Generally speaking there are five levels of maturity available to us as we grow up. Most of us make it to either the third or fourth level, a tiny minority get stuck at level one or two or make it all the way to the fifth level.
The political landscape in many countries right now is defined by the tensions between those at the third level and those at the fourth level of maturity.
The levels are:
Level 1, Self – For most people this is the time when we are infants, when we believe that the whole world exists to serve us – because for most of us, at this stage it does. Parents, grandparents and others take care of our every need and desire, we have no responsibility. A tiny minority of people fail to mature beyond this stage and we might use special terms to describe them such as narcissist or psychopath.
Level 2, Dependent – Most of us, who are challenged to mature from Self to Dependent, do so between about three and five years old. The adjustment is traumatic for all involved and is often called “Terrible Twos”. It is a time when our sense of absolute entitlement is challenged. When it is, many of us react badly, lying on the floor of supermarkets screaming because we are not allowed a cheap plastic toy, for example. Once through the transition most of us are dependent on parents, teachers and rules. Typically we have only very limited ability to take responsibility for anything other than our own immediate needs and wants. Most of us move beyond this stage, those who do not are adults who are unable to take the initiative and fail to take much responsibility for anything other than themselves.
level 3, Independent – Typically we make the also traumatic journey from Dependent to Independent through our teens and puberty. It is a time when many of us clumsily break away from our dependence on parents and teachers. Unwilling to take advice, we embark on an error strewn journey to Independence. Once fully Independent we are able to take responsibility for ourselves in a longer term kind of way. Our world view is that it is competitive out there and we have to fight our corner every step of the way. As a result we find it difficult to demonstrate the kind of vulnerability and trust required for collaboration. Independent leaders in organisations will often form silos, Independent leaders in politics will prefer isolated “greatness” over widespread international cooperation. Less than half of us mature beyond Independent, those who do not would typically believe in zero sum competitiveness and might find it hard to form deep, trusting relationships with others.
Level 4, Interdependent – The journey from Independent to Interdependent is far less common than the previous two. Many who make the journey will do so through an experience of deep vulnerability, perhaps through being part of a great team, finding true love, having children or a physical, psychological or emotional challenge that enforces trust. These experiences on their own are not enough, only those who are able to see, understand and accept the new level world view will make the transition. The world view at this level is one of interdependence and collaboration between individuals, organisations and nations. It also includes a system wide sense of responsibility for all those affected by our decisions or actions. And the acceptance that everyone, even those you find annoying have value if relationships are skilfully managed. Very few mature beyond Interdependent, perhaps 0.1% of the population.
Level 5, Integral – For the tiny minority who think and live at an Integral level the concept of Interdependence is now universal and not restricted to the narrower system we happen to be in. The sense of responsibility spreads beyond humans to all of life and not just for the present, but also for the past and future. Actions align behind beliefs so that lifestyle has integrity and authenticity. The journey from Interdependence to Integral is a long one of gradual growth finding and adapting new ways of being Integral in all situations one layer at a time.
The differences between these levels is not just about ideas, as we mature from one level to the next the structure of our brains also changes. Dr Clare Graves who was one of the authors of the Spiral Dynamics map of human development, first noticed structural differences in the brain, before associating them with different world views and political beliefs.
The ageing population in the global north has set up a profound political conflict between a typically older Independent population and a typically younger Interdependent population. The Independents believe that their best interests are served by taking care of themselves and those most similar to themselves, often nationality is used as a proxy for similarly in this sense. The Interdependents believe that the world’s best interests are served by collaboration, compromise, trust and vulnerability.
In our work with leadership and culture change for large organisations we know that the Independent level mindset creates systemic risks when it is over represented at a leadership level. Independent bosses will typically compete with one another for status and regard their subordinates as either loyal cronies or traitors. Either way this sets up a culture with limited psychological safety where people find it difficult to speak honestly about issues. Every corporate disaster you can name includes a culture where people are unable to effectively raise concerns. Independent bosses are good at getting things done quickly, but there is always an unsustainable long term cost.
Interdependent leaders are much better at creating psychologically safe environments where everyone performs at their best and can truly collaborate. Often it takes longer to achieve results, but the value always lasts longer. We have been deeply involved in two of the largest corporate cultural transformations over the last seven years by helping leaders develop. The difference in reduced risk, increased performance and enhanced culture is palpable.
If we aspire to a world of sustained prosperity where the worst of conflict and climate change are avoided, we must all skilfully follow and ourselves be Interdependent leaders.
The description for the maturity levels described above are inspired by the work of Nick Petrie at the Centre for Creative Leadership and by Spiral Dynamics.
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