Seven Levels of Maturity The Challenge to Lead People Forward

I’ve found most people fall into one of seven levels of maturity in their leadership. As leaders, it is imperative for us to recognize the level a person is at if we want to help them grow, activate their strengths, and avoid frustration as we interact with them and lead them. There’s no need to stress or take it personally if you struggle to connect with an immature individual on your team.

Acknowledge that at every stage in life, people have certain immaturities. Understanding these seven levels of maturity will help you lead anyone at any level.

Angry child

My very first job at fifteen years of age was as a cook at McDonald’s. I was stuck, unable to move forward until I learned a few key lessons about myself and others. I was definitely not ready to lead at that point. If my manager had expected me to be a budding leader and given me responsibilities accordingly, I would have failed and caused trouble for the whole team.

My experience in leadership has introduced me to a variety of levels of maturity both in myself and in others. Here are the seven levels I have noticed:

1—The Openly Rebellious 

This is a person who verbally opposes you and has no problem doing it publicly. When people are at this stage, they are highly toxic to the team. They consume everyone else’s energy and drag people down. In the medical industry, working with doctors for almost twenty years, I have seen a handful of physicians who definitely fit into this category. Openly rebellious people can be found in any profession. They are narcissistic contrarians, unafraid and unashamed to be blatantly ill-mannered.

Often, these people remain unchallenged about their behavior. Perhaps they’ve never been told what is acceptable and what is not. In a sense, they have a little confusion about who the sheriff is. They assume they are. If I find this on my team, I confront it head on. Here’s what I tell them, for example, if they are raising their voice to our staff:

“Tom, I need a few minutes to run some concerns by you. I have to make sure we are on the same page with things so we are able to move forward and work well together. There are certain things I simply cannot have anyone do here, including you or me. One of them is raising their voice to our staff. Really, under no circumstances, is that appropriate. In other words Tom, if raising your voice is something you cannot stop, then my friend, I don’t see us moving forward together at all, in any way.”

If Tom is a smart person, he will get the message that I am serious and understand that if he doesn’t change, he may lose his job. If Tom raises his voice again though, I must be prepared to act swiftly to either issue him a suspension or termination.

In my medical career, I have seen several doctors who really needed to be fired—but no one did it. Someone was failing their job to allow that kind of behavior at the expense of the culture. The leadership was either unaware or unwilling to confront them for whatever reason. Allowing an openly rebellious person to remain on your team, especially in a leadership position, is unacceptable.

Remember, as leaders, we care for people. The majority of the time, as I communicate my expectations with a rebellious person, set the rules, and enforce the boundaries, they shape up—and sometimes even become an asset to the team. We must be committed to care for the culture of our entire team or organization, even if it costs us an individual.

2—The Obstinate

This person does not oppose you openly, but secretly. With everything you say, it’s like they are thinking, “No. I won’t do that.” Don’t take this personally, but do recognize this is where they’re at. Typically, I find these people have a relationship problem. For some reason, they are scared, feel threatened, or otherwise don’t have a good feeling about me. But many times, even if I am overly nice and supportive, they stay this way. The big clue you are dealing with an obstinate person is if they act the same way with others as well. 

How do you deal with this kind of person? A lot of these people do not excel in relationships, so I would advise against placing them in a position that requires heavy relationship skills. Continue working to understand them. Try to build bridges as much as possible. Ask them for their support. Listen to their ideas. I have to be honest; I don’t like having people like this on my team or even around me. They drain the life out of me and everyone else. If they cannot improve quickly, I try to remove them from my team. 

These first two levels are a challenge for all of us. One line of thinking about the obstinate and rebellious is they should learn to snap out of these dark attitudes. Early in life, one would hope that a parent, coach, or teacher would have trained them that it is not wise or beneficial to be openly defiant or secretly obstinate. Ideally, they should have acquired other tools to deal with problems, common tools we all use as adults. But somehow they have not.

It is dangerous when leaders think it is permissable for people to remain at these levels. Too often leaders keep these people on their teams with no serious repercussions or even direct conversations. That is a failure in leadership.

3—The Stuck

This person is neither obstinate nor rebellious. They actually have a positive attitude. However, their bad habits or inexperience hold them back from growing and advancing. Even when they say they want to work on their character or professional growth, they don’t seem to have significant breakthroughs. People who are stuck are willing, but often incapable of seeing their problems clearly and taking effective steps to correct them.

In dealing with this group, you find yourself saying the same thing over and over. While there’s no sign of defiance, there is also no sign they are catching hold and improving. They simply seem stuck. Until they press past this stage, place these people in positions in which their struggles will cause minimal damage to the team. Continue working with them to help them grow. 

4—The Motivated

This group in on fire and hungry for growth. They want to excel, and they seem to “get it” when offered a challenge. They listen and make things happen—maybe not every time, but often. They are motivated to grow and succeed. However, these people must develop a few more character traits before launching into leadership positions. Maybe they are unable to keep a secret, or they are easily angered. They are motivated team players who require a little more training and maturity before advancing.

Applaud their passion, and begin working with them to start developing their leadership skills. It is only a matter of time before they make it.

5—The Budding Leader

These people show leadership promise. They are professional and do what’s expected of them. They take feedback well and are able to apply it. More importantly, they already possess leadership qualities. They sacrifice for others, serve, and build relationships. They maintain a great attitude even during times of stress. Budding leaders are willing to take on any battle. They seek to understand and improve themselves as people. They may have held a previous leadership position and acquired some exposure to the trials of leadership. 

Spend time with this group to coach them. Provide them resources. Give them experiences to push themselves to the next level. 

6—The Proven Leader

The proven leader demonstrates significant levels of maturity. They have likely held leadership positions in which they excelled, though they may not have led in multiple settings or for a long period of time. Sometimes, this leader is younger or only recently started their journey in leadership. But there is no hand-holding here. The proven leader can do the job. 

Coach this person as well, then get out of their way. Get them additional resources to help them hone their leadership skills. Go with them to conferences. Encourage them to grow and develop. Continue giving them greater and greater experiences so they can learn. 

7—The Seasoned Leader

Just like a well-seasoned steak, these leaders are wonderful. They have not only proven themselves as positional leaders, but as wise individuals. They have led for years, and have worked on their heart as much as they have worked on their skills. They aggressively seek personal excellence, intentional growth, and professional development. They have experience in several leadership settings and have had previous successes in these areas. They are not rookies, and they know it. They come into leadership roles with quiet confidence. 

Give them what they need. Strategize with them. Make sure you are on the same page with them when it comes to vision and values. Be sure to place them in roles which offer them opportunities for challenge and growth. Give them freedom to exercise their leadership.

Why is it important to understand which level each person you lead is at? So you are clear about what you can expect from each of them, place them in the appropriate teams and environments, and avoid frustration. Regardless of the level you find them, make healthy choices for your teams and help people mature as individuals.

Your Friend,
Wes Saade MD Signature

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For Further Reading:

The Six Stages of Professional Maturity
When Things Go Wrong: It’s Time to Evaluate Maturity

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