How can we combine the research on adult development with existing world-class tools to measure mindset and accelerate the journey towards great leadership?

A leader’s mindset plays a huge role in their leadership development. We know that different levels of mindset elicit different types of behaviours. For example, a person with a fixed mindset will display different behaviours than a person with a growth mindset.

From my coaching experience, training and knowledge of adult development theory, I noticed a link between the different levels of adult development and different types of behaviours. These insights led me to discover how I could measure the mindset change and growth of my clients.

Why is that important? Because if you can measure it, you can improve it.

In another article, “How to become a ‘daring’ leader …“, I discussed how I helped a client move from “armoured leadership” to “daring leadership” in a relatively short period of time. That client also experienced significant developmental growth.

The picture below shows the before and after results of another one of my clients.

The results show a shift that indicates a change in their mindset and development. I guided this client to achieve this leadership growth by creating a “holding environment” that allowed them to explore their current level of development while experiencing the complexity of thought of a higher level of mindset (more on that later).

If you would like to understand more about how to measure leadership growth in an adult development context, keep reading, and I’ll walk you through it.

At the end, there is a testimonial from a client who describes the impact the shift in mindset and, thus, behaviour had on them and their team.

The only thing actually observable is behaviour

It is important to recognise that human psychology is very complex. There are many theories and models of human growth and development. Whether you use developmental theories from Maslow, Kegan, Graves, Wilber, Jaques, Cook-Greuter, Gebser or Loevinger, to name a few, the only thing actually observable and measurable is behaviour.

I use a model that gives my client’s a way to ‘see’ those behaviours and measure the change in mindset. Once we have something observable to work with, we can apply several methods to facilitate a change.

Measuring human behaviour – The Circumplex

Human thinking and behaviour is very complex, but luckily, a picture can paint a thousand words. Dr. Robert A. Cooke and Dr. J. Clayton Laferty of Human Synergistics International understood this and created a model that effectively paints a picture of our thinking and behaviour styles. They call it a Circumplex.

The Circumplex was originally developed by Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty, the company’s founder, during the early 1970s. It builds on the ideas and research of several people, including Albert Ellis, Karen Horney, Timothy Leary, Norman R.F. Maier, Abraham Maslow, David C. McClelland, Carl Rogers, and Henry Stack Sullivan, as well as Lafferty’s own work as a clinical psychologist.

Measuring growth – let’s start with Maslow

Notice that at the top of the Circumplex model is the word “Self Actualising”. The phrase “Self-actualising” comes from Dr Abraham Maslow, who created his now-famous hierarchy of needs. Maslow laid out five developmental layers: physiological needs, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualize the self, in that order.

Maslow’s hierarchy is often set out in a pyramid form to make it easier to understand. We can roughly map this pyramid against the behaviours on the Circumplex.

When under threat, we tend to rely on Oppositional, Avoidance and Dependent behaviour. A need for self-esteem and belonging elicits Competitive and Approval behaviour styles. When we seek more satisfaction, we tend to rely on Achievement, Self-Actualising and Humanistic-Encouraging and Affiliative behaviour. Two important drivers in all of this are Security and Satisfaction. These can be seen at the bottom and top of the Circumplex.

Measuring mindset – Constructive Developmental Theory

The theory that informs much of my coaching is Dr Robert Kegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory. His work, in particular around ‘immunity to change’, supports the use of systems thinking to unlock the potential in our development and growth.

Dr Kegan’s work focuses on a person’s ability to look beyond their own point of view (perspective taking) and to make sense of complexity, ambiguity and paradox. In other words, our capacity to think. It is this focus on the capacity to think that I believe makes this model ideal for use in the context of our workplaces and leadership of them.

Theories like Dr Kegan’s show that coping well within our workplaces is not just related to particular competencies, personality traits, skills or expertise. It is also related to the ways we create meaning from our experiences.

Growth involves movement through five progressively more complex ways of knowing (or creating meaning), which Dr Kegan refers to as forms or orders of mind (mindset). These orders of mind are important from a leadership development perspective because as a person’s ability to handle complexity increases at each order of mind, it directly translates to an increase in effectiveness as a leader.

In the same fashion as Maslow’s hierarchy, I mapped Dr Kegan’s “Orders of Mind” against the thinking and behaviour styles on the circumplex. Here is what I discovered:

An Impulsive or Instrumental mindset tends to favour oppositional, avoidance and dependency behaviour. A Socialised mindset tends to favour power, conventional, competitive and approval behaviour. A Self-Authoring mindset tends to favour competitive, perfectionistic, approval and affiliative behaviour and a Self-Transforming mindset favours Achievement, Self-Actualising, Humanistic encouraging and Affiliative behaviour.

The presence of these behaviours gives us a good indication of the mindset of the person being coached. This is important because different mindsets respond to complexity differently. The personal strategy and key objectives for growth from the Socialised Mind will be very different from that of a Self-Authoring Mind.

Any development journey is faster and safer with an experienced guide

At the beginning of this article, I said I would share the impact my approach had on one of my clients in real life. The tool we used to gather the circumplex data was the Life Style Inventory™ (LSI) from Human Synergistics:

“Our senior leadership team worked with Karl on individual leadership coaching using the LSI from Human Synergistics, and I found the entire experience to be productive and of good value. Karl’s deep fund of knowledge around the LSI, coupled with his expert coaching skills, provided the support for open and constructive exploration of my leadership. 

Moreover, Karl has been blessed with a good dose of common sense, and he uses it well in his work. I would give him my highest recommendation for future engagement with the University.”

Scott Diener