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The Big Three - Number One: Maturity

Young Professionals Connection Four Levels of Maturity

August 26, 2014

It is good to be efficient, and it’s also good to be comprehensive. Sometimes those two things don’t work very well together. Over the last 12 years or so, most of my work helping groups has been through 4 to 8 hour leadership workshops. However, there is a demand for leadership training that can be delivered in much shorter periods of time.

This has forced me to work with previous clients to find out which “nuggets” have made the biggest difference for them in terms of their leadership success.  These may not be the most important aspects of leadership, but they are the ones that made the most difference in the shortest amount of time.

There are three.  I have started referring to these as “The Big Three.”

The Four Levels of Maturity

Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, highly regarded, internationally known educator, coined this concept. It’s an easily grasped simplification of some developmental psychology concepts. Combining this way of looking at maturity with the concepts in Leadership and Self-Deception (from The Arbinger Institute) has proven to be a very effective way to help people learn how to tolerate other people, even when they are annoying or being an obstacle. It’s also good for personal growth and better leadership.

Level I, the level were all born at, is SELFISH. Behaviors here are focused totally on gratification. Examples include littering, arriving late, answering your cell phone in the middle of a conversation with the human being in front of you, not flushing a public toilet because you don’t feel like touching the handle. These are selfish behaviors, executed with little regard for the impact they have on others.

Level II: INDEPENDENT. This is where the selfish end up after they think that they have grown up. The mindset is “I’ve taken care of all my stuff. It doesn’t matter to me if you have done the same. None of my business.” Behaviors at this level include throwing your own litter away, but walking past litter of others; arriving on time, but not offering a ride to someone else who might also be late; finishing your work ahead of schedule, but failing to offer help to those who are a bit behind; “Not my problem, not my fault.”

Those levels are both self-centered, with no real regard for “team”, or other people in the world. If you’re familiar with Leadership and Self-Deception, those levels are referred to as “in the box.”

Level III is COOPERATIVE. Behaviors here include working together, according to everybody’s strengths and weaknesses and capabilities, to get things done for the team, or the world at large. “I’ll pick up this letter, if you hold the door for me.” “I’ll staple the cover pages to the TPS reports if you will run them up to Hector in finance.” Most successful organizations see these behaviors relatively frequently from their team members, and nearly all the time from their leaders. But the most effective leaders and team members cannot rest at this level, for there will always be people acting at the levels of “selfish” and “independent.”

Level IV is GIVING. This is a consistent commitment to meeting the needs of others and of the group in order to get things done. It isn’t about being a pushover and enabling selfish behaviors in others, but an acknowledgment that many people have habitual behaviors at levels one and two on this scale.

If you’ve read Leadership and Self-Deception, you really grow to understand this idea: when people are “in the box,” or acting at levels one and two, there is absolutely no patient way to get them to grow up and act in levels three and four. While there is no efficient way to do this, there is an effective way to do this; constantly act “out of the box.” That is, constantly demonstrate behaviors at the “cooperative” and “giving” levels.

An extra note to parents, or those who work with young people: research shows that adolescent brain development keeps young people operating at levels one and two as their default mode of operation. Anthropologically, this is the way the species survives into adulthood in order to create more of the species. So, when working with young people, it’s especially important to understand that obnoxious selfish behaviors are normal. This does not mean that they are acceptable; this just means that our role as adults in society is to help them understand that there is more they can do.

Thanks to Dr. Tim for his simplification and thanks to the Arbinger Institute for their outstanding book on this topic. Understanding the levels of maturity, and “the box,” has been very helpful to effective leaders and organizations everywhere. 

Learn more by attending Professional Development events with YPC.