Blog 5 of The Leadership Series: Why are Leaders Successful? – Leadership Maturity. (Continued)

In the previous blog posts, I discussed how to understand the ‘whole person’ and the first levels of Leadership Maturity. If you have not read those, please go to as this blog post builds on the previous ones.


Maturity Level 4:

At ML4, you take ownership of your life and become ‘self-authored.’ The average age for ML4 is around 44 – you can get there by age 35, but it may take until age 55 or later – depending on how quickly you have matured. By ‘self-authored,’ I mean that you have decided who you are.

At ML3, you were constantly looking outward for validation and decision making, things were ‘done to you,’ and you didn’t really take responsibility for your actions/reactions. At ML4, is it not where you are leading ‘to,’ it is where you are leading ‘from.’ Today, the ‘to’ is constantly changing as businesses rise, change, and adapt to meet challenges, and if your team is to follow you, they need to know you are authentic – that your values are integrated into your identity.

When ML4 leaders makes decisions, they look ‘inside,’ not ‘outside.’ It is not about, “What would so-and-so (boss, affiliation group etc.) say?” Instead, it is, “How can I look at myself in the mirror after making that decision?” ML4 typically comes across as gravitas – leaders know who they are, what they stand for, and are able to communicate that.

ML4 leaders set the vision, they self-initiate, and self-correct along the way. They are concerned with goals, standards, and objectives. They also show compassion for others without owning their well-being. Whereas, at ML3, we are so concerned about making the other person feel okay or good that a tough decision about having to let someone go is incredibly stressful or hard – see the ‘effectiveness transition’ in the prior blog post.

ML4 leaders know how to delegate – they grant others autonomy and help them grow. They use feedback to RE-fine who they are — not DE-fine who they are. At ML3, tough feedback can be devastating because it challenges who they are because they determine their sense of worth from outside reference points. But at ML4, the thinking typically goes like this: ‘Mmm, that part of the feedback is valid and useful, so I will work to up my game in that area, but the other stuff is probably more a reflection of the individual giving the feedback, so I am going to listen, be polite, and file it away.’

ML4 leaders are secure enough to listen to input from others, and confident enough to make decisions. They are OK with conflict and encourage constructive dialogue en route to a good decision. Here are a few typical things you will hear ML4 leaders say: ‘The buck stops with me.’; ‘That is something I am not willing to do – we are going to do the right thing.’; ‘Let’s agree to disagree.’

By now you hopefully recognize yourself – and can peg where you are. I do, however, want to make a few points clear:

  • The journey is not linear. You move up and down on the line. I sometimes have ML3 ‘moments’ when someone says something hard to me, but I can recognize that and then move back to where I should be. This is normal.
  • People mature at different rates. You can have a 35-year-old ML4 individual and a 55-year-old ML3 individual. Age does play a role, but life experience and how you interpret and deal with those experiences drives maturity. It is important to reflect on your life journey and how it has matured you. I often ask candidates to discuss a failure or hardship, either at work or personally – e.g. getting fired, huge work failures, divorce, being let go (laid off), losing a loved one, etc. – asking how they viewed ‘people and things’ before and after that event, and if they noticed a difference.
  • Your position may not define your level. I have met bosses at ML4 who have EA’s at ML5!

Some final thoughts on ML4:

  • It is where most C-level executives operate from – and is a great place to be.
  • You have developed an internal GPS – you know how to ‘get stuff done.’ You are confident, effective, a good leader, and have gravitas. You plug the destination desired into your internal GPS and it gets you there.
  • At ML4, you are successful. You have probably made good money, have a great EA who keeps the hordes at bay, belong to some great clubs/societies, live in an exclusive community, and hang with other powerful and successful people.
  • But there is a trap. You are in an echo chamber and tend to screen out those ‘uncomfortable, dissident voices/trends’ – which would help you get to ML5.
  • ML4 leadership thinkers move to ML5 when they realize the inadequacy of their current understanding and start taking a more objective view of themselves and their current paradigms.
  • An older ML4 person often shows up as a ‘grumpy old man/woman,’ stuck in his or her ways, and lamenting at how bad things are getting. They are not ‘open.’

Now I have you curious about ML5, I will discuss the attributes regarding ML5 in my next blog post.

(Note: If these notes on Maturity intrigue you and you want to go deeper, I recommend Keith Eigel’s pioneering work in his book, The Map, and his work at The Leaders Lyceum, from which I draw much of this content.)


Blog 4 of The Leadership Series: Why are Leaders Successful? – Leadership Maturity.

This blog post should be read in conjunction with the 3 prior posts – as they build on one another. Visit to review.

All adults grow up, some more quickly than others, and the endpoints are often different. It is important to understand where someone is on their maturity journey, as it is an effective predictor of their effectiveness in the workplace.

Adult development has been studied for years by people such as Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and Robert Kegan – and my particular favorite – Keith Eigel, on whose work much of what I say below is based. The basic premise is that adults mature with their cohort, at the same rate, but that the circumstances of life cause some to grow/mature quickly, and others to grow/mature more slowly. It is our experiences, and how we take perspective on those experiences, that drives our maturity growth rate. As I start to talk you through the Maturity levels, think back and see if you can recognize your journey, and how you matured from level to level.

We learn and grow from both positive and negative experiences – at work and in our personal lives. We are whole people who can’t compartmentalize and hope to be authentic. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it is the big personal events that mature us most: those that involve relationships, health, and finance (e.g. death, divorce, sickness, loss of job/money, etc.). While these events are painful, as we walk through the levels of maturity, try and think back to those events as catalysts for your personal growth/maturity. And don’t overlook the positive experiences: promotions, marriage, birth of kids, etc.

Another thing to keep in mind is this: adult growth is a bit like walking through wet cement. It is tough to not get stuck; but if we press on, we move forward. The challenge comes when we stop and the cement sets. At that point we typically need a big “event” to break up the cement and get us moving again.

The diagram below sets up the basic premise:

Blog 4 Leadership Maturity Diagram

Maturity Level 1:

This happens from birth until about 8 years old and is not our focus. We pick up the plot at Maturity Level 2 because there are leaders who function at this level.


Maturity Level 2:

At this level, “It’s all about me.” We are typically at ML2 between the ages of 10 and 17, and life is pretty simple. We operate from our own self-interest, are selfish, and work to win – no matter the cost – there is no compromise. We only see things from our perspective, which makes life simple in a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” sort of way.

ML2 people are motivated by reward and punishment. It is appropriate for a 10-year-old – “If you pass with an A, then you can have a bike.” – but not so suitable for a 40-year-old!

Most people move to ML3 in their late teens after discovering that pursuing their own agenda at all costs limits their success, and they start putting themselves into the other person’s shoes. There are very few leaders who remain at ML2 – sports stars, rock stars, and individuals who inherited Dad’s wealth/business. The rest of us have our selfish instincts knocked out of us by our peer group – which brings us to Maturity Level 3.


Maturity Level 3:

At this level, we are “overwhelmed by outside influences”. This happens from high school through our early working years, where you are basically a portfolio of learned responses and outside inputs from peers, teachers, coaches, professors, bosses, political affiliations, religious/spiritual leaders, social media, etc. Our circumstances determine our well-being and we need to be known, liked, accepted, and included. It is a tough place to be.

What ML3 people stand for is limited by what others will think of them, and they are reliant on outside sources to make sense of a situation or know what to do. They have very high affiliation (to their group), are motivated by connections and acceptance, and unity of their group/team is paramount. They are defined by the roles and relationships they have, circumstances often determine their wellbeing, they seldom take responsibility for mistakes, and tend to blame others.

ML3 is not a great place to lead from, as we are so concerned for the wellbeing of others that we can’t make good business decisions. I interview a lot of people and allow candidates one or two “that is a really good question” statements; but if they say it all the time, I get concerned that they are trying to make me feel good – a typical trait of ML3.

There is an “effectiveness transition” as we move from ML3 to ML4. It is hard to be a leader at ML3, as we are so dependent on our outside influencers that making business-oriented decisions is stressful. This example may help: An ML3 leader who must let someone go finds it tough, as she is constantly worrying about what the person being let go (and others) are thinking because group unity, acceptance, and making sure everyone is “OK” are paramount. So, they tend to blame others; telling the person being let go they were told to do it, etc. They cannot have empathy without owning the other person’s well-being.

ML4 and ML5 are where we become effective leaders and I will unpack those two levels in my next two blog posts.

(Note: If you are enjoying the maturity level discussions, get Keith Eigel’s book, The Map. I borrow most of this from him and he gives tremendous context and depth to the subject.)


Blog 3 of The Leadership Series: Why are Leaders Successful? – Complexity.

This is the third blog in this series. It should be read in conjunction with the first two before and ideally should be read in order, as they build a story. Go to to review.

The ability to understand complexity can be roughly approximated with IQ, and we know that not all people have the same IQ. The difference, however, is that people mature in their ability to understand complexity (or use their cognitive capability) over time, and at differing rates. The yardstick that Elliott Jacques used to measure complexity is “time”- so using this construct, the complexity (time horizon) that a CEO deals with as she manages an organization is far higher than the complexity (time horizon) required of the person managing AR in the finance department.

Here is a useful diagram to understand Cognitive Complexity Levels (CCL) – set out below:

Blog 3 Levels of Complexity Diagram

This diagram shows that at CCL 1 – the individual is focused on a task that should take between one and 90 days to complete. We all start our careers here. We then move to CCL 2 where we typically supervise several people doing CCL 1 work and manage a process that requires coordination as we move toward a longer-term goal (3 months to a year).

From there, we then get promoted to CCL 3 where we manage the entire system. For example, this may be the Controller of your organization who is optimizing the system that comprises revenue, cost, and profit. The controller works within this “box” to optimize and institute best practices to achieve the goal. She is not thinking about innovation or going outside the box; the task is focused on optimizing the box. The time horizon complexity here is typically 1 to 2 years.

Some folks happily spend their careers here. In fact, some folks are at CCL 1 their entire career – think of a master carpenter – and there is nothing wrong with that. But for our purposes, I am discussing a framework that helps us understand complexity within an organizational setting, so that we can better understand our own career trajectory and determine the complexity of the organization where we work.

Innovation starts to occur at CCL 4, where the leader starts challenging existing frameworks and product/market fit to create differentiation. This mostly happens because the leader is scanning outside her paradigm, to discover technologies/trends/sentiment (and anything else), that will cause market disruption or product differentiation. To extend the example above, the CCL 4 leader redefines/differentiates/changes the “box”. This kind of thinking requires that the CCL 4 leader have a time horizon of approximately 2 to 5 years so that the market will be receptive to the new product/service when it is introduced. We see many Silicon Valley startups that have totally disrupted industries in this manner.

At CCL 5, we typically find the CEO of an organization. This leader needs to understand how the whole system works, what innovation needs to be put in place to keep the organization competitive, and is focused on the wider stakeholder community, reputation, purpose, and ambition of the organization. I will give you the classic example. Uber (CCL 4) used new technologies to disrupt a stable industry (Taxi) that was optimizing at CCL 3. The senior executives were extremely smart but were not yet thinking at CCL 5, which got them into trouble, so a new CEO came in and made it clear that he was focusing on reputation and purpose. Here is an example of a typical CCL 5 purpose/ambition from Airbnb – “to help create a world where you can belong anywhere, and where people can live in a place, instead of just traveling to it.” With technology, this is made possible without investing billions in real estate. They were not necessarily trying to disrupt so much as trying to create a new world/paradigm of their own. The timeframe at CCL 5 is typically 5 to 10 years.

At CCL 6, we find the “Captain of Industry.” This individual has multiple CCL 5 organizations/divisions that she oversees. This leader needs to understand which organizations will meet the evolving needs of the markets in which they operate and make trade-offs as to which businesses to invest in, which to use as cash cows or sell, etc. The added dimension that a CCL6 leader brings is that her organization must act in a way (or develop products) that are meaningful to people and contribute to the betterment of society. This is where Corporate Social Responsibility/Purpose starts to fit in. (Example – a food company at CCL 5 moving toward nutrition and healthy living in CCL 6). The time horizon here is 10 to 20 years.

At CCL 7, the leader is concerned with societal progress. This is what I call the “Davos crowd” – where leaders should be thinking about how to make society better through institutions, organization, or businesses that help citizens from every culture flourish for the global good. The time horizon for CCL 7 is 20+ years – as they are addressing how the value systems of different societies, ecosystems, countries, and cultures can be harmonized for a better world.

The President of a country should be thinking at this level. Here is what one great CCL 7 leader said; “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela.


We don’t all grow at the same pace.

The other significant point that Elliot Jacques made, is that not everyone’s cognitive capacity matures at the same rate. Certain individuals might get to CCL 4 at age 55 and stay there; others may get there at age 35 and continue up to CCL 7.

Jacques spent time assessing people, identifying high potential candidates, and then nurturing them upward. Some of this will be addressed when I write about Leadership Maturity, but there is definitely an element of IQ in the mix. It is not surprising that really smart, mature people get ahead if their personality/values are requisite. There is, however, a dark side to all this, and I have seen executives derailed by a lack of maturity, humility, or authenticity who could have gone on to great things if they had matured suitably. So, the question is – how do you mature suitably? I will cover this in a future blog.


Why is all this relevant/important?

It is important to understand where you are, where your organization is, and where you can get to. As a leader, your task may be to push your organization forward and embrace new technologies and business models (move up in complexity). Or if you are joining a company, make sure you are a fit; not only from a values perspective, but also from a complexity and maturity perspective.

The next few blogs will unpack Maturity. The whole person will then come into focus.