Author: Svenja Haus (Dipl.-Psychologin, Coach)

So, what really makes someone an advanced leader? It’s not about the fancy job title, how long you’ve been working, or how impressive your resume looks. Advanced leadership goes way beyond these surface-level things. It’s about cultivating a mindset that is always eager to learn, reflect, and grow. This blog post delves into the essence of advanced leadership from both a psychological and a business perspective, leveraging the insights provided by the Leadership Maturity Framework— by Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, a leading authority on mature adult development.

The Essence of Advanced Leadership

At its core, advanced leadership is an approach that transcends the superficial layers of authority and status. It is less about the number of people reporting to you or the prominence of your role within the organizational hierarchy and more about the depth of your understanding of yourself, others, and the systems you navigate. Advanced leaders are those who recognize leadership as a journey of perpetual growth and learning. They are distinguished not by their titles but by their relentless pursuit of self-improvement and their ability to inspire change beyond the confines of their immediate environment.


The Leadership Maturity Framework, based on Jane Loevinger’s ego development theory and further refined through the research of Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, provides a comprehensive lens through which to view the evolution of leadership capabilities. This framework suggests that the development of leadership is, in essence, a journey through various stages of ego development, where each stage represents a broader and more sophisticated understanding of oneself and the world.


  • Impulsive Stage: Leaders at this stage are often driven by their own needs and desires. They may exhibit a short-term focus, reacting to challenges impulsively rather than responding with deliberation. Example: A manager hastily reassigns project tasks based on personal favoritism, without considering team dynamics or project requirements.


  • Conformist Stage: Leaders here are highly attuned to the expectations and norms of their group or organization. They seek approval and are motivated by fitting in and fulfilling their roles. Example: A team leader strictly adheres to company policies without questioning their effectiveness, aiming to please senior management.


  • Self-Aware Stage: At this stage, leaders begin to reflect on their own beliefs and motivations. They recognize the value of individuality within the context of organizational roles. Example: A department head encourages team members to share their unique perspectives on improving workflow, recognizing the importance of diverse viewpoints.


  • Achievement-Oriented Stage: Leaders are focused on efficiency, achievement, and goal setting. They are adept at strategic planning and seek to optimize performance. Example: A CEO sets ambitious but achievable targets for the company, implementing a clear strategy and metrics for success.


  • Individualistic Stage: Here, leaders value uniqueness and authenticity. They are interested in personal and organizational transformation and are willing to challenge norms. Example: An innovation manager fosters a culture of creativity and risk-taking, encouraging experiments even if they might fail.


  • Strategic Stage: Leaders possess a deep understanding of systemic complexities and are adept at navigating ambiguity. They think long-term and across systems. Example: A business leader initiates a partnership with competitors to address a common industry-wide challenge, thinking beyond traditional boundaries.


  • Alchemist Stage: At this pinnacle, leaders exhibit wisdom, compassion, and a profound understanding of interconnectedness. They inspire transformational change by embodying their values. Example: A global NGO leader works tirelessly to address climate change, leveraging deep insights into human and ecological systems to drive global policy shifts.


At the foundational levels, leadership might be driven by conventional success metrics—titles, accolades, and the external trappings of authority. However, as one progresses through the stages of maturity, the focus shifts. Advanced leadership emerges from the higher levels of ego development, where leaders exhibit a profound capacity for self-awareness, empathy, and a nuanced understanding of complex systems. These leaders are adept at navigating ambiguity, embracing paradox, and fostering an environment where learning and growth are paramount.


From Senior Leadership to Advanced Leadership

The transition from senior leadership to advanced leadership is not demarcated by a promotion or an increase in the number of direct reports. Instead, it is marked by a shift in perspective—a move from leading with authority to leading with authenticity, from enforcing compliance to empowering others, and from a focus on individual achievement to a commitment to collective growth. Advanced leaders stand out by their ability to question deeply held assumptions, both their own and those of the organizations they lead. They cultivate environments where challenging the status quo is encouraged, thereby fostering innovation and adaptability.


Key Characteristics of Advanced Leaders

Advanced leaders exhibit several distinctive characteristics that set them apart:


  • Reflective Practice: They engage in continuous self-reflection & feedback and are committed to personal and professional growth.
  • Systems Thinking: They possess the ability to see the bigger picture, understanding how various elements within a system interrelate and impact each other.
  • Emotional Intelligence: High levels of emotional intelligence enable them to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics with empathy and patience.
  • Adaptability: They are agile, able to adapt their leadership style to meet the evolving needs of their team and the external environment.
  • Visionary Thinking: Advanced leaders have a clear vision for the future, coupled with the strategic acumen to chart a course towards it.
  • Investing in Growth: They are humble and hungry at the same time. Always looking for opportunities to learn something new, to challenge themselves and are not ashamed to admit that they don’t know everything.


The Path to Advanced Leadership

The journey to becoming an advanced leader is not reserved for a select few; it is accessible to anyone willing to invest in their learning and personal growth. This path requires a commitment to challenging oneself, stepping outside of comfort zones, and engaging in lifelong learning. It involves seeking feedback, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and cultivating a mindset geared towards continuous improvement.


The essence of advanced leadership lies in the recognition that leadership is not a title or a position but a way of being. It is about how one engages with the world, learns from experiences, and reflects both inwardly and outwardly.


One concrete step that can help you on your journey can be to identify leaders in your organization that you are confident are further along in the advanced leadership journey than you are. Ask these leaders to be your mentor, or reflect on leadership challenges with them. Ask them how they think about certain problems, be they specific or general, or have them challenge your own thinking in return.


Another step that might help is making time for reflection. What values are driving me in my actions? Have these changed in the last year? How might another leader have dealt with this particular situation? How am I balancing the different facets of my leadership role, which do I prioritize and why? Only by making time to think about who we are and what we do and why we do it can we integrate our experiences, learn from them and get closer to who we want to be as a leader.

If you want to learn more, join one of our Advanced Leadership Trainings now!


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Published On: April 4th, 2024 / Categories: Insights /

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Are you ready to become
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Find out how you can transform how you lead yourself, your team, and yourorganization through coaching, training, and consulting.
Let’s discuss your goals and which approach will have the biggest impact in a free 30-minute chat.

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