Americans are increasingly calling for our political leaders to “grow up” and get things done. Commentators have not been paying much attention to the developmental implications of these concerns, even as many of our leaders do not have the inclination, maturity or capacity to respond accordingly.   

Mature and effective leaders reflect the ability to see merits in multiple points of view, and they weave together inclusive solutions that honor concerns of all stakeholders. Minimally mature leaders can appreciate that a process which includes deeply listening to all sides helps them to develop a deeper integrity of their own perspectives.

Immature leaders can only appreciate their own point of view. They see so clearly (as they believe) that they are right and that other perspectives are wrong. Those who think differently are perceived to be inferior, perhaps even evil.  It would even be unseemly to socialize with the enemy, that is, those who see things differently.  Those who are inclined to collaborate with the “other” are perceived as unprincipled compromisers who have gravitated to the pathetic mushy middle. Personal development toward greater maturity in this regard does not necessarily correlate with IQ.  One can be a brilliant and intolerant ideologue.  It has more to do with a wisdom scale of being able to hold multiple perspectives and the moral capacity to stand in the shoes of others and have empathy for them.    

Such characterizations of maturity are not mere suppositions, but rather reflect well established capacities of human development based on the science of developmental psychology1.  Individuals who have emerged only to the first stage of abstract thinking tend to lock into an ideologically oriented world view based on a rigid internally consistent point of view. They tend to use their capacity for logic and abstract thinking solely to defend their own positions without being truly open to evaluating the merits of other possibilities.  Note how many of our political leaders reflect these immature dynamics.  

The next developmental level of maturity, which includes the second and more mature stage of abstract thinking  called “formal operational”, deepens one’s capacity to fully and logically explore multiple points of view and then choose one. This “either/or” pattern of logical processing lends itself to choosing one position or solution over another but not so much the capacity to weave multiple positions together in mutually satisfactory ways. Achieving this stage of development should be the minimum goal of responsible citizenship.    

When one grows into the next developmental stage, the first of two stages of “context awareness” one can begin to see a much larger range of possibilities because rather than being limited to an either/or thinking pattern one can begin to see the viability of bringing multiple aspects together, of sometimes reconciling seemingly opposite points of view. Inclusive and well facilitated dialogue becomes central at this point.  This stage of development has access to a more sophisticated “both/and” thinking pattern, which enable a person to value all sides of an issue and to see merit in multiple perspectives.   

A context aware leader can for instance see the values, interests and contexts underlying many assumptions that others cannot, which enables that person to exercise superior capacities to negotiate and facilitate effectively - to work things out. There are around 15%  to 20% of adults in America who have grown into this developmental center of gravity or higher.

The second and more mature stage of context awareness has even more significant capacities to value and honor all sides of an issue and to weave together higher quality solutions.  This stage of human development is often called “integral”.for its capacity to integrate so well or “strategic” for its capacity to see meta-systemic strategic implications of an issue. There are currently less than 5% of adults who have fully integrated such capacities or higher, but ideally a critical mass of our societal leaders would have these advanced capacities. And yet we seem increasingly to choose some of the least mature among us to be our elected leaders, which has been leading frequently to polarization and gridlock.

Through a series of blog posts, I will explore the developmental implications of politics, leadership and governance in the context of the importance of integrating an “all sides” orientation to politics and public policy.  I look forward to being in conversation with many of you in this regard.

  1. The primary school of developmental psychology which this article draws upon was established by Jane Loevinger, PhD at Harvard University; which was further developed by Susanne Cook-Greuter,Ph.D also originally at Harvard University.  The author has collaborated and engaged in research with Terri O’Fallon, PhD and her colleagues for many years. Dr. O’Fallon has built on the work of Dr. Cook-Greuter.  The qualities of stages of development and percentages of populations are reflected in an article by Dr. Cook-Greuter:  Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace in Ego Development © 2013 at For a researched based description of the developmental emergence of polarities which supports assertions in this regard in this article, see an article by Dr. O’Fallon: StAGES:  Growing up is Waking Up – Interpenetrating Quadrants, States and Structures ©2013 at

Bio:  John T. Kesler is an attorney and social activist. He has worked on developmental approaches to interrelated individual, organizational and societal flourishing for over two decades. He is president of Salt Lake Civil Network and the Global Civil Network.  He has developed an integrally informed awareness practice which supports personal integration and growth over the full range of human development called “integral polarity practice” (IPP), and is president of the IPP Institute.