Article Examines Cognitive Maturation and Leadership

A licensed clinical psychologist and graduate of both the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Northwestern University Medical School, Leslie Pratch has written extensively on matters related to business leadership. In her paper “Tape Measure for a Job Fitting: Introduction to Stratified Systems Theory,” Leslie Pratch discusses the importance of cognitive development as it impacts managerial capability. Below is an excerpt.

“So far, we’ve described a static system. Individuals have a certain level of cognitive power. A job requires a person to have a certain level. Everybody is either at the right level, too high, or too low. But in fact, the system is not static. For one thing, jobs change. […] More importantly, people change. Cognitive power changes over time. Obviously, the person who is able to run a division was not born with that ability. [Social scientist Elliott] Jaques found that individual’s paths of development follow trajectories within distinct bands, which he called modes. […]

This growth proceeds gradually, as physical growth does, but the passages from one cognitive level to the next occur in discontinuities or spurts. When they occur, the individual’s time horizon increases so that he becomes capable of handling more responsibility in a job with a greater time span at a higher organizational stratum.

A person’s developmental trajectory brings him or her to certain levels by certain ages. This is why we can’t learn a higher cognitive mechanism by study or practice. As with puberty or old age, we have to reach it when the time comes.”