Conceptions of leadership — how they develop

The complexity level of leaders’ understanding of leadership is important. It affects how they choose to lead and is a strong predictor of the level of complexity they can work with effectively.

Since 2002, my colleagues and I have been documenting the development of conceptions of leadership. We’ve learned a lot about how conceptions of leadership develop over time. This article provides a small sampling of what we’ve learned.

I’ll be describing what conceptions of leadership and leadership skills look like in four developmental “zones.” A zone is 1/2 of a Lectical Level (a level on Lectica’s well-validated lifespan developmental scale). Four zones are regularly observed in adulthood. These are illustrated in the figure below:

Four developmental “zones” of adult reasoning

You can think of what my colleagues and I call Lectical Development as growth in the complexity and integration of people’s neural networks. As illustrated in the above figure, one way this increasing complexity shows up is in people’s ability to work effectively with increasingly broad and layered perspectives. It also appears in people’s reasoning about specific concepts, including conceptions of leadership. The table below provides brief general descriptions of what reasoning about leadership looks like in the four adult zones.

Reasoning about leadership in the four adult zones

The next table provides examples of some of the ways people think about sharing power, courage, working with emotion, and social skills — in each of the four adult zones. Note how the conceptions at successive levels build upon one another and increase in scope. It’s easy to see why individuals performing at higher levels tend to rise to the top of organizations and institutions — they can see more of the picture.

Reasoning about selected leadership skills in the four adult zones

The Lectical Level at which leaders understand leadership affects how they choose to lead, and is a strong predictor of the level of complexity they can work with effectively. Lectical Assessments are designed to measure and foster growth on the Lectical Scale. If you’d like to learn more or have questions, we’d love to hear from you.