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Theories about development of cognitive function in adults originated from the theory of Piaget (Baltes et al, 1998). Different theorists proposed that adult thought processes develop beyond the formal operations described by Piaget, suggesting post-formal stages of cognitive development. The post-formal stages proposed by different theorists (e.g. systematic stage, dialectical thinking, autonomous thinking) usually indicate that adults progress towards more complex and integrated thought processes, that is, “from differentiation to integration, from embeddedness in context to awareness” (Stevens-Long, 1990: 154).

Differentiation -the capacity to distinguish several perspectives or dimensions – and integration – the ability to perceive different relations, categories and theories for the perspectives and dimensions perceived – are the major components of cognitive complexity, which has been associated with managerial effectiveness, the capacity to assume leadership roles (Bartunek et al, 1983) and the development of leadership capabilities (Day & Lance, 2004).

SELF AND PERSONALITY

The self and personality system is composed by various components of self and personality (Baltes et al, 1998). This system can be defined as encompassing “the ways in which human beings behave, experience, believe, and feel with regard to themselves, others, and the material world” (Ibid: 1083). The broadness of this system produces an “orchestrating or executive function” that influences and regulates the development of other systems, such as cognition, motivation and emotion.

Perhaps due to this executive function, theories of adult development involving the self and personality seems to suggest that higher levels of development are concerned with promoting a synthesis of thought, emotions, values and motivation (Stevens-Long & Michaud, 2003). In addition, they also propose that higher stages of development progress towards more consideration and attentiveness “for that which lies beyond the self” (Ibid: 14). For instance, constructivist theories such as Loevinger and Kegan suggest that individuals in higher stages of ego development take into account different sources of information that originate from the self and that originate from others.

Hence, similar to the theories that consider cognitive development, higher levels of development in the self and personality system might also promote more effective leadership capability in individuals and might have important consequences for leadership development. For example, it has been suggested that the level of development of an individual influences his or her reaction to the activities and design of training programs (Bartunek et al, 1983).

Moreover, one of the assumptions of several adult development theories is that individuals are capable of understanding concepts and thoughts that are at their own level of development or below, but cannot comprehend aspects that are considered at higher levels (Day & O’Connor, 2003). This assumption might have important consequences for the development of leadership capabilities since individuals at lower levels of development might only be able to recognize and conceptualize leadership at a simple, individual construct; while individuals at higher levels of development might be capable of considering leadership not only from this individual perspective but also from a collective, relational perspective (Day ; O’Connor, 2003).

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Personal development is a particular type of self development that can be defined as “a process which requires insight into one’s present level of effectiveness and an ability and desire to alter unhelpful behaviors and attitudes and develop more appropriate ways of interacting” (Lucas, 1992). The activities that encourage this process of personal development focus on improving the individual’s awareness about their values, behaviors, motivations and attitudes, on developing latent skills, on modifying limiting behaviors and on enhancing efficiency and efficacy (Ibid). Personal development is considered a type of self development because the activities that promote this process need to be self-directed, that is, they are initiated and sustained by the individual undergoing development (Ibid).

Personal development might be considered to involve any of the developmental systems mentioned above, since it is possible that the awareness and transformation promoted in personal development might be directly connected with advances in their cognitive, behavioral, motivational and emotional compositions. Actually, one might argue that achieving the higher levels of functioning found in particular stages of development (e.g. Kohlberg’s stage of individual principles of conscience in moral development, or Kegan’s interdependent order in his constructive-developmental theory) requires personal development, as individuals probably do not achieve these levels without conscious effort and consideration. The findings that only a diminutive portion of the population (5-8%) achieves these levels of functioning (e.g. Harris & Kuhnert, 2008) provide significant substantiation for this argument.

It is possible that personal development has an important role in leadership development as motivation is an important factor for the development of leadership. Studies have shown that motivation to learn is an important factor in the success of training (e.g. Burke & Hutchins, 2007), and it has also be suggested that motivation to be a leader is important to engage in experiences that promote leadership development (Day & Harrison, 2007). For these reasons, a second aim of this systematic review is to establish the relationship between the theoretical underpinnings that inform leadership development and personal development: Is there any connection between particular theoretical frameworks and personal development? Do the theories of personal development inform leadership development in any form or shape?

SUMMARY

We don’t know much about leadership development. There is a serious scarcity of empirical investigation and theory development in the field. Nonetheless, this has not reduced the motivation of organizations to utilize this developmental tool. On the contrary, the employment of leadership development seems to be growing due to the assertion that leadership development is imperative for the competitive advantage of organizations (e.g. Conger & Xin, 2000). So, if there is no theory about how leaders develop, what sorts of theoretical underpinning inform the leadership development literature?

One possible theoretical foundation might come from the adult development theory. Some authors have suggested that leadership development might, in fact, be embedded in adult development (Day, 2009; Day & O’Connor, 2003; Mumford & Manley, 2003). If this is the case, then, theories about adult development might form the foundation for leadership development. Subsequently, do the theoretical underpinnings that have informed the leadership development literature include personal development in their treatment of leadership development?

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