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Episode 12

Cultivating Higher Leadership Consciousness

Leaders today are floundering – they can’t keep up with the pace of change and the demands on them often seem overwhelming. So what are the capacities that will allow them to lead effectively and how do we help them grow those skills?

In this deep dive into the essential aptitudes of modern leadership, adult development expert Jennifer Garvey Berger explains the self-authoring stage of mind that most leaders are at, and how to help them transition to the self-transforming stage that their organisations (and the world) need them to grow into.

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Being versus knowing

In a world that is getting constantly crazier and less predictable we are beginning to realise that who we are being is more important that what we know. The world is changing too fast for anyone to keep up, so the crucial attributes of leaders today are found in their way of being, rather than in their wealth of knowledge.

Faced with today’s cultural and economic culture, leaders need to be calm in the face of uncertainty, handle the anxiety of their teams and organisations, make decisions that honour the big picture, and foster a collaborative mindset. These abilities are developmental skills, rather than things that can be taught.

In a large organisation you can’t scale your knowledge indefinitely – you have to be able to impress people with the force of who you are. At scale your impact will depend of who you are, your presence and state of being, and the way people see you engaging with the world.

So how can we better understand and foster these types of leadership skills? Adult development theory provides a framework for understanding the behaviours that are helpful for modern leadership, and from there we can begin to create an approach that helps us build the capacity for deep awareness in our clients.

Four stages of mind

In Jennifer’s model there are four stages of mind. Each transcends and includes the capacities of the previous one, and requires developmental growth. 

  • Self-sovereign mind: separation between you and other people; can’t take other perspectives
  • Socialised mind: adopt a collective perspective, become part of community, represent those perspectives
  • Self-authored mind: write your own story, deal with all the dissonance of conflicting perspectives
  • Self-transforming mind: collaborative, relational space prioritized, less attachment to own ideas and perspectives

The self-transforming mind has the potential to be the massive shift in leadership ability that this time is calling for – but only 5% of leaders get there. At this stage of mind leaders are better at being with complexity, they’re more psychologically spacious so it’s less threatening. They’re more attached to learning and growing than to their personal ideas about how things should be done.

It’s helpful to hold the perspective that each developmental space has its own beauty – to accept each stage and the lessons it brings rather than trying to rush to the “top”. For clients, it’s helpful to frame it as a journey fueled by curiosity, an experimental exploration of ways of being.

What is developmental coaching

We’re coaching developmentally when we care less about what our clients are doing and thinking than we do about what our clients mean by what they’re doing and thinking. It’s not so much goal-oriented coaching but more a deep exploration of the perspectives and beliefs that give rise to a client’s experience of life.

We ask questions such as “What happened that had those emotions arise for me”, “How was I seeing the world when that happened”. We want to understand how our client makes sense of the world – the things they see and the things they’re blind to – in order to build a complete picture of how they create meaning and the way they create the conditions for their responses and author their experience.

To do this we push the edges of their sense-making. “What was the hardest part for you when xyz happened?” “What’s most at risk?” Asking these questions repeatedly gets to the untested assumption that’s creating their version of that event, at which point you can name it and begin to dismantle it.

Resources mentioned:

About Jennifer

Jennifer Garvey Berger
Jennifer Garvey Berger

Jennifer Garvey Berger helps individuals and teams to transform themselves and their organizations, to see bigger perspectives, to think in more creative ways, and to collaborate effectively. With her partners at Cultivating Leadership, Jennifer runs transformational leadership programs and supports organizations to use their leaders (and leadership development) to encourage and support whole-of-organization change.

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