Blog 6 of The Leadership Series: Why are Leaders Successful? – Leadership Maturity. (Concluded)

In the previous blog posts, I discussed various aspects of the ‘whole person’ and the first 4 levels of Leadership Maturity. If you have not yet read those, please visit, as this blog post builds on the previous ones.


Maturity Level 5:

Openness is the hallmark of an ML5 person. As I mentioned in my prior blog, it is a hard place to get to; only about 10% to 15% of the population achieve it, and it typically only kicks in at around age 55. ML5 people have the ability to rise above themselves, take an objective view of their current paradigms, and are receptive to the paradigms, thoughts, and views of others who are unlike themselves.

At this level, your focus is on the growth and well-being of others. It is where we would like our top civic, political, and business leaders to be.

ML5 people are self-aware, self-reflecting, authentic, and rigorously honest – all of which requires humility: a hallmark of ML5 leaders. They seem wise and are not set in their ways. They still have the internal GPS I referred to in the prior blog, but they recognize its limitations: knowing that to achieve a desired outcome they might need to trust others, and work to build a new road/bridge that the GPS never envisioned.

They are grounded in, and lead through, higher order values: openness, honesty, courage, justice, selflessness, service, respect, empathy, authenticity, vulnerability, mercy, goodwill, kindness, and generosity. As you read this list you might think, ‘I have had these values since my 20’s’ – and you may be right. But the way that an ML5 leader understands empathy is very different. The values might remain the same, but your way of understanding and knowing them deepens significantly over time.

ML5 leaders are all about growing others – meeting others at their level, maintaining humility, being open to understanding the perspectives of others, and intentionally helping them move up (often at the expense of their own welfare).

Here are some of the differences between ML4 and ML5 leaders:

  • Feedback: An ML4 leader uses feedback to RE-fine him/herself, as we spoke about in the previous blog, but an ML5 leader uses feedback as an opportunity to model receiving feedback for the lower levels. (By the time you get to ML5, you should have received enough feedback to not have any surprises). So, the ML5 leader demonstrates honesty, openness, respect, and gratefulness in receiving the feedback of others.
  • Problems: ML4 leaders will tend to talk through the problem with staff, shape their thinking, help them solve it on a white board perhaps, or tell them what to do. An ML5 leader will focus on the developmental opportunity behind the problem. They may step back (even if they know exactly what to do) and potentially let someone fail (but they won’t ‘bet the company’), so that the person can learn.

Here are some things that can stop you moving from ML4 to ML5:

  • Achievement of your objectives is more important than being selfless.
  • Self-protection is more important than vulnerability.
  • Maintaining your system (internal GPS) is more important than being authentic.

What can you do to move up?

  • Set out to intentionally serve others and seek to understand the way they see and do things. We then start to realize that our way is not the only way.
  • Ask your staff – what is the one thing I can do differently to make you more effective?
  • Question your paradigms and embrace things that appear to contradict your current mindset. For example, if you are Republican, find a Democrat you admire, and seek to understand their perspectives. If you are a Christian, find someone of another faith, and seek to understand them. Find someone of a different ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and seek to understand how they view/experience the world. I am not asking you to change what you believe, but to understand and be open to the beliefs and experiences of others.

Hopefully you can start to imagine how the Cognitive Levels and the Maturity Levels play off one another. (You may need to go back a few blogs and refresh yourself on the Cognitive Levels). Note that it is almost impossible for someone to be a CCL 6 or 7 and be at ML2 or 3 – you almost have to be at ML5. At CCL7, you are considering the future needs of society – what institutions will best serve human flourishing – but if you are not open (ML5), how will you integrate the world views and paradigms of different societies and belief systems?

Minor editorial: There are a lot of challenges in society today because people have set belief systems and are not open to the perspectives of others. This is exacerbated when they get their sense of belonging and worth from a particular group, and polarization, plus a lack of willingness to meet other people where they are, has only made the world more divisive. Sadly, we seem to lack leaders who are capable of holding the tension and contradiction between different perspectives and building a shared understanding of how to move forward to a new and more inclusive place, while at the same time respecting everyone.