If you’re in a leadership role, there’s a good chance that your center of gravity falls within the Achievement stage of adult development.
We’re now on the 6th floor of our imaginary “human development” building. People who score at the Achiever stage have an even better “view.” They have a broader awareness of their own subtle thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions. They understand how those aspects of self shape their ability to choose, make decisions, and create results. At the Achiever stage of adult development, things start to get really interesting. The reason is because the Achiever’s meaning-making system closely aligns with our westernized view of capitalism. We’re talking vision, strategy, competition, results—all those good things that make up our sense of power and profitability in business. Think of it this way. The Achievers keep our technical Experts moving past perfectionism to results. They are responsible, conscientious people who strive for the success of themselves, the organization, and even society-at-large (Torbert, 2004). Achievers are able to integrate multiple time zones. They learn from the past, get the job done in the present, and visualize the future.
The Achiever as Leader
Thirty-three percent of all senior-level leaders score at the Achiever stage (Torbert, 2004). It’s the good news and the bad news because the Achiever is still at what we call an “individual” stage. What this essentially means is that he’s not yet fully cognizant of the greater collective. Yes, he values team-building and collaboration. He does so, however, from a spirit of competition so he perceives these efforts as practical strategies that will further his goals or vision for the organization. Whereas the Expert stage of development focuses on perfection, the Achiever seeks both efficiency and effectiveness. This pursuit of effectiveness underscores a desire for mutual relationships. Even so, the Achiever may value intimacy with a select view. He’s probably good at balancing goals with professional relationships. Yet, an underlying competitive spirit causes the Achiever to chase time. This chase may show up as workaholism, family neglect, lack of a social life, and even poor health. This brings us to the shadow side.
The Shadow Side of the Achiever
Every stage of development has a dark and light side. As human beings, it’s just how we’re wired. Psychologists refer to our dark side as the shadow side. For most senior-level Achievers, that shadow side may be nothing more than a tendency to drive others too hard. Then, there’s the Madoff’s of the world who have a pathological competitive spirit —perhaps a form of narcissism? Either way, the important thing to note is that the Achiever is blind to their own shadow. They like who they are. After all, they have a proven track record of success. Why change? From a practical perspective, Achievers do like feedback if it will help them improve or meet their goals. Depending on the nature of the shadow, however, it may be difficult for them to embrace any feedback that seems counterproductive to the results they’re after. Here's a few other things to consider about the Achiever stage. According to O’Fallon (2013), the Achiever:
- Has a desire to do things “first before anyone else does.”
- Had a need to protect own ideas; copyrights, contracts, and legal protections are vital.
- Assumes others sees things as they do.
- Has a tendency to talk “at” rather than “with” others.
- Expect others to be as driven as they are.
- Has fear of own failure.
- Is result-driven; anything short of desired results is considered failure.
Every developmental stage offers up the wisdom and strength from earlier stages as well as opportunity for future growth. If the Achiever desires to grow up into the next stage, greater self awareness is required. Fortunately, there are available resources available to assist in this pursuit. I have been blessed to have been mentored and trained by some of the most brilliant minds in the field, Bill Torbert, Terri O’Fallon, and even Bob Kegan at Harvard University. If you’re willing to take a step forward, I invite you to access some of the resources below. Then, stay tuned for my next blog. I’ll be discussing the Pluralist stage of development.
Resources and References
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
O’Fallon, T. (2013). The senses: Demystifying awakening. Paper presented at the Integral Theory Conference, San Francisco, CA.
Pacific Integral (n.d.). StAGES: Growing up is waking up: Interpenetrating Quadrants, States, and Structures. Seattle, WA: O’Fallon, T.
Torbert, B., & Herdman-Barker, E. (2013). The Global Leadership Profile report. Boston, MA: Action Inquiry Associates
Torbert, W. R., Cook-Greuter, S. R., Fisher, D., Foldy, E. Gauthier, A., Keeley, J., et al. (2004). Action inquiry: The secret of timely and transforming leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett- Koehler.
[callout]This post is part of a series written by Sharon Spano, PhD. The series is titled, The Stages of Human Development. To learn about the stages of human development, read my posts:
- Stages 1 & 2: The Impulsive and Opportunistic Stages
- Stage 3: The Rule-Oriented Stage
- Stage 4: The Conformist Stage
- Stage 5: The Expert Stage
- Stage 6: The Achiever Stage
- Stage 7: The Pluralist Stage
- Stage 8: The Strategist Stage
- Introduction to the Causal Tier