What if leadership maturity wasn’t about age, but effort and experience? This week, I’m joined by Keith Eigel and Karl Kuhnert, who wrote The Map. Karl and Keith take us through the five levels of leadership maturity and how we can move from a me-first to a community-first and world-first style of leadership.
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This transcript has not been edited.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host, and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
With us today are two awesome guys. They wrote this book, The Map: Your Path to Effectiveness in Leadership, Life, and Legacy. It was sent to me by someone who’s read my books and said I really, really loved their book and you should read it. I did. And he was right to send it to me. The names are Keith Eigel and Karl Kuhnert.
Keith is the head of … He heads up Leader Lyceum which is a leadership training program. And it’s an organization dedicated to facilitating the growth of executive and next gen leaders.
And we have Karl Kuhnert. They wrote the book together. He’s an industrial and organizational psychologist out of Emory.
And we’re going to talk about their book. So Keith and Karl, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Keith: Great to be with you, Peter.
Karl: Thanks Peter.
Peter: So the book is The Map. It’s a map of your life. Give us a quick overview. And there’s five levels and we’re going to talk about each of these overviews but give us just a sentence or two on this whole idea of a 30,000 foot view.
Keith: Okay, so basically over the course of our lives we have various lenses that characterize how we understand ourselves and others and the circumstances we find ourselves in. And many of your listeners may be familiar with a guy named Jean [Pujay 00:01:47], famous child psychologist, that really looked at how children don’t just keep learning stuff. They start seeing it or understanding it in fundamentally different ways. Well, that development, that growth continues into adulthood. And when we turn 21 and get our adult card or whatever the right age is, we don’t stop growing. We’re not just grown ups.
Keith: And so, the book is about how as grown ups do we keep growing and how does this make a difference and relate to leadership.
Peter: It’s great. And the levels aren’t necessarily correlated with ages, right? You could reach maturity at a variety of different ages but there are still leveled steps that you go through.
Karl: Correct. However, the fact is that they actually, these levels are correlated with age. Because one of the ways in which we develop into adulthood is through experience.
Karl: Right? And so what happens is as we learn from experience, we actually mature and grow and actually can and actually over time increase our levels of understanding.
Keith: So the key is, I guess, is it is correlated with age but our age does not determine our level which may be what he’s getting at.
Peter: Yeah, because I know level two is it’s all about me. And we all know 60 or 70 year olds for whom it is still all about them.
Keith: Thank you, that’s right. And so one of the unique things in adulthood is that we have the capacity to quit growing. We can actually arrest our own development. Sometimes it’s not our choice. Sometimes there are some things that have happened to us in childhood that may predetermine that kind of stuff. But the reality is a lot of adults because it’s the hard stuff in life that grows us in the way that we’re talking about in the book. Not just learning new things but having a fundamentally different understanding happens because hard things happen to change that understanding. So it’s kind of ironic that the more resourced we get, the more capacity we have to actually fix these challenges. It steals from us an opportunity to grow.
Peter: And I also know … I mean, I know from my own life that growth is not automatic. That you have to … Growth happens because you’re willing to experience, reflect, and move through very difficult situations and difficult emotions and difficult challenges. And allow them to change you. And that’s so easy to say but it’s really, really hard to do.
Karl: Yeah. One of the things we like to do in our program is we actually have people identify landmark events in their life. And what we are able to show is that these landmark events actually accelerate people’s development because they actually don’t see the world the same way after say a loss of a loved one.
Karl: And so it’s really interesting to see how these landmark events, these significant events in our lives, actually impact us and grow us.
Peter: Yeah. In a program that I run, one of the things that I often ask people is to write down the top five times in their career … These are senior leaders. People who have been very, very successful. The top five times that their career has taken a big jump forward. Not step wise but something, a big jump forward. And they all write them down. And then I say look at that list and how many of them would be … how many of them involve real failure? How many of them involve a challenge that you actually was such a big challenge that there was a failure that created that next move up.
Peter: And usually somewhere around 50% of the great leaps forward in their career were a consequence of failure. And I find that really interesting because we spend a lot of energy trying to avoid failure.
Karl: We work with a lot of executives. And it’s so interesting to us when one of us will ask them, how many of you are here today in this room with these great jobs and you’re here as a result of a failure or the result of a loss in your life. And they all go yeah, I’m here because of that. We learn actually how to grow out of those …
Peter: That’s interesting. That’s really interesting phrasing, right?
Karl: We also look … and how do we grow? We grow through failure. Right? We grow through falling. Heck, we actually talk about falling forward. When you ride a back, riding on a bike, the only way to learn to ride a bike is by falling.
Peter: Right. Richard Rohr who is the Franciscan monk who really is a beautiful writer. But he wrote a book about the second half of your life called Falling Upward. And it’s a great phrase, I think.
Peter: Okay, let’s talk about these five levels what’s Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4.
Keith: So Level 1 is not a level of adulthood. It’s actually the way a four year old makes sense of the world where just their perceptions are reality and it’s a lot of make believe. And you can trade three pennies for a dime to any four year old you can find just about which is 70% margin by the way. It’s just a slow way to make money.
Keith: The Level 2 is where we really start talking about adulthood and it’s actually a very middle school mindset. It’s a bullying, me first, how am I going to win, zero sum game. We’re pitted against each other kind of mindset. And the reason we even talk about it in the book is it’s related to leadership is because 3-5% of the highly educated adult professional population has stopped growing and sees the world like a middle schooler which is crazy, right?
Peter: Yeah. I mean, maybe even including people in serious levels of political power. But let me ask you …
Keith: You know we stay away from that, don’t you?
Peter: I do too. I actually really do never bring politics in so it’s just not even clear who I’m even talking about. But here’s the question for you. There are some times pure narcissistic examples of the it’s all about me and et cetera. And what I like to bring in in this conversation about categorization is there are really successful leaders who have some scent of this. That ultimately it’s a survival characteristic. And there are contexts that bring this out in people. That you could be at a higher level of growth and suddenly you’re thrown into it’s all about me because something has scared you. And it’s something that comes from fear and survivalism more than anything else. I’m curious to get your reaction to that.
Karl: The way that I would answer that is what we find is that people who are at higher levels with these leader levels, adult development, is that let’s say they’re a Level 4. Now they’re at Level 4 and if they get thrown down to Level 2, they know they’re going down to Level 2. There’s a consciousness.
Peter: So there’s an awareness.
Karl: There’s an awareness of it. Whereas, if you’re at Level 2, you know what? [crosstalk 00:09:28]
Karl: That is their operating system.
Peter: Okay, Level 3.
Keith: Level 3 is … You want me to do it?
Karl: Well Level 3 … I’ll do Level 3. Level 3 is actually where you are defined by the other. You don’t necessarily have relationships, you are those relationships. So many of the decisions that you make are actually things you’ve seen works at other places and you decide you know what? I’ll do that.
Peter: Is the whole idea of best practices a Level 3 modality?
Karl: It is, thank you.
Keith: I mean, that’s a big statement.
Karl: Yeah, but no, it’s the thought that someone else is doing this in this company and if we insert it into our company, it will work.
Keith: It’s really misunderstood, Peter, in terms of it’s not self-authored.
Keith: It’s outside sourced, right? And this gets very complicated. I think the whole idea of identity politics. I think the idea of identifying with some group that totally defines our understanding of ourselves and how we should interact with the world and all of these things is a very Level 3 idea. And so, while a lot of times the way we see it show up in terms of application is I’m way, way, way too concerned about what my boss thinks about me or what my peers are thinking about me. Or what if I do this? Is that going to be, I don’t know, what will they think? It’s almost like a paralyzing way of being which is why you’re not effective in leading others from Level 3.
Keith: But I want to add one thing is it’s not just other people that can define you, it can be your role. It can be your wealth. It could be your country club membership. It could be your politics. But it’s not really yours from the inside out. And anybody who’s grown beyond it is able to reflect back and say yeah, I remember that time in my life but it was this thing that knocked me out of that where I really had to get grounded in who I was. And that’s moving toward Level 4.
Peter: Right. And it’s actually interesting because moving out of … We’re going to talk in a second about moving from one level to another but I would imagine that moving out of Level 2 to Level 3 makes everybody around you very happy. Moving out of Level 3 to Level 4 makes everybody around you very unhappy.
Karl: Very good point. And what happens is at Level 4, you’re unlikely to give people at Level 3 what they want to hear.
Peter: Right, right.
Karl: And that’s a problem.
Keith: And yet when we look at subordinate effectiveness ratings of a leader and when we look at actually the leader’s effectiveness ratings of them rating their subordinates, their effectiveness goes up at Level 4 because people experience the groundedness even though they may not be as concerned with maintaining the relationship in a Level 3 way. And then there is almost a leader level to the culture of organizations too. And I’ve worked with a number of CEOs who were totally Level 4. And if you’re familiar with like a Jungian personality, kind of an intuitive thinking CEO strategic kind of mindset coming in to lead like a family. An organization that uses lots of family words to describe themselves and how we’re all part of this family. And when they come in, boy, I’ve seen some people really hate it in those environments.
Peter: Right, interesting. So describe Level 4.
Keith: Level 4 is groundedness. It’s self-authoredness. It’s I know who I am. There’s a level of self awareness, commitment to my values. I’m more concerned about not living up to a standard that I’ve authored than I am what you will think about me if I don’t live up to your standard.
Peter: I’m curious about how this plays out cross-culturally and culturally because you’re describing a growth track that for Americans, for an American culture, is very second nature. We’re a culture of self made people and a sense of I author my own life. And I can make happen what I need to make happen. But if you go to a different culture, if you go to more collectivist cultures. You go to a culture like Japan or you go to a culture, a variety of cultures in Latin America, it’s much more about … It almost feels like the culture itself is more of a Level 3 culture than a Level 4 culture. I’m curious what you’ve seen.
Keith: Take it. I mean, you’ve been to the Middle East.
Karl: I agree with that. I think there are cultures that in our way of thinking about things, actually inhibit growth. And what you see is in a lot of cultures, and we see it in our culture by the way, but there’s this playing the blame game which we see a lot of at Level 3 because if something happens to me, it’s not my fault. It’s because someone did something to me.
Keith: They want a victim.
Karl: And so there’s a lot of victimhood.
Peter: It’s interesting. I also … I think that’s interesting. So you find blame more prevalent in Level 3 than Level 4.
Karl: Absolutely. And that’s the hallmark, by the way. That’s the hallmark for us. And one of the great shifts is actually moving from blame to responsibility.
Karl: And that’s a very challenging thing to do for most people to do.
Peter: That makes sense to me and I think it’s really important to go slow here because I wouldn’t say that a collectivist culture is one of blame. I would say it’s one of communal responsibility. And so, if I look at a culture in Japan, I wouldn’t say they’re stuck in a blame culture but I would say that who we are is more important than who you are. And that that might inhibit growth from an American normative approach but possibly not from a more appreciating the complexity of different cultures that you could have tremendous ownership in a collectivist way in a culture that values the group norm over the individual achievement norm.
Karl: And I’ll add to that. The way you’re talking about communal living is actually more like Level 5.
Peter: And so, let’s go to Level 5. That’s great.
Karl: And so, as a metaphor here is that what happens at Level 4, you have this great GPS system in your head. You know how to get from point A to point B. It’s actually a very effective way of leading other people because you know how to get around, you know how to do things. You own it.
Karl: The difference between Level 4 and Level 5 is you have that same GPS system at Level 5. But at Level 5, you’re interested in building new roads.
Karl: And you know you can’t do it alone but you have to have others help you in building those new roads. So they’re much more focused at Level 5 on the culture.
Peter: All right. So in a few minutes, maybe give us a few tips. Let’s say moving … Let’s give up on Level 1. You don’t spend a lot of time on it in the book anyway. And it’s you’re really starting off at Level 2 in many ways. So let’s talk about … and assuming we’re not talking to a ton of four year olds. Let’s talk about the movement from Level 2 to Level 3, Level 3 to Level 4, and Level 4 to Level 5.
Peter: Let’s start with Level 2 to Level 3, what are some tips? What are some things that you can share with us that might guide people’s thinking around how you move from this it’s all about me to not necessarily ideal but this idea of being overwhelmed by outside influences.
Keith: All right. Given that 3-5% of the population this concerns, my guess is of the 3-5% only 1% is watching this video. That they’re not concerned about this. They’re concerned about themselves. So I want to approach this in what do you do if you feel like you’ve got someone who is Level 2 around you. What can you do to facilitate their growth to Level 3. Is that okay?
Peter: Yeah, it’s fine. And what it makes me think is the larger question of self-assessment too because if it’s only 3-5% of the population and yet we all know people who are at Level 2, and we all complain about people who are at Level 2, then I have to question the statistic.
Keith: Okay, so here’s the … 3-5% in the highly educated professional population. This is college educated professionals. The statistics actually go up as you get out of that category where it’s a more me-first, I don’t know, survivalistic almost understanding. The thing is and I’ve actually coached a couple of people, Peter, on purpose, just to see if I could who were in their mid-30s that were stuck at Level 2 and my gosh, you’ve got to be concrete the way you’ve got to be concrete with a middle schooler. You’ve got to define the win and growing and be able to enforce consequences for remaining where you are. But the whole journey, just quickly, is about moving from a me-first, only can see the world through my lens and how I’m impacted, to being able to truly put myself in other people’s shoes, empathize with their point of view, and recognize our inner connectedness. Which is what a teenager kind of does in high school if they’re healthy and growing. They figure that out.
Karl: And for a manager who has a Level 2, the most important thing is you have to meet them where they are, at Level 2, in order to move them.
Peter: So how do you do that?
Karl: You have to put things in their language. In fact, if you’re trying to develop them, you have to get them to see that there’s more to what they’re trying to do than trying to get individual benefit.
Karl: They have to see that there’s something in it for the rest of the team or the group they’re working with.
Karl: And so, in some ways, we’ve had success in actually changing rewards systems. Now, rather than getting individually rewarded, you can now get rewarded based on the team performance.
Keith: We’ve seen people who can’t even operate in that system too.
Peter: So it sounds like in those situations, you’re not necessarily changing their level or perspective but you’re leveraging the perspective they have in order to get them to approach life from a broader perspective.
Keith: That is in order to facilitate growth. That’s exactly true. You’ve got to create … you’ve got to meet them where they are in their win/lose-ness, right? Just like you do a teenager. I mean, a middle schooler. You’re going to get punished if you don’t change your behavior in this way. And then, the lens follows that. The lens change follows that.
Peter: So you act and your thoughts and beliefs follow when you see that you’ve gotten some success from that perspective.
Keith: We don’t have time but if I told you the stories about when I have coached a couple of these people through, it was uncomfortably absurd the things that I felt like I was asking them to do knowing that they were also a grown up.
Keith: But we did it. We employed it. And by the way, back to your 3-5% statistic, think about this. For every 20 people you know, that means one of them.
Keith: Maybe stuck somewhere in Level 2. And I think that’s where most people would come down on this. And now, you can be in an organization where the numbers are way worse than that. And we’ve worked for a couple of organizations that were way more cutthroat, way more me-first kind of organizations that they attracted a higher level of Level 2s than that.
Peter: Well, it’s interesting. You work at Emory and I don’t know Emory specifically but academic environments are notoriously individually focused and people who are about themselves and not necessarily about some collective alignment and continued growth. And so, I imagine that at least a healthy percentage of that 3-5% find themselves in academic professions.
Keith: Let me just say something that I’m not going to let him say is that the statistical norms in the PhD professorship are actually higher than 3-5%.
Peter: That doesn’t surprise me.
Peter: And it’s good because I intuitively didn’t like the idea that when you said among the educated people, it’s a smaller number than among everybody else because that hasn’t been my experience. I had a resistant reaction to that idea. So I kind of like that we’re seeing a lot of that in the PhD students too.
Karl: You can see this in the high levels of the financial industry. High tech, technology.
Peter: I mean, you could argue that a lot of highly successful people have become highly successful in that particular way because they’re stuck in Level 2. It doesn’t make them good leaders but it makes them so self-focused that they end up … They’re not at Level 3 yet so they’re not really caring what other people are thinking. And they’re very, very focused on their own survival and getting as much as they can. And I don’t know, I haven’t done the research, right? But I would imagine that some highly successful people are maybe become successful because they stay at Level 2 in a particular way.
Keith: And do you know what? Can I just say thank you for pushing back on this because we did not want to communicate that there was some kind of educational disparity in this. Because actually we haven’t gotten to Level 5 yet but this sort of wisdom of the ages kind of thing, the first person when I … Keegan had a huge influence on me and on us in some ways. And when I started learning this and one of the first people I met was actually a 75 year old African American brick mason who was working on our house with a sixth grade education. And this guy was one of the coolest people I was ever around. And I sort of recognized it and I had this old cassette tape recorder and I said can we just sit down and talk? Would you mind if I recorded it? And I don’t have the tape which is like a heartbreaker but it was one of the … totally amazing. There’s no threshold of education in this.
Peter: Right, right. So going from Level 2 to Level 3, we’ve talked about let’s … We don’t have a lot of time here but quickly give us a tip or two to go from Level 3 to Level 4 from this overwhelmed by outside influences to this sense of I’m not going to blame, I own.
Keith: You want to take it?
Karl: Well, I think the way to think about this is not so much a tip but what happens is is that you actually at all these levels you actually meet up with failure. And what happens is, at Level 3, there’s a number of different ways to fail. And one of them is that because you’re so interested and so caught by the relationships, you end up doing everything for everyone else. You end up not getting your own work done. And so, you end up getting burned out. You know what I’m saying? And so what happens is that you realize hey listen, I have to learn to say no.
Peter: I’ve got to make my own decisions here.
Karl: I have to start making my own decisions.
Peter: It’s almost like you have to reach back. What I’m hearing is I go from Level 2 which is all about me to Level 3 which is all about you to get to Level 4. I have to reach back into that well of Level 2, it’s all about me, and bring some of that sense of it is a little bit about me and I need to take that ownership and I need to not give myself up.
Peter: I have a new book coming out called Leading With Emotional Courage which is coming out in July. And I talk about leadership in terms of confidence in yourself, connection to others, commitment to a purpose, and then emotional courage and these four elements. And two of the elements, the confidence in yourself and connection to others, you need them simultaneously in my view because if you’re totally confident. If it’s all about you and not about them at all, you’ve lost. If it’s all about them and not about you, those are describing Level 2 and Level 3. And somehow it almost feels like to take ownership, you’re operating at a level of simultaneous Level 2 and Level 3. Curious about your thoughts.
Keith: It’s so true. But it’s where the truest version in understanding of compassion, of empowerment, of conflict resolution, of name something. It’s the truest expression in version of that comes out of this refined self-authored way of understanding. And I know you had asked us before we even started the interview, some pragmatic elements. Some points of application.
Keith: In this move between three and four, and I don’t know how much time we have left, but one of the richest areas for growth in any of us at any time and it meets us where we are is what’s our biggest complaint right now? What’s our biggest frustration? What’s my biggest frustration? And from Level 3, that frustration may be with my boss or the circumstances or these things outside of me. From Level 4, it may be actually frustration with myself. Even when I interview Level 5 people who are even elderly, they’re frustration is with missing opportunities to make a difference for others. But there’s still a frustration and it’s in that frustration … what we all want to do with frustration is fix it and make it go away. When actually the frustration is supposed to fix us.
Peter: Right, right, yeah. I like that.
Keith: So if you can get, if your listeners can say yeah, I’ve got some things I’m complaining about. Maybe that is my biggest opportunity for growth. What do I need to do to lean into it? That’s the magic from Level 3 to Level 4. That happens over and over and over again for 20 or 25 or 30 years for people.
Keith: Where every area of life eventually gets touched on.
Peter: Love it. Give me one sentence or two on Level 4 to Level 5, getting to that holy grail.
Keith: Boy, I think it’s … one sentence, say it. Go ahead.
Karl: The one sentence that we’ve heard a lot about Level 5 leaders who have basically said this to us and now we incorporate it into much of what we talk about. They’ll say something like you know, it’s not just about us, it’s about all of us. And so, what they’re concerned about is not just the team but they’re concerned about the organization and maybe even the community in which the … country, the world.
Keith: The organization, the community, the country, the world.
Karl: They’re painting with a much broader brush.
Peter: So there’s a much stronger sense of for the sake of. Like we are doing this for the sake of.
Keith: And there’s a higher order value system that is the ultimate evaluative standard. And that there may be multiple ways to get there. And for anybody, there’s been so many great films on Mandela over the last couple of years. And King is another great example. But a guy who came in and saw the bigger picture amongst all of the division and actually united, saw what we had in common rather than what separated. And that’s what we see in Level 5 leaders even in families. Whether it’s a 75 year old aunt or uncle in some way or grandparent.
Peter: In a spiritual sense, there is some letting go of the ego. We were talking about Richard Rohr and his book Falling Upwards, the Franciscan monk. There’s a sense of letting go of the ego and seeing yourself as part of the bigger frame.
Karl: That’s a great way of putting it.
Keith: Huge Richard Rohr fan, huge Richard Rohr fan. He says in the book Breathing Underwater that we are … Every one of us struggles with addiction and for most of us, we’re addicted to our own way of thinking. And when we can get our arms around that at Level 4, it opens us up to the possibility of Level 5.
Peter: Level 5. Beautiful. Keith Eigel and Karl Kuhnert. The book is The Map: Your Path to Effectiveness in Leadership, Life, and Legacy. Thank you so much for joining us on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Keith: Totally fun, Peter.
Karl: Thank you.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review.
Peter: A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of business, a lot of hard work, that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our Big Arrow Process. For more information about that or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com.
Thank you, Clare Marshall, for producing this episode. And thank you for listening.