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Three Types of Mind

As we grow and develop, our brain/mind changes the way in which it operates. Thanks to the neuroplasticity of the brain, we have the ability to adapt the way we view the world at any time during our lives. In his book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan points to two key findings about how we handle complexity from the research in this area.

[Neuroplasticity: The natural ability of the brain to form new connections in order to compensate for injury or for changes in one’s environment.]

First, the ability of adults to handle complexity generally increases with age, and second there are three developmental plateaus to mental complexity. Robert Kegan calls these plateaus the socialized mind, the self-authoring mind, and the self-transforming mind.

The socialized mind is a dependent mind. The way a socialized mind responds to a situation or request is strongly influenced by what it believes others are expecting, and how it can meet its survival, relationship, and self-esteem needs. It operates from the lower three levels of personal consciousness. The socialized-mind prefers to be given instructions and told what to do. In this way, it is able to overcome its anxiety about being judged and about being able to meet its deficiency needs. 

The self-authoring mind is an independent mind.  The way a self-authoring mind responds to a situation or request is by feeding back to others what it needs to further its agenda. It is attempting to further its freedom and independence. The self-authoring mind perceives the world through its belief filters. It hears and sees what it wants to hear or see. What gets through the filters is the information it is looking for to support its plan. It corresponds to the transformation level of consciousness. The self-authoring mind wants to be accountable and take initiatives. It will readily accept challenges. It is the type of mind that is required for managerial or supervisory positions.

The self-transforming mind is an interdependent mind. The way a self-transforming mind responds to a situation or request is by seeking out more information to further its need to find meaning, make a difference, and be of service. It corresponds to the upper three levels of personal consciousness. The self-transforming mind is not a prisoner to its beliefs, agenda or position. It is able to witness itself. It is able to look at its own beliefs and ideas objectively, compare them with others, and integrate the best of what it sees into a more inclusive world view. Although people with self-transforming minds have a perspective on the world, they don’t view the world through it. It is there to guide them, but they are quite willing to compare how it stacks up to other world views and modify it if they find something better. This is a necessary and highly-prized quality for someone who is put in the position of leading others.

The shift from one type of mind to the next is not something that can be easily taught. It is something that evolves to the degree that you are able to minimize your fears and expand your consciousness.

We evolve from a socialized mind to a self-authoring mind to the degree we are able to overcome our anxieties and fears, individuate, and feel confident about our own capabilities to survive and thrive—our ability to adapt and master life’s challenges.

We evolve from a self-authoring mind to a self-transforming mind to the degree that we can detach from the outcomes we think we need, and live in the expectation that we will get exactly what we need to get to the best outcome. This way of being aligns with a spiritual approach to life: the ability to trust in a beneficent universe; the ability to dissolve your attachment to a specific outcome; and the ability to remain at ease with uncertainty. 

In the industrial age, organisations mainly wanted employees with socialized minds. They wanted people who were good team players, pulled their weight, were loyal to the company, and could be counted on to follow conscientiously the directions or instructions given to them by their bosses.

Today, in the information age, organisations mainly want flexible and knowledgeable employees—people who are able to act responsibly, take initiatives, and work independently. They are looking for people with self-authoring minds.

What type of mind are you operating with? If you are managing people who do repetitive tasks that do not require too much initiative—people with socialized minds—you will need to have a self-authoring mind. If you are managing people who are constantly being challenged to innovate and find new solutions—people with self-authoring minds—you will need to have a self-transforming mind. 

In either case, to build a high performing team, you will need to give all team members the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions about their work. This means that you will need to get past the idea that you have all the right answers and that your job as a leader is just to tell people what to do. You will need to be skilled in personal mastery if you are going to manage at team.

You will only be successful as a leader of a team if you are able to support your team members in finding fulfilment. And, you will only be able to do this, if you know and understand what type of minds your team members possess and what fulfilment looks like for them.


  • References
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TNLP References

Chapter 5: The Age/Complexity Factor

Chapter 13: Team Consciousness