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Developmental Growth

Developmental growth lies at the heart of Decurion’s approach to business. One of our axioms is that individuals and communities naturally develop. One of our values is learning, a belief in providing an opportunity and environment for individuals to develop, grow, and contribute. And our purpose, to provide places for people to flourish, includes creating conditions for people to develop more fully into themselves. So what do we know about developmental growth?

First, we recognize that there are separate lines of development. Some of the more prominent are the cognitive, emotional, moral, artistic, and kinesthetic lines. We know that individuals and groups progress through distinct and identifiable stages of development. And we know that people often shift from one stage to the next at different rates in the various lines. Thus a person might develop to an advanced stage in the cognitive line but lag his peers in moral development. Next, we know that each stage grows out of the prior one, bringing understanding and capabilities not previously present. In other words, each stage “transcends and includes” all those that went before. And no stage can be skipped.

While we value the understanding and capabilities that higher stages bring, we also recognize the contributions of earlier stages. So we might value the rituals of the Animistic stage, the energy of the Egocentric stage, the order of the Sociocentric stage, the competitiveness of the Worldcentric stage, and the compassion of the Pluralistic stage. (There are other terms for each of these stages; we are not attached to any one terminology.) We know, too, that we need to meet people where they are if we wish to facilitate their growth to the next stage.

We recognize that different circumstances or business conditions might evoke (or even require) responses from different stages within a line of development. In general, however, as conditions grow more complex, higher stages of development are required to meet them. Robert Kegan defines “maturity” as the fit between the person and the nature of the demands of the surround. Thus in a traditional society, someone who could internalize and act from the norms of his community (someone operating from the Sociocentric stage) might be considered fully mature. Entering a modern society, he would find himself forced to choose among competing norms and so potentially not mature enough to meet the new demands placed on him.

In his book In Over Our Heads, Robert Kegan discusses the challenges posed by modern society. He argues persuasively that the failure to meet these challenges is often a function of an inadequate level of development rather than a skill or character deficit, one of which is the usual diagnosis. Here Ken Wilber summarizes Kegan’s research and one of his most striking illustrations:

Kegan identifies five developmental levels or “orders of consciousness” that define how a person knows the world or constructs reality. The first three levels are similar to those found in today’s child and adolescent development texts: impulsive (ages 2-6), egocentric (6-teens), and socialized or conformist (teens and beyond). Most adults (>80%) in developed nations reach at least the conformist or 3rd order of consciousness, where a person is able to internalize a value system, understand and respect the needs of others, and think abstractly.

In addition to the three commonly accepted stages or orders of consciousness development, Kegan adds two others. At the 4th order of consciousness, a person becomes “self-authoring”—that is, they become capable of constructing their own value systems as opposed to operating within the value systems given to them by their culture, family, or place of work. And at the 5th order, they begin to bring together and synthesize many different value systems into coherent and meaningful wholes.

The massive shift in the last 30 years from command-and-control corporate cultures to decentralized organizations—where business units, managers, and individual employees are given greater and greater latitude to design their own work in response to rapidly changing market conditions—reflects an implicit demand for 4th order consciousness in the workplace.

To illustrate this point, Kegan uses an example of two managers—Peter and Paul. Peter is an executive who has worked for Paul in the same company for 15 years and has moved up in the organization with Paul as Paul was promoted. Peter is characterized as a highly competent 3rd order manager and Paul a 4th order manager, with Paul initiating major new lines of business and other “out-of-the-box” ideas and Peter serving as a loyal lieutenant who uses Paul as a mentor and sounding board for all important decisions.

Paul, now a senior executive, gives Peter the opportunity to run a fully independent spin-off company of which the parent firm will own a majority stake. In the spirit of full empowerment, Paul makes it clear that all future decisions, from marketing to sales to pricing, will be Peter’s to make and refuses to offer future advice on these matters other than to set broad objectives (e.g., profit) similar to those laid down by a board of directors to a CEO.

Peter is then left to face alone the conflicting demands of his sales force, who resist being separated from the parent company, the challenge of developing an independent corporate identity with his sales channels, and the challenge of transforming a successful but conservative division into an entrepreneurial stand-alone company. In the process of trying to mediate these conflicting demands without Paul’s support, Peter literally finds himself “in over his head” in meeting the 4th order tasks set in front of him.

Kegan goes on to show how most popular management theorists, either unfamiliar with or dismissive of an adult developmental approach, wrongly assess Peter as having a skills or character deficit, where in fact the issue is the complexity or order of consciousness that Peter uses to construct his reality.

No amount of training or exhortation to self-empowerment will help Peter if his fundamental frame of reference is to work within an externally created value system. Like water to fish, working within a received frame of values is subject (implicit) rather than object (explicit) to Peter’s current order of consciousness, and any attempt to help him construct a culture for his new company must address this vertical as opposed to horizontal developmental challenge to succeed. Using Kegan’s terminology, we could say that effectiveness in most businesses today requires a fourth order stage of consciousness. This demand poses a significant challenge since, according to Kegan’s research, from one-half to two-thirds of the adult population have not fully reached this stage. At Decurion, the challenge is greater. The business conditions we face (and those we consciously create) call for us to move through the fourth order (Worldcentric) to the fifth order level of development (Integral or Second Tier).

What does this stage of development look like? People operating from a Second Tier developmental level respond to competency and reason, not authority and rules. They respect the power of knowledge and necessity, not the authority of rank or dogma. They can fight for themselves but are not defensive or suspicious. They gain satisfaction from doing well but are not ambitious for themselves. They are free from inner compulsiveness and can enjoy the best in life. Second Tier decision makers are highly principled, knowledge centered, and able to resolve paradoxes. They blend natural flows, look up- and downstream, and plan for the long range.

According to Kegan, when firmly established at fifth order or Second Tier, “you start to build a way of constructing the world that is much more friendly to contradiction, to oppositeness, to being able to hold onto multiple systems of thinking. You begin to see the life project is not about continuing to defend one formation of the self but about the ability to have the self literally be transformative. This means that the self is more about movement through different forms of consciousness than about defending and identifying with any one form.” Elsewhere, Kegan says that at this stage we sometimes let problems solve us rather than thinking we need always to solve them. Clearly, operating from Second Tier involves considerable advancement in the lines of development we call Identity and Self-Management. This begs the question of how one advances from one stage to the next.

Transformation from one developmental stage to the next might be thought of as the process of fitting ourselves to increasingly complex life conditions as they emerge. And this process appears to have certain features that remain fairly constant across individuals and stages. First, one has to be at a particular stage for a fairly long time, having fully experienced it and having used it to solve the problems that presented themselves. Second, some dissonance sets in. It becomes increasingly apparent that there are problems one cannot solve from one’s current stage. Third, one must have insight into one’s present situation, into one’s value structures, mental models, and view of the self. This insight is the shift from what one sees as subject, as part of oneself, to what one sees as object, as something one can reflect upon and manage. What was subject in one stage becomes object in the next. Identifying and resolving barriers and, finally, consolidation and support represent the final steps in the transformation from one stage to the next.

The proper balance of challenge and support is the key to developmental growth. Changing business conditions often supply the challenge. Decurion provides support through such means as daily coaching, constructive criticism from peers, formal performance dialogues with supervisors, and our classes in the Practice of Self-Management and Aikido.