Theo H Veldsman

Visiting Professor, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, College of economics and Management, University of Johannesburg; Extra-ordinary Professor, University of Stellenbosch Business School

Setting the scene:

In our previous Global Leadership Master Class we dealt with the stages Leadership has to journey through in order to reach full maturity. Ripening to leadership maturing is an arduous, open ended, multi-facetted, ongoing life-long journey of ‘ripening’, fraught with uncertainty, unpredictability and ambiguity.    

The degree of ripening is a function of how the impact of life events, experiences, exposures, relationships, and interactions are processed by an individual in terms of sense-making and meaning-giving – whether positive, uplifting or negative, destructive.

This life-long journey embraces five, successive, upward spiraling stages of ripening towards maturity:   

  • Stage 1: Confident Able-ness = Identity of Self-worth;
  • Stage 2: Egocentric satisfaction = Identity of Consumption;
  • Stage 3: Personal Uniqueness (or Differentiation) = Identity of Uniqueness;
  • Stage 4: Shared Destiny = Identity of Envisioning; and
  • Stage 5: Servanthood = Identity of Meaningfulness (or Purposefulness).

Defining Leadership Maturity

Last time, we described leadership maturity referring to a leader’s ability to engage consistently in relevant, productive and uplifting ways with Self, Others and World, the three critical relationships in which a leader stand:

  • ‘Relevant’, because he considers the uniqueness of time, place and persons involved before and whilst acting, and adjust correspondingly
  • ‘Productive’, because his engagement adds value and creates wealth in ongoing, significant ways
  • ‘Edifying’, because his relationships and interactions with Self, Others and World are positive, healthy, enriching and fulfilling, leaving all in a  better place

Leadership Immaturity pertains to leadership who:

  • applies the same recipe regardless of the uniqueness of time, place and persons involved, thus acting irrelevantly;
  • through his unproductive engagement destroys value and wealth; and
  • have destructive, unhealthy abrasive relationships, leaving relationships in a worse state.

This is the leader who, although she is competent, acts in an unbefitting manner to the detriment of all.

The objective of today’s Leadership Master Class is about profiling Leadership Maturity in the critical relationships to Self, Others and World.

In the discussion below maturity is contrasted to immaturity in terms of critical leadership features to highlight key differences, because Leadership Maturity is a progressive journey towards a destination, not a destination in itself. Generic features of maturity are covered. They need to be adjusted in order to create specific person- and circumstance fit.


High Leadership Maturity with respect to Self

Mature leadership in relating to Self manifests deep self-insight, tempered by realistic and humble self-confidence. She accepts fully and totally who and what she is with all of her strengths and weaknesses. She is infused by an inner tranquil restfulness and peacefulness. She has made peace with herself.  She, so to speak, likes what she sees in the mirror, warts and all. This enables her to act in an equable, predictable manner, regardless of circumstances and persons concerned.

Her inner tranquillity, restfulness and peacefulness do not imply at all that she is not passionate, driven and results orientated. But her passions, drives and results orientation are framed by the ‘higher’, the ‘better’, the ‘greater’ as linked to a common good beyond her. She pro-actively chases goals and dreams greater than herself in pursuit of real, genuine, lasting life giving meaning and purpose: the ‘Why’s’. She lives along an integrated time line of past-present-future in which each time period carries equal weight.

She unapologetically acts ethically at all times. She is good, does good and ensures good.  She has clear, firm positions, and points of view infused by a set of non-negotiable values. But, she is open for influences by others.  She freely and spontaneously gives them credit for the indispensable value they add. She knows that she has to learn and grow continuously in order to stay ahead of the game. She thus is eager to learn, manifesting a high learning agility: learning in any possible way.

Because she is open publically about her lack of complete knowledge and wisdom, her weaknesses and faults, and unsightedness on some matters, she conveys the message of her fallible as a leader. She needs others to succeed. The public acknowledgement of her fallibility makes her even more credible in the eyes of her followers. Also, having the confidence to openly and publically, joke about herself. To be a leader, is for her a joyous choice and calling.    

Low Leadership Maturity with respect to Self

Immature leadership in relating to Self lives a fragmented life. She has limited self-insight and/ or is grappling/ suppressing unacceptable facets of herself to herself which she has compartmentalises into ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’ areas.  She does not like completely what she sees in the mirror. Her self-confidence is either deficient or excessive because she has to protect herself against what she finds unacceptable about herself. Or, that others may uncover her weakness(es), thereby valuing her less, and even exploiting her weakness(es) to her detriment.

She overemphasises her strengths because she finds her weaknesses unacceptable. This makes her vulnerable to overusing and inappropriately deploying her strengths.  She is at war with herself.  She has not made peace with herself. Consequently, she is moody, unpredictable, impulsive, and even irrational at times.

Because she is at war with herself, she is driven by her own, narrow, short term interests, needs and desires which she most frequently puts first because of lack of self-insight: ‘How do things suit me?’ She is stuck either in the past, present or future because of what she is grappling with.  She focuses on the concrete, tangible, petty, and unimportant. External influences, demands and requirements are threatening to her because of her insecurity. She cannot give credit to others and their contributions because it will belittle her and put her in a poor light.  She acts most of the time defensively and re-actively.

To protect herself, she projects herself as omniscient, omnipresent, and fully in charge of everything at all times.   Paradoxically, because she cannot find security in herself, she seeks security in external things like status, power, position, wealth and possessions to confirm externally her self-worth and –value that are internally lacking.

She is closed to learning. She avoids change at all costs because it carries the risk of failure, mistakes and criticisms which will reflect badly on her ability as a leader. She takes on the role of leadership to prove something to herself and/ or others and/ or to achieve her own ends: ‘I can’. Leadership is a growing, heavy duty.


High Leadership Maturity with respect to Others

Mature leadership in relating to Others constitutes warm, inviting, caring, empathetic interpersonal spaces in which everyone is welcome unconditionally, even if they are self-invited. Regardless of status and rank, each person is seen as unique, and treated unconditionally with respect and dignity. Every person is accepted for who they are, and what they stand for.  Leadership is interested in the total person – inside and outside of work – and not only as a work colleague. The total welfare of followers is a top priority for him. At times, he may even put their interests and needs above his own, sometimes even to his own detriment.    

Mature leadership establishes ever opening up, deepening, enriching and lasting relationships with others. He has deep insight in his impact on them, and of them on him.  He works in a participative, teaming mode with others in order to actualise shared desired futures and outcomes. Together they serve a greater good, a ’We’ agenda. When crises occur, he is fully present in the joint search and discovery of solutions. He shares information and knowledge continuously and freely.

He ensures at all times that everyone has the necessary resources, abilities, authority and autonomy to make valuable contributions in accordance with their allocated roles and abilities. They feel enabled and empowered. He encourages their ongoing learning – in which he often acts as a teacher – and creates ‘safe spaces’ in which persons can experiment and fail without retribution. He seeks and invites on an ongoing basis feedback on his performance and actions, affecting his relationships.    

He accepts full accountability for his decisions and actions, also of those of his followers. He acts as an exemplary model, also ethically. His talking and walking always are in agreement.  Everyone knows what he stands for: what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of which he himself acts consistently. He nurtures passionate, dedicated, loyal and strong followers who can and are willing to stand up to him.  She is even able to win over opponents to her quest and dream.

Low Leadership Maturity with respect to Others 

Immature leadership in relating to Others, feels threatened by followers because of his inner insecurity. Hence he sets up cold, distant, formal, restricted and elitist interpersonal spaces. His mantra is ‘Dive and Rule’.   Persons enter his interpersonal space on strict terms and preconditions set by him, and then only by his invitation. Persons allowed into his interpersonal space are treated if they are all the same, most frequently as being inferiority and being an inferior to him. No teams and teaming. Only individuals to be led.

Leadership has little, if any self-insight into his impact on others. In any case, such impact does not matter at all. Followers must take what is dished out to them. He also has little insight into the impact of others on him. This makes it difficult for him to understand why he responds the way he responds in reaction to others’ conduct.   

His interpersonal relationships are superficial, static, short term and task-based.  Others’ personal circumstances are of no concern. They are solely work colleagues who must get a job done, regardless of circumstances.   What happens away from work is of no concern to leadership. Persons are valued only for the contribution they can make to the personal agenda of leadership in terms of his interests, desires and needs.

Followers must make leadership defined contributions, scoped by what leadership wants to achieve through them – and not with them – in pursuit of leadership’s egocentric agenda and interests. They must make do in the execution of their responsibilities and in achieving prescribed goals, set by leadership. Followers must create their own opportunities; obtain abilities themselves; ensure their own learning; and acquire themselves the required resources to achieve outcomes.

Often leadership overloads followers with unreasonable, unrealistic workloads in order to keep them out of his hair. Or, to make them feel incompetent and insecure in resonance with his own feelings of incompetence and low self-confidence. Excellence is turned into uncompromising, unattainable perfection to be attained at all times.

During crises followers themselves must make a plan and find solutions. Frequently leadership is deliberately absent, because crises may expose his weaknesses to act under stress. He does not take any accountability for the decisions and actions of followers. In the case of failures and mistakes, the witch hunt is on for scapegoats. Or, circumstances ‘beyond our control’ are blamed.    Rationalisation is the name of the game.

Because of his inner insecurity and uncertainty, and feeling being threatened by others, information and knowledge are withheld from others in order to give leadership power over others in order to keep them are unsighted on what is going on. Feedback on leadership performance from followers is inadmissible. Or, only permissible if it contains good news. A performance-feedback vacuum hence grows around leadership because he receives no genuine, true feedback.

Discussions and conversations are one-sided with only the opinions and views of leadership being voiced and dominating. He is not open for the views and opinions of others at all. Mostly he uses his authority to impose his thinking and decisions on others, squashing all opposition and resistance. His view is the only view because he is all knowing. Those that oppose and/ or criticise his position, are pushed aside, ignored, or preferably worked out.   

Because of his uncertainty and insecurity, leadership is opportunistic, inconsistent and unpredictable in his decisions and actions. Paradoxically, given his uncertainty, insecurity, and feeling of being threatened by others, he unpredictably oscillates between choosing his own view, OR that of others with little rational, logical explanation and justification for his choices.

Frequently he folds under pressure, especially to pressure from stakeholders he feels can promote or undermine his personal agenda.  Additionally, he is vulnerable to pressure because he has no firm personal vantage point and/ or is not unconditionally committed to a robust, personal value system.  Or, he clings stubbornly to an inappropriate standpoint against all evidence. His own voice and values are (deliberately) vague and unclear, leaving others unclear and uncertain about what is acceptable or not. Thus his talking and walking differ often. Consequently, he is seen as unreasonable, untrustworthy, a bad role model, and unethical.

Immature leadership attracts and nurtures passive, dependent, compliant, non-critical followers, merely following leadership for what he can do for them.  In this way, paradoxically leadership is held ransom by followers because he needs followers if he is to be a leader. Opponents and oppositions need to be eliminate mercilessly.       


High Leadership Maturity with respect to World 

The departure point of mature leadership in relating to the World is that she is inherent and indissolubly linked to, and embedded in the World: ‘I am one with the World that has been entrusted to me by my stakeholders.’ The World therefore is a precious crown jewel that leadership must protect and nurture for present and future generations, in the present and going forward into the future.

She crafts and applies a systematic, holistic and organic picture of the World with the accompanying, necessary finer details. Within and because of this picture, she is able to distil and grasp current and future expected patterns of functioning with their underlying rules – whether virtuous or vicious cycles – with their impact.  She understands everything is connected with everything else and affects everything.  Accordingly, she carefully considers what is required of her to match and fit into the World.  Also, what relevant, congruent decisions and actions to take that will have productive effects, given current and future patterns with their requisite complexity level.   

She is comfortable, and does not feel threatened, by the increasing and overwhelming Variety, Interdependency, Complexity, Change, Ambiguity, and Seamlessness of the newly emerging order. She embraces it in her stride; builds deep insight into the dynamics of this order; is able to find the simplicity in the complexity; and to work with the order, and not against it, seeing it a challenge.  Frequently, she is the trigger of all of the above since she is willing to challenge existing boundaries and transverse known horizons because she believes the World is pure abundance and potential, waiting to be mined for greater good of all.    

In her engagement with the World, she does not deny and avoid the dilemmas and paradoxes the World in its imperfection offers. She realises that she must seek and find higher order fusions. She understands that ‘Either-Or’ answers are unsustainable. However difficult it may be, ‘Both/ And’ answers must be found. The acquisition of wisdom alongside information and knowledge is equally important.  Cold, logical, rational thinking and facts are insufficient. Trust in her intuition – her sixth sense – is essential to find answers and solutions. Sometimes even the validity of conventionally accepted questions must be questioned in finding answers and solutions. New questions hence often have to be uncovered.   

Her engagement with the World is directed and guided by a strong ethical compass and conscience: ‘What is right, good and valuable to do?’  And: ‘What is the impact for whom, where and when of my decisions and actions, in the present and going into the future?’      

In everything she is driven by an unfolding, shared dream (or vision) that informs her passionate engagement with and in the World. She links her dream tightly with a greater goal to serve humankind – now and in the future. She therefore considers circumspectly the long term, widening, and knock-on effects of her decisions and actions. Above all, she seeks after the possible ultimate meaning and purpose of everything in which her dream must find its legitimacy and justification in the final instance. Hence her Leadership Stance is predominantly Transformational and Transcendental.        

Low Leadership Maturity with respect to the World 

Immature leadership in relating to the World sees herself above and separate to the World. It is in her service and for her use: ‘I am at the top of the food chain. Everything is for my use, here-and-now.’ She sees the World fragmentarily in stand-alone compartments (or silo’s). Each compartment has to be analysed and dealt with separately down to the minutest of detail.

Big picture thinking is regarded as reality estranged. It is seen as too theoretical and abstract. No World embracing, holistic, integrated patterns are distilled. At most patterns within compartments are recognised. The World consists only of stand-alone linear relationships of A’s effecting B’s.        

She is feels threatened and overwhelmed by the increasing Variety, Interdependency, Complexity, Change, Ambiguity, and Seamlessness of the newly emerging order. In order to ensure order and control,  and make the World predictable and manageable, the following are life-saving essentials for her: oversimplification or over-complexification; the black-and-white classification of everything; only considering empirically proven facts; cold rational, logical thinking; and establishing formalised, standardised rules and procedures from which no deviation is allowed.

The maintenance of the status quo, or at most incremental, transactional change, is emphasised. Radical, transformational change, implying uncertainty, unpredictability and unknown risks must be avoided at all costs. One has to stay within known, set boundaries. To go outside them, is looking for trouble and making the World unmanageable.       

From an ego-centric, pragmatic, opportunistic vantage point, the immature leader’s focus is self-centred; short term; the here-and-now, as well as concrete goals, plans, results and benefits. Her Leadership Stance is purely Transactional. Forget the future, and any detrimental impact on current and possibly future generations. It is everyone for himself. It is survival of the fittest and strongest, come what may.   No greater or ultimate goal or purpose exist and/ or must be considered.

A strong ethical compass and conscience are absent or underdeveloped in leadership. As long as something works and/ or offers personal benefit, it is right, good and important.  She is the ultimate pragmatist and opportunist: ‘If it works, it is fine and right’.   

Developing Leadership Maturity

Developing leadership maturity is a personal, self-reflective, self-awareness raising journey.  In the end, how a person deals with events, circumstances and others in order to ripened through them – also working through unfinished business during the journey – is a personal choice.

However, this journey can be facilitated by significant others acting as role models; setting up experiential learning in safe situations;  exposing a person to stretch challenges (about 20 beyond his current level); coaching; and constant, 360 degree feedback.


Leadership Maturity as Excellence Enabler relates to leadership’s capability within his Leadership Galaxy to engage in a relevant,  productive and edifying manner in relation to Self, Others and World

Leadership maturity refers to a leader’s ability to engage consistently in relevant, productive and uplifting ways with Self, Others and World, the three critical relationships in which a leader stand.

Leadership Maturity is a lifelong journey, and not a destination. It is an ongoing, painful growth process of ‘ripening’ during which a person’s life is moulded and shaped by life events, experiences, exposures, relationships and interactions. This journey can be forward or backwards, upwards or downwards with no certainty and predictability of direction and value-add.

Discernible profiles exits for mature vs. immature leadership in his/ her relationship to Self, Others and World.

In the final end, the journey to leadership maturity is a personal choice directed and guided by the imperative of finding, understanding and accepting myself. It is the journey of growing self-awareness and –insight towards a true Self through intense self-reflection.

Do you recognise some areas in yourself as a leader or areas in your team that need improvement?

Contact Adriaan Groenewald for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside you as a leader and your organisation.

Adriaan Groenewald is an Authentic Leadership Activist


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