A Masterclass in neuroscience by Sue Langley taught how the brain develops and how this influences interaction with the self and others. In a nutshell: The pre-frontal cortex, which helps with organisation, judgement, decision making, and strategy, develops fully between 20 to about 25 years of age. It explains why there are more car accidents caused by those under 25 years of age. Before this age, young people use the other two main parts of the brain: the lizard brain which drives survival mechanisms and the limbic brain which supports habits and emotions. Langley considers the interconnect between the limbic brain and the pre-frontal cortex the means to emotional intelligence.
Renowned researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey identified that there are three different levels of mental complexity that build on each other: the socialised mind, the self-authoring mind and the self-transforming mind.
The socialised mind is akin to being in the passenger seat of a car. People require guidance as they are not processing information at a critical level. They are more prone to group-think or the Asian “saving face”. The self-authoring mind is akin to being the driver of the car. People are able to process information independently, and plan and take action accordingly. The self-transforming mind is akin to driving and navigating the best way. People are able to step back from their own worldview and look at situations critically in an interconnected way. The higher level of mental complexity outperforms the lower level (3). This directly relates to recruitment, career development and training programs.
Human evolution explains the social context in which people grow up and develop. The three levels of mental complexity interrelate with human development. There are two great influencers: 1) the beliefs obtained inside the community or society in which people grow up, and 2) the level of consciousness obtained by the individual.
Beliefs in Society
What we know is that each society has the same human evolution phases. Societies around the globe at any given time are at a different stage of evolution; neither stage is better nor worse than the other…they are just different. Each phase needs to be experienced before further growth is possible. This is the same for people born and growing up during different time periods in Australia and those migrating from a different society to Australia. The former are marked by social changes that evolve a nation such as the technological changes started during the industrial revolution. The latter is based on migrants cultural beliefs based on their nation’s values in self-expression and secular-relations as shown in the World Values Survey. (Figure 1) The most extreme example I can provide is within Australia itself. We have the indigenous people who have tribal beliefs that are highly spiritual in regards to land and environment; and we have Western society beliefs which foster independence, growth and materialism. In this sense, indigenous Australians were transplanted 2000 years of human evolution into the future when white settlement started in Australia.
Figure 1 World Values Map
The second point relates to personal development regardless of background and upbringing. I will use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain the first four levels and the 7 Levels of Consciousness Model by Richard Barrett to explore Maslow’s self-actualisation level. (Figure 2)
Figure 2 – Human Development and Mental Complexity
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs starts with survival which is akin to food, shelter and safety, but also income or employment to support these basic needs. The second level relates to human bonding or belonging. At a societal or organisational level this is also the evolution of tribes. The third level is self-esteem where people want to develop skills and expertise and differentiate themselves from others. These three levels are akin of human development from a newborn to about 29 years of ages (there are exceptions) and a socialised mind. However, according to Kegan and Lahey there are older people who simply remain at these levels because they have no need to grow further. They estimate that about 60% of the world’s population fit here.
Hence, regardless of the generation born into, there will be employees in a workplace who are within the socialised mind. Because of their need of belonging they want respect and their need for self-esteem requires guidance or direction. They will be quite happy to do task oriented work, as long their basic needs are met and their emotive states can remain in balance. Retention or redundancy is the biggest threat because of loss of income (survival), belonging (team) and loss of status (self-esteem).
The next level is the need to transform gaining knowledge and understanding to develop into an independent person and gain autonomy over work. Then a person begins to self-actualise. The first step is internal cohesion when people are looking for meaning and purpose in life and they develop the necessary interpersonal skills to lead others. These two levels are akin to the self-authoring mind.
So called leadership preferences are in fact due to a person’s level of consciousness. Someone who wants guidance has different needs to someone who is growing and self-actualising regardless of the generation they belong to. For example experts (self-esteem) who are promoted to management roles have attained the transformation level due to their education and professional accountabilities, but not necessarily the cohesion level to lead people. Experts learn to take control and have autonomy over their work. And they apply this to their management practice making micro-management the norm unless personal development takes place.
The last two levels of consciousness relate to making a difference and being in service to society. These two levels relate to the self-transforming mind. An organisation which wants to implement a Corporate Social Responsibility program based on values requires a CEO at this level. Otherwise it will be just a program that is not lived with meaning and true purpose. A full spectrum leader has obtained this level.
A final word
The knowledge economy requires more people at the transformation and cohesion levels than any other type of economy before. These levels are where education, and learning and development programs need to focus. Whilst at level four higher education is important, level five and above require personal development partially through formal training, but also through feedback, such as 360 degree methods, and mentoring and coaching from leaders who have obtained higher levels of mental complexity and consciousness. For CEO recruitment HR professionals should look out for full spectrum leaders who bring a self-transforming mindset to the organisation.
1 Twenge, Jean M. (2010) A review of the empirical evidence on generational differences in work attitudes, Journal of Business Psychology, Vol.25, pg 201-210
2 Wong, Melissa; Gardiner, Elliroma; Lang, Whitney; Coulon, Leah; (2008) Generational differences in personality and motivation; Do they exist and what are the implications for the workplace?, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol.23, No.8, pg.878-890
3 Kegan, Rober; Lahey Lisa Laskow (2009) Immunity to Change; Harvard Business Press