Maturity = Self Awareness + Self Knowledge + the Courage to Engage.
Watching recent TV news of the presidential race, I started thinking about maturity and how desperately we need leaders (governors, teachers, therapists, ministers, parents) who help us evolve toward enlightenment and peace. The late Edwin Friedman wrote about mature leadership and how important it was for a leader to be differentiated, grounded, able to use both reason and emotion – and to separate them when necessary.
I have a couple of mentors, who embody this maturity. They know who they are (and who they’re not). They make me calmer and offer reasons to hope. They say, All is in Divine Order. When I concentrate on their character, here’s what I get.
- Behavioral Intelligence: They take responsibility for the impact of their behavior. Even if they meant no harm. Even if they have to make amends.
- Emotional Intelligence: They own and acknowledge their feelings. They perceive the feelings and motives of others. They identify it when they observe mean, divisive, or manipulative behavior – and they don’t tolerate being abused.
- Relational Value: They value connection over compliance. They treat children, animals, employees, and students (and others with less power) as if they are worthy of knowing.
- Integrated Thinking: They think in full spectrum color (more than black and white, good and bad, winner and loser, saved and damned). They embrace unexpectedness, ambiguity, and mystery. They listen to new information and blend it with their inner wisdom.
- Equanimity: They stay calm when others are freaking out. They know it’s going to be okay. They avoid rhetoric aimed to scare.
Self-awareness lets us perceive what we’re doing and how and why. Self-knowledge means learning from our experiences, becoming adept at navigating the human systems in which we live. And having the courage to engage means meeting people (and animals) at a point of honest connection, sharing power with them, noticing our ego in the mix.
So, what does maturity have to do with leadership?
These traits of maturity don’t necessarily come with age. Maturity belongs on a spectrum. We move along this spectrum in our own time. But once we become aware of the process, it seems to accelerate, because of our active, conscious participation. Our relationships deepen. We see a more complicated world and understand it in a new way, which means a better life for us and the people around us.
Mature leadership encourages, guides, and sets boundaries. Mature leadership states firm positions but respects the dignity of those who hold different ones. Mature leadership listens carefully, reflects, takes time to answer questions with genuine thought.
Mature leadership gets how complicated human systems are. A mature leader has the courage to be transparent and known in those systems. A mature leader sets a collaborative tone, yet clearly calls out bad behavior when a stand must be taken.
A mature leader promotes shared power and the common good, yet faces the likelihood that someone will always be displeased with the direction of the group. A mature leader holds firm to a direction when she/he believes it to be right.
Mature leadership discourages violence and even micro-aggression. It inspires us to use our imaginations and yet behave civilly toward each other.
In the presence of a mature leader, we become more grown up.