Do You Have What it Takes to be a Mature Leader?

Assertiveness and empowerment can cause real problems when overused or applied out of context. They become maladaptive responses -- just like anything taken to its extreme. Does this influence the effectiveness and maturity of your leadership?

An epidemic of entitlement, irresponsibility and self-absorption

Can you relate? Coworkers can’t make decisions. They show up in front of you as if helpless. In meetings, you go around in circles, without a clear agenda or purpose.

You drive down the street. Another driver honks if you hesitate for a moment at a red light. Others can’t seem to find it in their hearts to let you enter the highway.

In your favorite coffee shop, customers leave their tables a mess. They don't take time to notice the practice is to clean up after yourself.

If you don’t, who will?

The term “adulting” has become popular. I understand it to mean moving out of a comfortable nest, landing a grown-up job, paying one’s own bills. I like it. It shows the recognition for the act of stepping up. Though the term is often used in regard to twentysomethings, given my examples of entitlement, irresponsibility and self-absorption, I would say the need for adulting has nothing to do with age.

Maturity is underrated, i.e. we need more adulting

In looking for definitions of the word mature I am attracted to these:

  • Based on slow careful consideration [= thoughtfulness].
  • Having attained a desired state [= self-reflection + values].
  • Having or showing the mental and emotional qualities of an adult. (Qualities of an adult: developed, grown, advanced.)

I also want to add compassion, self-restraint, graciousness, and selflessness, demonstrated consistently, as traits of true maturity.

To me these are a minimum requirement to earn the right to call yourself grown up. Daily, we have the opportunity to play our part to keep society running smoothly. That is a responsibility of an adult, and a leader.

What mature leaders don’t do

Long-time leaders may know how to deliver a strong ROI. Mature leaders maintain a commitment to the dignity of their employees in the process.

Leaders may pursue engagement by bringing employees together to gather input. Mature leaders make sure they don’t end up doing all the talking.

Some start out ambitious in their careers wanting to advance to higher and higher levels. Mature leaders recognize they don’t do it alone.

Are there phases of maturity in leadership?

I reached out to my Lead Change Group colleagues for some thoughts on this.

Let's start with Cassandra Ferguson’s question for consideration. “Is leadership taught or caught? Can it be inherited or is it a development process?” Good question.

My colleague, John E. Smith offers this structure (Source: Center for Creative Leadership).

1)  Self Leadership: You become comfortable with yourself and your role.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this. This is a good time to practice empowerment, speaking up, dealing with uncomfortable situations. When it’s your turn to lead others, you can’t give what you don’t have.

2)  Group leadership: You learn to lead small groups.

Sharon Coon Reed and Jane Perdue agree that that maturity in leadership occurs when the focus shifts from self to growing others.

To me it’s a milestone when you learn to sit with other’s discomfort, say, when they receive critical feedback. Another sign is when you realize you can’t do their growing for them.

Alan Utley suggests embracing your own authority to lead those who are older and have more experience. Don’t sell yourself short on leading well simply because of your age.

Page Cole adds the very specific point that maturing leaders consciously practice listening well, pausing and reflecting, and then responding. This is the self-restraint I’m talking about.

3) Organizational level: You learn to direct complex organizations, such as large business units or entire companies.

This is the perfect time for what Jon Mertz suggests – to prepare the next generation of leaders, e.g. to develop succession plans, etc.

As we grow in wisdom and maturity as leaders, we self-reflect. A mature leader plans for and also knows when it is time to hand the reins over to someone else who has earned it. As a mature leader, we can then move on with our heads held high.