Using the Leadership Development Framework to Explore Emergent Knowledge Domains Shared by Individual and Collective Leader Development

Nancy C. Wallis


Theme one of the MOT conference invited us to consider what knowledge is key for a manager to possess. Given the essential nature of self-knowledge, self-awareness, and reflective capacity, three cornerstones of effecting managing and leading, a response to this question might at first seem straightforward. And to be sure, there is no substitute for the life-giving work admonished in the famous dictum, Know Thyself. However, in the current context of increasing global connectivity and the emergence of a higher consciousness informing new ways of living together on this planet, this question deserves an even more considered response. We have the opportunity to build on individual leadership development constructs by considering them in context with the leadership development of the collective within the organizational systems in which they coexist. When considered together in an organizational system, individual and collective leadership development inform one another as interindependent dynamics and therefore offer new possibilities for enhanced interaction, and learning, by individuals and groups throughout the system.


The modern study of adult ego development began at the start of the 20th century with the unparalleled contributions of Freud (1937), Adler (1938), Jung and Campbell (1991), and others. Piaget (1954) contributed enormously to the field with his description of how children develop cognitively through stages marked by increasingly sophisticated ways of making meaning. Other psychologists including Maslow and Kohlberg contributed to the field with their research on how adults develop from an immature, self-focused view of the world through meaning-making stages that are sequentially more complex, comprehensive and more able to deal with the challenges of modern life. Loevinger and Wessler (1970) drew on these sources and her own original research in creating a developmental framework which gave rise to the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT), one of the most widely used and best validated in the field of human development. Loevinger and Wessler's work has been refined by scholars and extended by theorists such as Torbert to include clearer descriptions of later meaning-making stages (Cook-Greuter, 1999; Torbert, 1987).

Four leading constructive-developmental frameworks are Kohlberg's (1969) stages of cognitive moral development, Kegan's (1982) orders of consciousness, Cook-Greuter's (1999) stages of adult development, and Torbert's (1987, 1991, 2004) action logics. While each theorist uses different lines of development, each identifies a sequence of developmental stages across the lifespan that depict important patterns in the ways adults mature such that how they interpret their experiences and understand the world grows more complex. Constructive-developmental frameworks build on Piaget's (1954) model in that it also focuses on the processes of transformation and the struggles and challenges inherent in such development. What people actively notice, become aware of, describe, reflect on, and ultimately act upon depends on how they understand the world around them. This internal process of making sense of the world gives rise to an individual's values, beliefs, assumptions about self, others and work. It guides one's awareness, skills and interests, relationships and satisfaction, and life goals. Thus it is profoundly useful in understanding leadership and the ways in which leaders develop themselves and create conditions for their colleagues' development, all part of leading organizational transformation (McCauley, Drath, Palus, O'Connor, & Baker, 2006).

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