond well to good advice.  As a person of faith, I pray that our Nation makes progress under his leadership.

In this context I am committed to healing our national divides. Through an initiative called the Utah Civil and Compassionate Communities (UCCC), several of us arranged for UCCC to sponsor and hold the “Utah Citizen Summit” in Salt Lake City the weekend after the general election in November 2016. The Summit explored how we all might come together in Utah and America  – including supporters of Clinton and Trump – after such a divisive election season. We brought in the best resource people we could find from across America to help us with this initiative, and we are currently networking around the Nation to learn with others about how to do this well3.

Nevertheless, as a right leaning moderate who cares deeply about character and personal maturity, I have the gravest of concerns about President Trump’s ongoing demonstrated deficits in character and lack of maturity.  As much as I wish him well, I fear that he may continue to act out in ways that are pathological and immature, and in the process damage America and the World. In addition, so many of our political leaders in America lack adequate maturity, which – as I will explain – is a primary cause of the severe dysfunction of Congress. Many but not all issues related to character are implicit in maturity, but I will mainly emphasize the lens of maturity here and how much we need to seek for greater maturity in our elected leadership.

 

A Framework for Leadership Maturity

Leadership maturity does not correlate fully with the intelligence that IQ measures nor with age.  One can be a brilliant and intolerant ideologue or a rigid and narrow elder, for example. Generally speaking, such maturity has more to do with developing the capacity to manage complexity and to take multiple perspectives as an aspect of ego development interrelated with moral and interpersonal lines of intelligence.  Such descriptions of qualities of maturity are not mere suppositions, but rather reflect well established characteristics and capacities based on the science of developmental psychology4

Following is a description of some primary stages of leadership maturity. Each of us functions over a range of developmental stages.  However, our “center of gravity” with regard to a particular line or cluster of lines of intelligence (in this case having to do with leadership maturity) comes out of a dominant stage or two. There are more than a dozen other major lines of intelligence, and how all of these lines interact and manifest through any given person is complex and unique; however, understanding the attributes that typically present themselves through each of these stages of leadership maturity is vitally important.

It is also important to note that every major society has within it the full range of stages of leadership maturity, with some differences in how the later stages taper off depending on the average developmental center of gravity of a particular society5.  Healthy leadership at every stage of development is important in every society in various contexts except stage one leadership maturity, described below, which is severely regressive for any adult.  The point here to note is that elected public sector leadership in the 21st century, where every decision and action arguably has multi-systemic and national and global implications, calls for the most mature leadership capacities that we can access.

Stage One Leadership Maturity

What I will call stage one leadership maturity is reflected in those who are oriented to personal power, self-aggrandizement and self-gratification.  Stage one leaders tend to be impulsive, demonize those with whom they disagree, and lash out in reaction to perceived slights. Truth is frequently manipulated to serve the power and ego needs of the stage one leader, and playing on people’s fears is a primary strategy.  The danger to the integrity of a constitutional democratic society and the rule of law with a leader who operates from this severely stunted center of gravity is serious because democratic values and institutions tend to be secondary to these primal behaviors.

For most people these stage one qualities are dominant only as a toddler, when it is healthy and normal and known as the “terrible two’s”.  If a person does not mature properly, such qualities may manifests in pathological ways later in life, such as in a school-yard bully, and in adulthood as narcissism.  Whatever your political persuasion, almost all of us want our children to learn how to become honest and respectful of others, and to develop control of their most primal impulses. Stage one leaders tend to reflect the pathological opposite of all these qualities.

During the United States presidential campaign and since, President Trump has exhibited many of the attributes of stage one leadership.  It is clear that he has the ability to function in a range of maturity stages, but stage one qualities are prominent.  For a person who has higher developed capacities, such as President Trump, this type of behavior is often called a stage one “shadow”.  For millions of American voters to be responsive to a person significantly reflecting these characteristics is evidence of how vulnerable any society is when frustrations are high and shows how unaware so many of us are of the implications of these stage related qualities. Granted, President Trump may be a genius deal maker and have a number of other important capabilities, but the danger of such deficits of character and maturity should not be underestimated.

Not the least of our considerations should be what kind of virtuous (or not) model a president is for our country, the world and for our children. In all sorts of ways the overall authority of the presidency is severely compromised if its moral authority is undermined.  Whatever the level of the office, we should avoid individuals exhibiting stage one leadership qualities serving as our elected leaders.

 

 

Stage Two Leadership Maturity

The next major stage of leadership maturity, which I will call stage two, is also a “strong man” type leadership, which is more collective in orientation and stands for upholding the identity, values and authority of the collective, without much concern for world centric principles, even if a country such as the United States is founded on such principles. Like every stage of development, stage two can show up in both healthy and unhealthy, even pathological ways, but stage two leadership of a constitutional democracy is by definition a mismatch if the goal is to uphold constitutional principles.  As President Trump’s inner circle has expressed, they are explicitly promoting an “ethno-nationalism.”  Examples of ethno-centrism include claiming ethnic superiority or asserting strident nationalism – a stage two leadership maturity goal – which is contrary to the world centric principles of a constitutional republic. Whether on the right or the left, pathological stage two leaders lean toward asserting their power absolutely to the extent they are able.  President Trump, for example has often expressed admiration for the strength and effectiveness of pathological stage two leader, Russian President Putin.

President Trump has essentially kidnapped the Republican Party and implicitly founded his own party.  This “America First Party” is an ethnocentric stage two movement led by a person who manifests pathological stage one/two leadership maturity behavior. A majority of American adults have a center of gravity later than stage two6, yet President Trump has clearly established that Americans with a higher center of gravity can be tantalized and manipulated into supporting such an ethnocentric approach with promises of safety and jobs and protection from the “other” for an insecure citizenry and support for business and the wealthy.  As President Trump has promoted ethno-centric perspectives, it has given permission to ethnic oriented discrimination such as the dramatic increase of anti-Jewish hate crimes in America in the past year not to mention the treatment of Muslims.  We should be looking to the lessons of history in Europe immediately prior to World War II to better appreciate the dangers of such developments.

Stage two leadership may be highly decisive and effective in getting things done, but it tends to undermine constitutional rights and democratic values and institutions.  Under Putin, for instance, murdering troublesome journalists and political opponents is a common occurrence in spite of Russia’s principled democratic constitution. President Trump frequently expresses worrisome sentiments which are contrary to core democratic values, such as demonizing the media which doesn’t validate his “alternative facts”.  Another example, would be his ongoing expressions of support for torture even when it is contrary to American law and global human rights.  Again, most Americans want their children to grow out of the deep deference to the stage two leadership of the ruthless little cliques of middle school and the larger and sometimes even more brutally domineering group hierarchies of high school. The historic purpose of public education in America is to prepare students to become responsible and engaged citizens in a constitutional republic in ways that transcend stage one and two leadership/ followership and where honoring world centric principles is fundamental.

Americans are embarking on a high-risk experiment with a president who has an undeniable brilliance for sensing the mood of fear and frustration of much of the country, for deal making and for shaking things up, but who exhibits serious arrested development with regard to leadership maturity. Having said that, President Trump has a unique mixture of qualities and a lifetime of experience with American institutions and associating over long periods of time with some of America’s most mature politicians. We will have to see if he has adequately developed capacities combined with the support of hopefully wise and skilled advisors not to be deeply destructive during his time in office. Perhaps the immensity of the challenge will call upon his highest sensibilities.  In any case our democratic institutions provide strong counterbalancing constraints whenever he may behave inappropriately – as we are currently observing.  He may very well get many things done – perhaps many good things – as millions of his supporters hope.  Yet if one weighs character and maturity as to some significant extent determinative, as I do, the prognosis is not good.

Stage Three Leadership Maturity

Stage three leadership maturity is the first of two stages which are much more individualistic than stage two and which emphasize reasoning capacities, the foundation of a constitutional democratic republic. This first and less mature stage tends to be rigid. People at this stage three of leadership maturity tend to lock into an ideologically oriented world view based on an internally consistent point of view.  They tend to use their capacity for logic and abstract thinking solely to defend and assert their own positions or political orientation, without being truly open to evaluating the merits of other points of view.  If you have an acquaintance who for instance can’t resist insisting that his/her political positions are the only correct ones supported by well-articulated arguments, they are modeling stage three behavior.

The United States Congress has increasingly been dominated by politicians operating through this stage three leadership center of gravity.  In this regard being an ideological warrior is highly valued, and working things out in a collaborative way across party lines is viewed as a distasteful capitulation.  Sometimes risking severe dysfunction of or even shutting down the government are seen as preferred alternatives to sacrificing the ideological purity of their beliefs. The Tea Party movement was a call to this stage of leadership maturity, and the strident, uncompromising voices on the left after the election of President Trump are much the same.

A dominance of this type of behavior in recent years has led to gridlock and substantial failure of Congress as an institution. Again, the maturity scale is not a scale of intelligence in the normal sense.  For example, many a brilliant engineering or medical professor or a leading expert on some area of public policy might have a stage three leadership maturity center of gravity.  The point is that they tend to be relatively closed to considering other points of view than their own, which is sometimes a serious detriment to seeing the bigger picture and achieving optimal solutions.

Stage Four Leadership Maturity

Building on stage three capacities, stage four leadership maturity reflects a greater capacity and orientation to more fully and logically explore multiple points of view  and then choose one (an “either/or” pattern of decision making) through sophisticated linear reasoning.   Stage four leaders are invested in debating the issues in a forum grounded in constitutional principles, and are open to adjusting their own views in the context of democratic deliberation.  So they will tend to listen, agree to disagree, sometimes be swayed, and often negotiate civilly and effectively to get things done.

A primary purpose of public education in America has always been to develop the capacity of our youth to be on a trajectory to reach stage four in their adulthood  –  to think rationally and responsibly for themselves as adults, and to have the openness and honesty to change their minds based on evidence, better arguments, etc.  In short, this stage of development and leadership maturity has been the goal of American democracy and public education since the founding of the Republic together with having the experience of learning to coexist and get along with the diversity of our society. The United States Constitution and most other democratic constitutions reflect and are attractors to this developmental center of gravity. Although people at stage four of leadership maturity are committed to world centric principles, they tend to identify with the more traditional collective such as the nation state.   Most American adults reflect a leadership maturity center of gravity in the range of stages three to four.

Yet the complexity of issues in the twenty first century call for capacities beyond “either/or” or linear reasoning in deliberation, decision making and policy implementation in the public sector.  Our institutional structures in the United States such as separation of powers, a two-party system, and partisan debate, do not by themselves encourage or support more complex and collaborative deliberation,  Rather they rely on the maturity of our elected leaders to bring such capacities to bear on the issues at hand.  Certainly American institutions have great time-honored integrity, and vigorous debate is essential in the democratic process. However, without leaders who have the capacity and the orientation to listen to one another and work collaboratively and maturely enough to get things done in the principled national interest, American public institutions will continue to be highly dysfunctional.

Stage Five Leadership Maturity

When one grows into stage five maturity, the first of two stages reflecting what has been called “context awareness,” one begins to see a much larger and more textured range of possibilities rather than being limited to the either/or thinking pattern dominant at stage four leader maturity.  In early stage five, one can begin to see that there are flaws in virtually all points of view (post modernism) and eventually perceive that there are also merits in virtually every point of view – a “both/and” reasoning capacity.  Perhaps a quarter, more or less, of adults in America have grown into context awareness or later.  Most of them function at stage five leadership maturity.  Fifty years ago, that percentage was less than 10%.

A classic indicator of mature stage five leadership is the commitment to rich, inclusive dialogue and to learning how to be a facilitative leader.  An important step for people at stage five is learning that if people listen to one another across their differences with civility and respect, they can learn to live with one another in more civil, respectful, caring, and inclusive ways. Examples of wonderful programs which offer this type of an experience are the “Village Square” led by Liz Joyner7, typically modeled by politically diverse and sophisticated panels, and “Living Room Conversations” developed and shared by a growing group of leaders8.  These are intimate six person structured conversations designed to support people in thoughtfully engaging with those who hold different views.

If these processes are followed, people at any stage of development can deeply benefit from them.  Such programs and the experiences which they generate are attractors to developing into stage five capacities.  Through mature stage five facilitative leadership and civil, compassionate, inclusive conversation, quite often areas of higher common ground are discovered, complementary differences are identified, and new emergent possibilities often arise that no one initially identified.

This inclusive dialogical orientation has been a primary element in most of the “transpartisan” and “bridging” movements that have been emerging across America in the past decade and especially the past few years. The way the term “transpartisan” has been used by the most mature representatives of this movement does not mean transcending all partisanship (which is simply not going to happen) but, in the context of partisan interactions, in a bi-partisan way, identifying commonalities and complementary differences to get things done – so a “transcend and include” pattern of approaching partisanship.

A coalition of over seventy national groups whose members explore how to bridge our differences and partisanship for the good of the Nation is the Bridge Alliance9. It is a rich resource for anyone looking to get involved with others in making a mature difference in America.  Perhaps the most prominent organizations in this transpartisan field, “No Labels”10 led by co-chairs, Jon Huntsman Jr. (Republican) and Joe Lieberman (Democrat), is working on committing members of Congress to a more mature leadership which gets Congressmen from both parties to pledge to put the country first before their partisan labels, to get things done – to move forward rather than to the left or to the right.

Stage Six Leadership Maturity

Stage six leadership maturity, the second and more mature stage of context awareness, provides additional capacities, which overcome difficulties reflected in some stage five leadership.  Stage five leadership can often be satisfied with ongoing rich dialogue without achieving additional concrete results. Stage five leadership dominates in much of higher education in America, often with an intolerant and overreaching political correctness.  Seeing some truth in every perspective it can lead to a deterioration of the capacity to discriminate well – for instance between the healthy and the pathological or between the immature and the profound.  In spite of its usual language of inclusiveness, stage five leadership can tend to patronize and alienate others not at stage five.

In this regard, stage five leadership has been fragmenting the Democratic Party, alienating traditional democratic constituencies. Stage five leadership is also disorienting the Republican Party through the unmooring of many traditional conservative principles. Stage five capacities provides the intellectual tools to tear apart just about any framework. For instance even the leader of the stage two ethno-centric strategy of the Trump administration, Stephen Bannon, speaks of “deconstructing” the liberal administrative state, a distinctly stage five post modern framing.  Due to such challenges, the stage five social and political revolution, which we are already in the midst of, is destabilizing America and global affairs.  This current stage five leading cusp of context aware leadership on the whole lacks the structure and maturity to fulfill its promise of being fully inclusive as well as the capacity to weave together approaches to adequately address everyone’s diverse needs and concerns.

The good news is that with adequate support and practices virtually anyone can grow from stage five to stage six maturity (and from stage four to stage five, etc.).  Although even with an intent to continue to grow with supportive practices, it is important to fully integrate the richness and gifts of each stage into the full spectrum of one’s being, and it usually takes several years for a person to make a healthy next stage transition.  In the meantime stage five initiatives and movements can be guided into more successful and flourishing results by stage six leadership, if and when stage five leadership is open to such assistance.  Stage six leadership maturity includes and fulfills the promise of stage five and transcends its possibilities.  Those who have fully grown into stage six maturity and above in America and the developed world are a small percentage, perhaps still less than 5%.of the adult population.  However, the numbers are growing rapidly, particularly in the past twenty years and especially in the past decade as adult human development has become better understood, and effective supportive practices for increasing individual and collective maturity and leadership capacity have been developed.

It is a major challenge for leaders with stage five maturity to give deference to stage six maturity due to stage five culture generally being committed to denying the legitimacy of hierarchies, even developmental hierarchies. As such, the stage five mentality is often called horizontal in its orientation.  The stage six developmental perspective brings a complementary vertical influence. So just as those at lower stages of development who disagree with stage five perspectives can too easily be viewed from a stage five perspective as “deplorables,” many stage five leaders can be quick to reject those who would deem to speak from any hierarchical position, especially one which suggests that it might help stage five become more mature than it is. Notwithstanding that, as more and more people are growing from stage five into stage six, at some point – hopefully in the next decade or so – by achieving a critical mass of individuals at stage six leadership maturity in the range of ten to twenty percent of our adult population, stage six perspectives will begin to achieve much more credibility in the eyes of those at earlier stages of development. The results will be transformational.

Ultimately, the distinctions between stages five and six leadership maturity will be highlighted less, as those who grow into context awareness (the common denominator of stage five and six) will recognize that they need to grow into stage six maturity to fully realize the potential of the new qualities of their own awareness.  Those with stage six or above capacities will be able to be more actively supporting and mentoring those with stage five awareness into stage six capacities.  There are already many consulting groups which offer integral leadership and institutional guidance, which primarily serve the business community.  The spectacular results in this regard will undoubtedly have increasingly greater impact in the public sector in the coming years.  Part 2 of this essay will review many of these resources and explore what might be possible through an integral political movement.

The stage five tendency to reject all hierarchies is moderated by stage six discernment that there are certainly undesirable hierarchies, but there are also emergent hierarchies of growth, competence, and capacity. Oftentimes, people develop systems awareness, which is a stage six capacity, without this final step of seeing the importance of developmental hierarchies. The promise of inclusiveness which is often so unrealized in stage five is more likely to be achieved at stage six, the first stage of leadership maturity which has the inclination and capacity to care for, honor, and connect deeply with all people whatever their stage of development or background. Stage six awareness has a superior sense of how to weave together mutually acceptable solutions out of the broad diversity of world views and interests of the whole population.  Overreaching political correctness can be moderated into encouraging more inclusion and compassion for all people without dismissing out of hand the views of other stages of development and cultures other than one’s own. Stage six leaders can uniquely move up and down the strategies of the leadership scale as situations dictate, realizing for instance that rich stage five dialogue is sometimes not optimal or perhaps not even helpful.  For example, sometimes power and action, not just words, are the best way to deal effectively with a stage one or two dictator who is being inappropriately aggressive.

Integral is the first stage of maturity which is significantly post ideological because it can see that there are endless polarities of belief that may seem to be opposites, but that they are in reality mutually complementary and interpenetrating if held in a mature way.  For examples in the particularly important polarity of conservative and liberal an integral leader can see that:

  1. Most conservative positions give a preference to internal qualities such as personal character and maturity in an individual sense and culture and values in a collective sense;
  2. Most liberal positions give priority to solutions that would change external aspects such as providing resources to those in need, or in a collective sense implement process or institutional solutions; and
  3. One needs to pay attention to both internal and external factors in both our individual and collective lives, and work integratively with all of these factors as is appropriate to the situation.

I tend to be right leaning because of my deep concern about character and maturity.  However, I always try to be aware of the inevitable importance and interplay of all these dimensions all the time. One must be present to the uniqueness and requirements of every situation.  When one permanently privileges one pole of any true polarity at the expense of the other, one is denying the importance and the power that is inherently there.  The result is that the ideological wars of left and right and individual and collective are often battles by people on each side against important perspectives that they have respectively not allowed themselves to be adequately open to.   In this regard they are also battles of people against their own shadows, not seeing the wisdom that is already within them that has not yet emerged into consciousness or is being repressed.

Some Conclusions

The current political scene in America is dissatisfactory across the board due in part to a widespread lack of understanding of human development including an increasing tendency in America to elect immature rather than mature leadership. The transpartisan and bridging movements mentioned above are currently the source of the greatest hope for progress in this regard. Yet there needs to be a greater presence of a developmental or vertical dimension to the transpartisan movement in order for it to be more powerfully transformative – hence the importance of launching an integral political movement as part of the broader transpartisan movement.

Giving priority to selecting more mature elected leadership cannot be isolated from the importance of developing greater maturity personally, and in our culture, and in our institutions – in our society generally. We need to work on this across the board.  Particularly important is that we need to educate our youth on a trajectory of developing these more mature capacities so that they might become more competent and engaged citizens, demand more from our leaders, and become more mature leaders themselves.  Stage six integral instead of stage four should become the new societal developmental goal.

 

  1. For more than the past two decades John Kesler, an attorney, has been engaging with the social and political implications of leadership maturity. He is certified in evaluating, scoring and debriefing adults with regard to their developmental center of gravity.  John shares an awareness, practice, integral polarity practice, which he developed that emphasizes working with and integrating the emergent dimensions of the individual and the collective through the full spectrum of human development. See:  theippinstitute.org.  He founded and is president of the Salt Lake Civil Network, which models, mentors and consults regarding approaches to integrally informed community flourishing in a global environment, as well as local/global networking. See; www.saltlakecivilnetwork.org.
  2. Part 2 is entitled “A Vision of an Integral Political Movement”, which explores how an integral political movement that could transform America and the World; Part 3 is entitled “A Local/Global Case Study of an Integral Political Movement”. Part 4 is entitled “Resources for an Integral Political Movement”, which is comprised of summaries of individuals and organizations which are resources regarding relevant integrally informed information, training, consulting, mentoring, etc. which will be helpful in an integral political and broader social movement. All four Parts will be posted on johnkesler.com and eventually on a web site which dedicated to promoting an integral political movement sometime during 2017.  All four Parts will also be published collectively as an ebook, tentatively titled, “A Call for an Integral Political Movement”. Contact John at: [email protected]
  3. See: utahcitizensummit.org
  4. The six stages of leader maturity above are correlated with the following stages designations used by both Suzanne Cook-Greuter PhD and Terri O”Fallon PhD in their respective human development scoring systems as follows: stage one = 1.5; stage two = 2.5; stage three = 3.0; stage four = 3.5; stage five = 4.0; stage six (integral) = 4.5.
  5. Each of us starts from the very beginning, and develops from there. In the scale used here, stage one comes on line when we first develop an assertive sense of self around age two.
  6. There are no definitive studies on what percentage of Americans (or people in any society) are at the various stages of development. What is described above in this regard is in general alignment with multiple sources in the professional human development literature, but they are all merely estimates.  You will note that every such reference is very approximate.
  7. See: tlh.villagesquare.us
  8. See: livingroomconversations.org
  9. See: bridgealliance.US
  10. See: nolabels.org


Salt Lake Civil Network

Supporting people, organizations and communities in achieving interconnected flourishing and ongoing transformation

The Salt Lake Civil Network supports communities and regions in the Salt Lake Valley and anywhere elese in the world in developing capacities for the purpose of generating more interconnected personal and collective flourishing and ongoing transformation:

The work of civil networks is grounded in the framing of developmental psychology supporting communities and community based organizations and their members functioning over time with greater awareness and integration at increasingly higher stages of capacity.

Check the Salt Lake Civil Network site at civil networks.org/slcn for additional details  (currently under development).

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