By Joanne Gray
Featured interview with Dr Maja Stanojevic-Andre AFR BOSS Magazine, Aug 2015

Are you a conventional leader, an opportunist, manipulative and trying to win at any cost; a diplomat, wanting to belong, never rocking the boat; an expert ruled by logic and expertise; or an achiever, focused on getting things done and solving problems.

Or are you a new kind of leader – an individualist, willing to buck rules and innovate; a strategist, willing to sacrifice the short term for the long term and able to inspire others; or an alchemist, able to hold a truly long-term vision that inspires and transforms a larger community?

If you put yourself in either of the first four categories, you might want to lift your game. And if you’re in the latter three, you’re very definitely in the minority. The conventional and post-conventional leadership stages were first outlined in a 2005 Harvard Business Review article – The Seven Transformations of Leadership – which found that only 15 per cent of leaders were able to exercise the “post-conventional” style of leadership. It found the majority of leaders were limited by their inability to look beyond the short term, by their narrow perspective, and by their focus on themselves.

By measuring the stage of an individual’s leadership maturity, you can also assess the capacity of the leadership team. Leaders and their leadership teams can lift an organisation up towards their own level of development and capacity. Equally, they can cap the ability of an organisation to transform.

As a leader’s self-awareness grows and their ego matures, their perspective widens,they can engage with stakeholders, and build a longer term vision.

Dr Maja Stanojevic-Andre, a leadership maturity coach at the Institute for Developmental Coaching, says post conventional leaders are able to invite other’s perspectives. “They don’t just rely on the concept of rational objectivity. They start to include the human factor,” she says. “You’re unlikely to be successful in organizational change if you can only see the world from your perspective.”


But how can a leader progress towards leadership maturity? Is it possible to jump from opportunist all the way up to alchemist – a Nelson Mandela, or at the very least, from a conventional to a post-conventional leader? And why is it so important to make the jump?

“Currently, we have leaders who are very capable to lead and manage in stable times and stable, uniform environments,” she says. “However, we don’t have many leaders who can lead and manage in a future that will be much more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – times that are coming, if not already here.

Leaders have to understand that it is not just skills and capabilities that are important. To create leaders capable of transformational leadership, “we need to pay more attention to vertical growth and development,” she says.

Vertical development – first described at Harvard, Stanford, and Cambridge – has migrated to some areas of the US military and intelligence communities, Olympic and extreme athletes. Now it is making its way into the corporate world. Stanojevic Andre says increasingly, it is being recognised that how we know is at least, if not more important, than what we know. This is especially true when it comes to leading through complex change, when retention and accumulation of knowledge is less important than the capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn over and over again, to rapidly adapt and evolve ourselves and our businesses.

Post-conventional leaders, in particular the strategist and the alchemist, are capable of vertical development, “becoming aware of how they think, and of changing how they think,” she says. They ask themselves: “How do I make sense of the reality that I have and in order to grow, what are the assumptions I’m making? How did I get to think that way?” They have deep mental, emotional, and relational capacities to effectively lead complex, systemic change.

Vertical learning can transform how a leader thinks, feels, and makes sense of himself or herself and the world. It includes the development of both mental complexity and emotional intelligence, she says, upgrading a leaders “operating system” to be wiser, kinder and more caring. Vertical development can occur naturally, but it can also be accelerated.

When leading a board meeting, for example, it is essential to be able to sense the unspoken, underlying concerns among board members. Sensitivity to the nuanced emotional landscape, and ability to recognise possible underlying power and control dynamics that needs to be addressed rather then ignored, can be developed through vertical learning.

Find out your leadership style by taking our quiz.

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