Quality Transformation: ‘Not what you do, but who you are…’

David SchwinnDavid examines a theory of human development that suggests dynamic growth toward integration.

I recently read a draft of an article written by John Kesler, a friend and colleague, that felt like one of those significant learning events we have only a few times in our lives. Dr. Deming may have called it Profound Knowledge. In retrospect, it may have been significant to me only at this particular stage in my personal learning journey. I’ll let you be the judge. Let me begin with a little background.

By the middle 90s, after my wife, Carole, and I had worked with hundreds of traditional leaders and managers and had been aware of how well and not well the world was embracing the philosophy of W. Edwards Deming and other leading advocates for enlightened management and leadership, we came across Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley (1994, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.) and another book, The Turning Point by Fritjof Capra (1988, New York: Bantam). Combining those with yet another book, Break-Point and Beyond by George Land and Beth Jarman (1992, New York: Harper & Harper Perennial), led us to believe that, if our current, prevalent styles of management and leadership continued, our children and their grandchildren would have much more difficult lives than we have had. Lloyd Dobbins had, in fact, predicted that possibility for America at the close of the classic 1980 “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?” NBC White Paper video. Those two books led us also to believe that it didn’t have to be that way, because we were at a turning point, as a species, where we could choose to begin to behave differently and, as a result, make our lives much better and fuller.

We began to search for that new way to think and behave. We investigated many theories and practices beyond Continual Improvement including Systems Thinking, Integral Thinking, Circle, dialogue, Interactive Management and Design, Positive Psychology, meditation, and human development theory. We found all these to be useful, but a little difficult to put into practice in a simple, holistic, and widespread way.

As part of this journey, I undertook a sabbatical under the sponsorship of Lansing Community College, to find and interview leaders who exemplified what we thought might be this new, necessary way of managing and leading. As in nearly everything I do, Carole was my full partner. After concluding the 41 interviews with managers and leaders in 11 countries around the world, I wrote a summary of my findings. It was very useful, but Carole and I decided that the stories of these fine people and workplaces needed to be shared with a broader audience. Carole led the way by reexamining the 45 hours of videotape we had recorded. Upon that reexamination, she thought there was a better way to frame what we learned than the traditional way that I had originally framed our learning. Carole’s frame revolved around what we had been learning about human development.

There are many theories of human development. They are all similar, but enough different that I, at least, continued to have trouble digesting them so that I could restate them in a simple and elegant way. John’s gift to me was to name six stages of human development from a public sector leadership perspective. I think his stages may well provide a framework for describing leadership in general. Here they are:

Stage one is characterized by the “terrible two’s” when a child is able to articulate that he or she is the center of the world and that the rest of the world exists to serve. When stage one is manifested by an adult, it is defined as narcissism and is characteristic of gang leaders and dictators. Stage one behavior in any adult is regressive and pathological.

Stage two is characterized by being ethnocentric where, “It’s us (our group, ethnicity, religion, school or even nation) against the world.” Stage two can be healthy in appropriate settings, such as in high school, being a diehard fan of one’s high school sports teams. But ethnocentric attitudes are by definition a mismatch for an elected official in a constitutional democracy founded on universal principles.

Stage three is characterized by what John calls ideologues. These are people who have a well-articulated political philosophy that they believe is completely true and undeniable. They use sophisticated reasoning capacities pretty much solely to assert and defend their own opinions. These may be far right conservatives or far left liberals who refuse to consider other political positions.

Stage four is characterized by people who, while they tend to hold an extremely strong world view, are willing to consider other perspectives and based on sufficient evidence may even change their mind. They can agree to disagree and have the flexibility to work out compromises and still get things done in a principled manner.

Stage five is characterized by people who can take in many world views or perspectives and find things they can accept and things they cannot in them all. They are particularly oriented to rich and inclusive dialogue, but often do not have the systemic capacity to come up with workable solutions that are as inclusive as their intentions. John estimates that about twenty percent of American adults have developed to this stage.

Stage six fulfills the promise of stage five and is characterized by both an ability to understand other world views and an ability to weave together solutions that can work for almost everyone. They represent the first stage of human development that tends to respect and has the capacity to communicate well with all other stages of development.  John estimates that perhaps no more than five percent of American adults are fully integrated and competently perform at this stage, but that percentage is growing rapidly.

These stages are not nearly as distinct as they have been described. They can better be understood as “centers of gravity” where we tend to reside, as opposed to a specific place where we sit. There are also many other developmental lines such as mathematical, verbal, IQ, wealth creation and management, and power that do not necessarily progress at the same rate as one another. A person, for example, may be a brilliant orator, but be at stage one or two in terms of a public sector leadership path.

John’s contribution to those of us pursuing continual improvement helps us understand, I think, what some leadership development theorists have been saying. Leadership development today not only must include learning to use control charts and other statistical tools, but it must help us become more highly developed human beings, by enhancing integrity, forgiveness, compassion, equanimity, and appreciation. As my wife, Carole, likes to say, “It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we are when we show up.” We can do that.

I hope that we can accelerate our speed on this journey together. I’m afraid we’re running out of time.

As always, I treasure your comments and questions.

2 thoughts on “Quality Transformation: ‘Not what you do, but who you are…’

  1. I find this interestingly similar to Lawrence Kohlberg’s levels of moral development. In a spiritual framework I’m studying under a Tennessee psychiatrist who has expanded Kohlberg’s six levels to seven, calling his seventh stage “understanding friend of God.” I see all such theories boiling down to a fundamental point, the less we focus inward and the more we focus outward. I learned from your summary as it reinforces items I’ve been working to improve.

    • Autumn – Glad to hear you’ve found the article interesting and helpful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and thanks for reading!

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