How to evolve into a wiser leader - transcript

(This is a transcript of the second video on this page.)

Hi, this is Andrew Lightheart from and welcome to Change Conversations. Today we're talking about how to become a wiser person and therefore a wiser leader looking through a particular framework, a particular lens that I've been making my way into for the past couple of years. And I find it's really useful in lots of ways.

One, to help you to know where where you're at on your journey towards dealing with complexity and being more aware of how to make change happen in broader and broader ways. And it's also really useful so that you can begin to see where other people are at and so meet them where they are and lead in whatever way that means, even if you're not a formal leader of something, but you're able to help connections happen between people and make stuff happen in the world.

I came across this work through two different simultaneous places. One was from a mentor of mine who sent me in the direction of human development and I googled human development and came across some interesting stuff. And then a client of mine said, 'Hey, we've just been doing some leadership assessment stuff', to which of course I just roll my eyes because all of that assessment 'you're this the type of person'... I'm kind of over it.  But then when I looked at what she'd had done, it was actually really insightful and subtle and linked to what I've been reading about. So I ended up going and researching -- I suppose I mean 'reading about' --  I learned two or three different strands of the work that I've come from different scholars and I went and spent some time and did some training with two different streams.

And a large bit of the work that's really affected me is around action logics: the stages that humans can go through to increase our ability to deal with complexity, to deal with uncertainty, to deal with volatility, and to have more wisdom about the actions to take and how to take wise and timely action. And there's significant places along a continuum that can be useful to have as place markers. Of course it is a continuum, like most things in life, it's a spectrum, it's a continuous thing where we're placing different markers and in fact different scholars place the markers in different places but the version I'm going to be giving you comes from some of the work done by William Torbert. (Bill to his friends!) and I want to give you a bit of an insight into it at the moment, where I'm, well, how this might be useful to you and as you listen,  you'll notice that some things really resonate with you either for you to know, 'Oh yeah, that sounds familiar to me' or 'that sounds familiar to me from years ago', or 'I recognize that in another person', or 'that sounds a bit enigmatic'.  And so you begin to get a sense of where you sit and where other people sit.

So there are... when I'm doing this as a talk in front of a group, I've got this set of rainbow colored cooking bowls, which all link in together. Starts with some measuring spoons, and then you take those out and it's bigger measuring spoons, and small bowls and a colander and a sieve and a big mixing bowl. I was going to use those when I'm talking to you now, but they click together and the click's really loud, so I think it's really going to bug you. So you have to kind of imagine that I've got a set of interlocking round shapes, but they work really nicely as a metaphor because when people move to the next stage it includes the previous stage. It's not like your, it's not like a personality typology like Myers-Briggs or MBTI or DISC or any of that kind of stuff where that's kind of fixed or there are 'types of people'. This is very much about continuum. So you're able to see where your next possible step might be and you can always switch to a tighter focus, and generally people have a center of gravity where they're at right now in an area where most of their logic that the lens through which they take action - their action logic - is. But there's almost always a trailing edge, which is somewhere in the previous action logic, and then there's a developmental edge which is reaching into a bigger sense of how they are.

So, I don't know, it gives a really... it gives a form for us to think about wisdom and part of the reason why I think this is really useful for my work with leadership coaching clients and working with organizations is if we have wiser leaders who are able to deal with complexity and understand paradox and be more empathetic and thinking bigger systemic ways, then the ripple effects of that could be massive and I think it's the kind of thinking that's required for us to maybe have a hope of getting out of this mess.

Ooh that's dark. 

Let's go back to the beginning. 


So the first stage that is really... that can be assessed is a stage called Opportunist . Opportunists - people with their center of gravity around opportunist - it's the tightest action logic, focused very much on yourself. And you're looking at the world for what's in front of you, really: How does this benefit you?  If you talk to people who are opportunists, they very much see the world as a dog-eat-dog. If you want me to do better, the rules should be enforced harder. You should police me better. It was there, so I took it. They should've protected it more. And there's this, no one else is going to look after you, so you have to look after number one, which is the hook that I give if you want a key word: Opportunists are thinking about Number One, are thinking about themselves. Time horizons are very short, pretty much in the moment, today. Very short-term thinking. Very, very little empathy for other people, not very nuanced perspectives on the world. Not really taking in other people's perspectives, but just really thinking about themselves.


Most people evolve beyond that because you begin to, somewhere between the age of 15 and 25, you notice that there are groups that you'd like to belong to, but in order to belong to them, you can't just do what the hell you want. So you begin to push down what you feel, to suppress your impulse to do something, so that you can fit in. So this next stage... the label for this next stage is Diplomat and the key word for it is Belonging.  You're thinking about how do I fit. People with their action logic centre of gravity in Diplomat like things to be nice, very much want to move away from tension.  They really want to make sure that they're one of the group and so you don't rock the boat and you don't really talk about bad stuff. Often when we're at Diplomat, we like very process-driven environments. We like to just be told, 'just tell me what to do in order to be a good team member and I'll do it'. There's very little inquiry, very little questioning of what's happening. 

So these two stages, Opportunist and Diplomat, are quite dependent on external factors. Their time horizons are quite short and they're very much about functioning inside an existing world. 


Lots of people sometimes as they're belonging to a group, begin to notice that there are, like, factions within the group they're in or there are lots of groups that they want to belong to, all of whom want different things.  I was... I remember training in a particular field of study and noticing that different people had different ways of doing things and I kind of started choosing which was my way and getting really good at that, but also somehow involved in this thinking begins to be a rejection of other people's perspectives, of the other ways. And so you begin to shore up your ability to do the thing that you've got really good at. Then this is the Expert stage, so people are developing an expertise and wanting to stand out for their work and you... There's quite a lot of stiff black and white thinking at this stage. And you also begin to just kind of be a bit sniffy about other people's ways of doing things. Feedback is really difficult to take as an Expert because your sense of self is so tied up with your expertise that any criticism of even the way that you do things feels like such an attack on your sense of self.

I remember when I first - almost 15 years ago - started developing my expertise as a presentation skills coach and trainer. I chose a particular way of doing things. I worked in a communicative, conversational non-performance kind of style and that meant I was... I became very judgey about people who taught presentation skills in any other way. So people who taught in a tear-people-down-and-build-them-up kind of way. People who taught it from a theatre perspective. Actors who taught people to speak in public. And  I then began to, because I'd chosen a way shored up my perspective by rejecting and finding the holes in the way that other people were doing things. And then you only begin to accept feedback from acknowledged masters in your field. Apart from that, feedback is rejected and there's this very fixed, not much inquiry, not much taking in other people's perspective.

But this is a shift from Diplomat because it becomes... you're moving into independent ways of looking at the world -independent action logics - rather than an Opportunist and Diplomat are very dependent on external circumstances. Experts begin to stand out and know how to solve problems. Problems is the key word for the Expert. Actually, logically, you know, how to solve things in a siloed way. Often this is a stage where sometimes people get team responsibilities. This is how it links to - partially how it links to -  leadership and people at this stage you'll notice that they often manage their team with one to one relationships. Don't really understand why you would bring people together. They see their job and the job of their team is solving problems and their job as a boss is to help solve their people's problems. And they're very much in the middle, in a hub-and-spoke kind of setting and because they're resistant to feedback, they often... There's a kind of critical voice that comes in when they're giving feedback, but they don't like to receive feedback and there's a real certainty and they don't like people criticizing the way that they do things.  


Some people... So you only really move on from your action logics when life forces or invites you to. Often the move from Expert to the next stage is when you're moved to more complex projects, so you begin to have more complexity than you can control in a very black and white way, or you begin to be aware of commercial realities or maybe you're promoted or you're taking on broader projects which involve either more complexity or more people. And so you realize that you can't control all those variables and you have to think more... slightly more longer term, slightly more strategic. Sometimes this happens through education. Most management education -  MBAs and stuff -  are moving people from the very siloed, focused-on-the-department-or-team/focused-on-problem thinking to a broader, more strategic thinking. 

So this next stage of the label is Achiever.  And the key word for this is outcomes, maybe strategic outcomes. So whereas an Expert's comfortable timeline is somewhere around three months to a year, Achievers - people with their centre of gravity firmly in the Achiever action logic - have got a slightly longer comfortable ability to hold a timeline, so they're thinking more like one to three years ahead.  They begin to be able to see annual cycles, they begin to be able to see patterns rather than being just caught within a head down and slightly blinkered approach which can sometimes come out of the Expert action logic. Empathy begins to enter into here. So you really begin to understand other people have perspectives. So often someone who is at the Achiever action logic, if they have team responsibility, they bring their team together because they know that conversation and helping people to create shared understanding... that's helpful. 

But really they're bringing people together maybe even to consult, but ultimately they're the one who's making the decision. They're still in the middle as a leader, even if they're inviting different perspectives in, it's still that they see their responsibility as to 'lead'. The Achiever is kind of the traditional picture of what a leader's like. In the Western collective unconscious is there's someone who is maybe charismatic, who understands influence, who thinks strategically, who knows how to make stuff happen, but the filter that it's all put through is, 'Does this help me achieve my outcomes?' 'Does this help me hit my numbers? Does this help me reach my targets?' And so any of the bringing people together stuff is very much filtered through 'because this is a more efficient way of doing it'. 

People at the Achiever action logic are much more open to feedback than people are at the Expert level.  But really the most welcome feedback is about methods. If you can help someone  - someone with their with their action logic centre of gravity at Achiever - if you can help them achieve their goals better: they love it. And often people are very open to education at this stage. They're very open to learning new methods and new frameworks for thinking about how things link to values, but not necessarily having things come from themselves. There's a real... there's a certainty, sometimes a borrowed certainty, by taking frameworks that already exist and using them sometimes in quite a subtle way, but there's a perspective of 'so how does this help us do what we're here to do either as a team or an organization?' So that's the pinnacle of Independent Action Logics, of independent styles of leadership.

The bit that I'm interested in and I think is where we have some leverage to change the way that some things are happening in the world is the shift from independent action logic to interdependent action logic. 


And the first stage of interdependent action logic is it's almost like... I had a client the other day who was talking about how they didn't see how... They'd been getting things done in in a particular way for a long time. But every time they would look up from a project, they would see that the world was still broken or they'd really work on a project in a particular area in London and really sort out the way that things were being done, but then they would look up and that problem still existed elsewhere. Or they'd really run a project, it would hit its numbers, it'd done everything it needed to do but the larger effects when weren't being achieved.

People who moved to this Redefining - which is the first stage of interdependent action logics - people who work from a Redefining perspective very much realize that they only have one piece of the truth. I was working with a client the other day who was thinking back to... they're doing a restructure of the team in almost the same way as they did two years ago and two years ago they very much felt like they had to come up with with the solution, come with the best solution - do some research, do some questioning - but come up with the thing that was there. Which is a very Achiever perspective. Over the past two years they've had to deal with a lot of complexity, their environment, their organization has changed strategies and so things have shifted and so now they literally can't come up with the answer - that they don't know what the right answer is - so that they really know they have to bring their team together and together come up with the solution. So this is an interesting shift as a leader from leading from the middle, or the front, to leading more from the edge.

You hear people who are working from the Redefining perspective action logic that they begin to talk about 'holding the space for change'. They begin to talk about creating culture, which is the key word to keep in mind with Redefining is how do I create the culture, the environment, for success. They're really not intimidated by people who are smarter than them, they love bringing in smarter people. And also whereas at Achiever, there's a real sense of certainty, when you move to Redefining you're moving in these interdependent action logics, much more into uncertainty, of being able to admit that you don't know, being able to see that things are really blurred and boundaries become quite blurred at this stage. So you're much more likely to be bringing people in from outside of your team or outside of your organization, ideas from other fields, even other disciplines, things that you've read and you're able to bring those to bear on the situation that you're in. 

People sometimes are much more aware of doing things because it's the right thing to do. But there can also... because you're beginning to see the way lots of things in the world are broken, there can be a bit of sorrow that comes with this as well, a bit of existential stuff, because you're really seeing the limits of our abilities as individual human beings and that the way that there's a history, there's a long history to systemic effects and you'll begin to see that and that mess can be quite overwhelming sometimes, moving from the certainty of knowing how to make things happen through to 'Oh well, the things that I've done up until now don't seem to work anymore - how do I make bigger change happen? How do I make things happen on a bigger scale? And the way that I do that is by working with people together so that we can all... how do I work so that we all do it.'


It used to be that this Redefining stage wasn't really labeled and it was a transition between Achiever and the next stage, the next stage of interdependent action logics, which is called Transforming, but the transition from Achiever certainty, outcomes, hitting the numbers, getting the goals to Transforming was such a big transition that you're going to notice that people in the middle of that display certain qualities and so that they became to be a new label of Redefining. So if you read any of the older literature, this Redefining stage isn't labeled.  

Transforming -  people whose action logic centre of gravity is at Transforming - there's a sense of seeing the complexities, seeing the history, seeing with a much further eye, 10... 20 years ahead and being OK with the fact that things take time, that things are complex, but because that's really the truth of the world is that things are complex. Things are systemic and interconnected and we're all in... There's no such thing as self sufficiency - are you going to make your own matches? -  And when we think of environmental issues, that the way that siloed thinking solves a problem here but doesn't think about how that affects other people  - that's some of how we've gotten into this mess. If you're able to think in much broader, longer term, people-are-interdependent action logics and particularly around people whose action logic is at Transforming, you talk about stuff with them and they're very much Both/And people or 'Both/And/Sometimes this/Sometimes that/Sometimes both at the same time plus that and it really depends on the lens that you're looking through... ' Like you never really get a straight answer out of someone whose action logic is at Transforming because they're really seeing the nuance and complexity, which is reality. 

I also heard Pam Warhurst who was the instigator of Incredible Edible, which started as a project in Todmorden in the North of England where they were planting edible food in public areas that people could pick. It's since become a movement across the whole of that band to the north of England. But I saw Pam do a talk in Dudley, which is local to where I live here in Birmingham. And a sentence really stood out for me. She said, 'Well, anything worth doing is going to take you 10 years.' And that's a real Transforming action logic perspective, is going, 'Well, things take time.' And it's funny, the gardening metaphor because that's often the kind of metaphors that Transforming leaders use is they really think about the soil, the seeds, the sun, the water, the nutrients, where things are planted, uprooting things, how things take time, that you can't rush some things. They're beginning to be able to think much more long-term but also handle different styles of power, different ways of being certain in some ways and much more allowing in others. And there begins to be a balance in the healthiest development and of course, the complexity of the action logics. is that parts of us develop at different paces and depends on context and under stress we often regress or part of us regresses. And so the idea that we move smoothly through these stages is not true and sometimes people can be quite wise in some ways and still quite early stage in other ways, but when someone's center of gravity's at Transforming, they really get that in order to create change, you have to change the flows of history. You have to shift the way things are thought about in society. Not hugely common, Transforming leaders. 


There are a few... The final interdependent stage of action logic is reasonably rare. It used to be called The Witch or The Fool but that didn't really work for a corporate setting when people are being assessed in the leadership assessment. So now it's called Alchemist. This is why I get my big mixing bowl to be the mixing bowl of alchemy. So when you've gone through all the different cups and small bowls and the sieve, the colander, the biggest thing is the Alchemist and it's kind of difficult to describe the Alchemist,  because they are operating on lots of different levels. They're really aware of the really big scale of things, the really big scale of history, the evolution of the human, the fact that we're actually on a rock spinning in space and isn't that kind of mad. And the difference between some things are really significant but also not significant. And yet also there's a quality of fresh awareness in the moment, that people are seeing the subtlety of being present with who they're with becomes as important as much bigger strategic things and an understanding of fractals, that the way we are in one moment is often the way we are in lots of moments and the way we create big changes to small things and there's often an interesting sense of humor with Alchemists. It kind of reminds me as a meditator of some of the words that people use to describe people who have got to a certain stage of awakening, that they're fresh and unpredictable  and a particular sense of humor and that kind of childlike aspect as well as a very wise aspect. Alchemists are really Alchemists in their own way.

Those are the seven stages. Opportunist (number one), Diplomat (belonging), Expert (problem solving), Achiever (outcomes and targets), Redefining (culture and environment), Transforming (gardening). Alchemist (fresh attention moment-to-moment)

Practices to evolve your action logics

There are lots of things that change along those axes as well. There's timelines get longer, empathy gets stronger and the ability to see patterns increases. And those are some of the things that I would recommend if you really want to develop no matter what stage you're at, is to challenge yourself to see things with a longer timeline, see where you started the story right now and can you go further back? If you were to start a year before, two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years before, where does it stop making sense to you and can you gently start going back a bit further? Can you go a bit further forward? A year, two years, five years, 10 years, and where does that feel like it stops making sense to you? 

Which people's perspective... that's timelines... Which people's perspectives are you including right now, how much empathy are you showing? And can you increase the number of people that you involve in a decision? Can you think about who else this touches? And either practice putting yourself in their shoes or literally going and asking them or even better bringing them together. So looking at where you draw the boundaries around an issue and what would happen if those boundaries were bigger. And just going to just stretch your ability to think about boundaries.

The third way of practicing is to notice that as people grow bigger awareness, they're more able to spot patterns. So when someone moves from Expert to Achiever, they're beginning to spot bigger annual patterns or bigger patterns between departments or between organizations or between theories and that becomes even more true at the interdependent stages that you are able to go, 'Oh, this is an example of that,' or 'there's this thing quite far away which is relevant here because the thinking is the same or the pattern is the same'. So beginning to practice to go, this thing that's happening right now, this problem or this conversation, when you think to yourself, 'What is this an example of, what else is this an example of? What's that an example of?' can really help you to begin to connect things. And I think there's also something in there about questioning binaries, questioning when there's only two or three options, there seems to be a certain set of possibilities and that's all there is, and beginning to see more spectrums, beginning to see the way that things are maybe more fluid than we sometimes might think and so listening for the way that you're putting things in an Either/Or situation and how are both of those things true, how is the lens that you're looking through providing a particular perspective and if you were to look at it from a different, through a different lens and what else is true and even sometimes those things might seem like they're conflicting, but how do you hold those perspectives at the same time. 

And then finally, and this might seem a bit woo-woo for you and that's cool, but it, but it is a pattern, is that as people begin to move from independent to interdependent action logics, they become much more aware of their awareness. When I'm working with people at the Transforming action logic, they're often running really big projects - just so happens to be the people that I'm working with - and we seem to come back to... away from really big, like, Thinking About Strategy, more to how do they want to be day-to-day, how are they bringing humane-ness and humanity.

And in fact I've got a few people I'm sending scheduled text messages to a three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner and you reflect on since the previous meal time, what's been the most satisfying interaction I've had, what's the least satisfying interaction I've had since the last meal.  Because I was finding that difficult to remember, and so were some of my clients, and actually a few friends and colleagues, I've added people to that, to the text list and we get a text three times a day and you just reflect inside. I kind of touch quite lightly on it, but you begin to notice patterns.

I've also got an app on my phone that goes DONG every 45 minutes - I had to turn it off whilst I've been recording this video - and that it reminds me - sometimes I remember to remember and sometimes I forget to remember -  it reminds me to go 'Hold on, where am I and what's around me, what can I see here, oh look, here I am. I was caught up in my thoughts. How's my body, what's going on with my body and my breathing - that's outside and body -  body's the interface to inside, what's going on inside me, what am I thinking, what am I feeling, what mix of emotions am I feeling, and then kind of going up to what's my intention or what's the quality of my awareness right now?' Placing your attention on those places in growing an awareness of awareness can be really useful. 

There's also when they were looking at people who'd gotten into Transforming, they notice that 40 percent of those people often had some sort of stillness practice and so it's, it's worth investigating how you might want to develop some sort of a not even if it's not meditation. Even if there's not some sort of meditation practice, but some way of finding time in your day every day to have some kind of quiet introspection and there's something that grows big because of that. 

So that's an introduction of the action logics and I find this really useful path through understanding wisdom and understanding how we might become better leaders, whether we're overtly leading something or whether we're part of something, that the more flexible we can think the more nuanced, the more systemic, the more aware we can be of the flows of time and the way things connect, the more we're able to create sustainable change. I think that can be super important. 


If you want to read a couple of books, the one that describes the action logics in the way that I've talked about them is William Torbert's book Action Inquiry, which sometimes bears rereading because it's really a handbook, but it's slightly esoteric sometimes - I don't know - it comes across slightly enigmatic but when you return to it, it's really useful.

A different strand which doesn't describe the action logics in the same way, but still talks about the continuum is a book called Changing on the Job by Jennifer... whose last name, I can't remember - it has a hyphen in the middle... so look, Google: Changing on the Job, Jennifer! (edit: It's Jennifer Garvey Berger!) She's got some really interesting ideas about how you can transform yourself whilst you're working.

And then there's, this is a slightly older book by a guy called Kegan and it's called In Over Our Heads and it really begins to describe the transitions that happen in life, which help us to evolve action logics. And again, it doesn't describe the action logics in quite the way Bill Torbert does in the way I've done in this session, but I think if you get those three together, the intersections of those begin to build up a reasonably complex picture. 

Also, this is super interesting to me. So I'm totally up for having a chat with people about it. You can drop me an email and ask me some questions and this is why I'm super interested.

So I'm hope that's been useful and sparks some thoughts for you.

I've been Andrew Lightheart from and we've been talking about action logics and becoming a wiser leader.