Ronald Burke, the accomplished organizational change expert, once said, “There may be as many and as diverse definitions of leadership as there are for love.” Most social scientists agree that leadership and the role and makeup of a leader are among the most researched and written about subjects in business literature.
There are several types of leadership styles that have been covered by the literature. In his article Leadership Moment by Moment!, Ron Cacioppe described four leadership frameworks: behavioral, situational, transactional and transformational leadership.
The behavioral model of leadership has received ample coverage in the literature stating what a leader should do and what skills to have. Situational leadership, which emerged from the theories of Ken Blanchard, uses the dimensions of support and direction to define leadership styles that can be applied based on the situation and the level of development of the followers. Transactional leadership refers to a number of theories in which the leader motivates followers in the direction of the goals and provides rewards. While transformational leadership aims at lifting followers beyond personal goals and self-interests and focuses on goals that contribute to the overall organization.
Spiritual leadership is a latter addition to the leadership frameworks that addresses workplace challenges by aligning employee “callings” with appropriate organizational roles, modeling universal values that demonstrate ethics and morality, and integrating employee spirits, minds, and souls.
Integral leadership—the latest addition to the vast study of leadership—gained academic recognition in 2000. It brings consciousness as the foundation on how the leader relates and makes meaning of his or her environment. Stage development—as conceptualized by several theorists in this field of study—is at the center stage of integral leadership. The idea is that leaders develop to a level of consciousness that provides the lenses to interpret the world and their place in it.
One of the luminaries in integral leadership is Bill Torbert. During the 1980s, Torbert and his colleagues conducted a multi-year research study with the leadership of 10 companies. Through his research, Torbet found that the activities of multiple levels of leadership were observed and also validated through the ego development test developed by Jane Loevinger, which stemmed from the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (SCT).
Through their observations and testing, Torbert and his colleagues established a seven-stage leadership development framework. Each stage comprises of specific action-logics, or mindsets. In the framework, leaders develop from stage one and gradually move to a stage where they will operate for most of their lives. Like other stage development frameworks, Torbert’s leadership stages capture the elements of complexity and meaning-making that leaders experience in the context of their roles. The seven action-logics present in this framework are:
Opportunist: A leader who wants to win in any way possible, is self-oriented and manipulative, believes that “might makes right,” and views emergencies and competitive opportunities; five percent profiling at action logic.
Diplomat: A leader who needs to belong, avoids overt conflict, follows group norms, enjoys routine work, enforces standards, and helps bring people together; 12 percent profiling at action logic.
Expert: A leader who values logic, expertise and problem-solving, seeks rational efficiency, feels unique, is a perfectionist, and improves efficiencies; 38 percent profiling at action logic.
Achiever: A leader who focuses on accomplishing long-term goals, delegates effectively, balances managerial duties and external demands, works on day-to-day improvements, and stresses action and goal achievement; 30 percent profiling at action logic.
Individualist: A leader who adopts a relativistic perspective, is aware of emotions and self-expressions, is non-judgmental, enjoys working independently, and drives change; 10 percent profiling at action logic.
Strategist: A leader who engages value action inquiry, fosters mutuality and autonomy, interweaves short- and long-term goals, is aware of paradoxes, can handle multiple roles, and supports transformational change; 4 percent profiling at action logic.
Alchemist: A leader who integrates material, spiritual, and societal transformation; 1 percent profiling at action logic.
According to Torbert, leadership development starts early in our lives as we navigate through the action-logics from the opportunist level to the one in which we feel most comfortable. This will be the stage where we experience our “most complex meaning-making systems, perspective, or mental model we have mastered,” Torbet once wrote. The seven action logics are divided into conventional and post-conventional.
The first four stages—opportunist, diplomat, expert and achiever—correspond to the conventional action-logics. The majority of leaders—about 85 percent—operate from one of these conventional stages. Conventional leaders are focused on objective reality and their leadership actions are aimed at execution with minimal reflection; they modify behavior and not the action-logics themselves.
By contrast, post-conventional leaders are more likely to reframe problems and constraints and to recognize different action-logics in others. Their aim is to create shared visions founded in diversity. Collaborative inquire is a hallmark of post-conventional action-logics, which is used to develop solutions. These latter-stage leaders can identify incongruities in their own thinking and experience and modify them to serve the global good.
Torbert and his colleagues found that leaders can develop across action-logics. This is primarily true in the first conventional stages. Common leadership development programs in organizations are geared to develop leaders with expert action-logics into achievers. Most organizations are not aware of what it takes to transform an achiever into an individualist. This latter action-logic requires experiences where self-awareness is encouraged and developed.
Torbert and his colleagues state that the leadership stage development framework applies to organizations acting at a collective action-logic. They posit that the most effective organizations would act at the strategist level where learning and growth opportunities would be the norm for individuals and the collective. However, these researchers found that most organizations operate at the expert or achiever action-logics. The reason for this is that organizations prefer unambiguous targets and deadlines, working with specific strategies and tactics. Individualist organizations are more easily found in creative, consulting and nonprofit organizations and are relatively rare. The alchemist action-logic appears to be more of an individual stage than an organizational one at this time. However, the advent of social businesses may give way to organizations with this post-conventional action-logic.
So, what kind of leader are you?