Mental Complexity

I have been working my way through Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change and think it is an important construct for us school leaders to wrap our collective heads around.

Plateaus of Mental Complexity (Kegan and Lahey, 2009. Immunity to Change. p.16.)

Plateaus of Mental ComplexityMental complexity can change over the course of the lifespan and generally gets more complex.

  • Socialized Mind – How do I get on the bus? What is everyone else doing? OK…I’ll do that.
  • Self-Authoring Mind – How do I get on the bus, and in the driver’s seat? It’s my map, and I’m going to get us there. I’m tied to my frame of reference.
  • Self-Transforming Mind – How do I get in the driver’s seat, but remain open to the possibilities of a changing map? I’m not tied to my frame of reference. I can step back and see other possibilities.

The reality today: “…we are asking more and more workers who could once perform their work successfully with socialized minds – good soldiers – to shift to self-authoring minds. And we are asking more and more leaders who could once lead successfully with self-authoring minds – sure and certain captains – to develop self-transforming minds. In short, we are asking for a quantum shift in individual mental complexity across the board” (Keegan & Lahey, 2009, p. 27)

As a leader, locate yourself in this paradigm. Where are you? What evidence leads you to believe this? What are your stories? Do we see the construct of mental complexity relevant to others you see work in leadership roles? What is the evidence? What are your stories? Do the leaders we label as “effective” – leaders bringing about a more progressive model of learning and challenging the status quo in their work context – tend to be self-transforming? What is the evidence? Did we have, or even need, self-transforming leaders, say, 30 years ago? Can school leaders today be effective with only a self-authoring mindset? How could this model make a difference in your leadership?

So how to we reach our goal of the self-transforming mindset? If we had more of these kinds of leaders in educational positions, would our system change? How?


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