Book Review: Measuring Hidden Dimensions – The Art and Science of Fully Engaging Adults

Matthew Kalman

Otto photoKalman photoOtto Laske. Measuring Hidden Dimensions – The Art and Science of Fully Engaging Adults. Medford, M A:Interdevelomental Institute Press, 2006.

This feels like a book of conside power, focus, honesty and splendour – and it’s also not for the faint-hearted.

It’s tempting to say, simply, that you will want to buy this book if you have any wish to learn to administer and interpret the ‘Subject-Object Interview’ (SOI) developed by Integral Institute founder member Prof. Robert Kegan and his colleagues. The SOI can discern which of 5 levels of consciousness (meaning-making) is one’s centre of gravity. Laske focuses on stage 2, or S-2, (instrumental) and upwards to S-3 (other-dependent), S-4 (self-authoring) and S-5 (self-aware).

This Kegan-based levels assessment handbook is at the heart of this volume—but it offers rather more than that alone in its attempt to “demystify adult development” and link it “directly to your professional and private life”. In other words, it’s far beyond merely a derivative of Lahey, Kegan et al’s 1988 A Guide to the Subject-Object Interview: its administration and interpretation. What you also get with Measuring Hidden Dimensionsis a discussion of the need for evidence-based coaching, as it is “a field that presently has no theoretical foundations”— plus a call to calculate “Coaching ROI” based on developmental change. Laske warns that coaching a client at a higher developmental level may be unethical. Also discussed are different ‘theories of helping’ and the likely problems between clients and practitioners depending on their relative levels (“level of self development of the helper is the singularly most important key to success in assisting others”).

Laske is quick to point out the prevalence of ‘espousal’—using language from a higher level that one does not truly inhabit. “[W]hen somebody lets you know about what a great leader s(he) is, you know you are listening to an espousal of S-5, not the real thing!” he warns. While providing one example of his work with a client, Laske is particularly keen on “cutting down on espousals of spirituality”.

Other developmental researchers who make appearances through the book include Wilber, Graves, Loevinger, Cook-Greuter and Jaques (along with Harvard Business School management guru Chris Argyris). Laske previews the three further volumes set to accompany this one: volume 2 (due in August) deals with the cognitive perspective, volume 3 the behavioural perspective (via the Henry Murray/Morris Aderman Need/Press Analysis questionnaire) and volume 4 is a synthesis of the three perspectives in the form of case studies. (Laske certainly has his work cut out!)

The heart of the book, then, is the Subject-Objective Interview—an hour-long conversation with a client around a number of prompts, for example “Success”, “Changed”, “Control”, “Taking Risks”, and “Strong Stand/Conviction”. The interviewer will be listening for signs of the likely possible stages of the client and using questions (“probes”) to gradually narrow down their centre of gravity (though an overall profile may span across three, even sometimes five, levels). In other words, it is a form of hypothesis-testing, of experimenting— “provoking people to reveal their Center of Gravity is the core of what is called developmental interviewing.”

Interviews are recorded, transcribed and the sections that show evidence of the person’s stage structure (rather than just mere content) are used on a coding sheet as evidence to determine centre of gravity. This hand scoring is “the royal road of understanding and giving feedback to adult clients”, though internet-based scoring is “a project that is in the works”.

Laske points out that “the art of developmental listening, interviewing and scoring” needs more than a book; it needs learning in a group from an instructor (he mentions his own Interdevelomental Institute’s courses). Indeed this book is in something of a course handbook style, with chapter reflections/exercises at the end of each chapter. As recently came up on the London Integral Circle discussion list—won’t any late/complex stage individual have the capacity within them anyway to discern the stage of a client from merely everyday conversation? Laske believes not: “In everyday, ‘open’ conversation it is very difficult, if not impossible, to carry out developmental hypothesis testing”.

It depicting the results of an SOI assessment, Laske suggests creating a Risk-Clarity-Potential Index, which depicts an individual’s likely centre of gravity—along with the next stage they may reach (“Potential”) and the stage they may fall back to (“Risk”).

Overall, Laske aims to offer us a theory of professional helping in the sense of a “process consultation”, a “consultation to the client’s mental process” (drawing from Edgar Schein’s work)—though in fact it is a “developmentally deepened” application of this.

Throughout the book, the author describes the ins and outs of working with clients at different levels, or of working as practitioners (coaches, consultants etc) at particular levels. When the professional help offered comes from the other-dependent Stage 3 “the practitioner is at constant risk of collusion with the goals and ideology of the client, under the guise of being helpful.” This S-3 practitioner assumes shared values and disregards “the developmental uniqueness of the client”. This pracitioner defines him or herself by physical and internalised Others.

The shift from other-dependent Stage 3 to self-authoring Stage 4 is difficult—“No wonder, then, that the individuals at S-4 quite naturally become wholly identified with their own cherished set of values and principles that have sustained them through the difficult and lonely journey that lies behind them.” Self-authoring individuals have a hard time viewing the self critically, as they are dependent on their self-generated value system for the integrity of their self—they are “unable to stand away from that integrity”—and thus find it difficult to move beyond single-loop learning. Elaborating his depiction of self-authoring practitioners, Laske writes: “as a change agent I act according to norms excluding multiple perspectives, intent on shaping my group and organisation in harmony with my own principles”. He or she will seek to change an organisation “in directions approximating their own personal ‘institution’, rather than one more universally self-sustaining”.

In the shift from self-authoring to self-aware, “The issue at stake really is how far I am prepared to experience a loss of self that will occur if I give up my splendour and splendid isolation….This entails exposure of my limitations to others, especially intimates”.

Laske offers a lot of rich material relating the Kegan levels to coaching, which will carry over to many other forms of helping. Some higher level coaches may have to work below their usual stage, he warns, and must avoid the temptation to impose a level of meaning-making the client is not capable of. This may overextend the client—as the coach could have forgotten about the painfulness of the loss of internal others at stage 3 and of self beyond stage 4.

Laske offers a (developmentally-informed) typology of coach-client relationships, showing, for instance, which of them are likely to be developmentally counter-productive. He believes that “developmental assessment needs to become mandatory in the process of coaching certification” because of the harm that can be done to clients with a higher centre of gravity. “[C]oaches have an ethical responsibility to know their developmental stage”, he concludes. “Coaching a client residing at a higher developmental level (than the consultant) may be unethical, since it may developmentally constrain and retard the client”.

It’s great to hear some candid reflections from Laske’s own work as a coach: “I know I prefer clients who have made it beyond S-4, simply because that is the point where they have themselves begun to ‘deconstruct’ their splendid success story”. He also discusses whether Socrates was the first developmental coach!

The appendices briefly show the use of the other two tools that Laske recommends to be used to give the full, actionable picture of a client, i.e. cognitive and behavioural views (even though the behavioural are very much secondary, he believes). A chapter on “Developmental issues of team dynamics” describes the differences between unified teams, “upwardly divided” teams and “downwardly divided” teams.

Some minor queries I have about Laske’s approach include his depiction of subtle oscillations between those stages where people lean towards wanting to be independent and those where they want to be included. This helix-like pattern running up between stages in adult development was included in Kegan’s first book, The Evolving Self (and is also seen in Spiral Dynamics)—but Kegan discusses why he dropped the helix image in his later book In Over Our Heads. He now believes he was confused when he used it in the earlier book. Each level of consciousness can in fact favour either of the two fundamental longings (as Ken Wilber would himself later state in his solution to this agency/communion and levels conundrum (‘Sidebar C: Orange and Green: Levels or Cousins?’), with its description of John Wayne, the “agentic Blue” value-meme cowboy.

Though Laske states, “Stage 5 is the limit social science research has so far reached”, he does also mention that “there is ongoing research that leads beyond it (e.g., Cook-Greuter, 1999)”—but “in this book, we will stay with Kegan’s theory”. I notice a number of instances where Laske begins to use the language from Cook-Greuter’s Construct/Ego-aware and Unitive stages. The whole issue of how Kegan’s SOI relates to its close-ish cousin, Jane Loevinger’s and Susanne Cook-Greuter’s sentence completion test is not broached (nor is Elliot Jaques’ complexity of mental processing interview). Kegan and Lahey themselves write that their SOI is “far more cumbersome than the efficient SCT” [pg 41, Personality Development].

The SOI is “expensive and time-consuming” concluded one paper on leadership development in the US military. “Unless and until more efficient assessment strategies are devised, research studies on the Kegan developmental framework are likely to be few and include a small number of subjects”. The paper briefly discusses self-report tools, such as the “Defining Issues Test” (for moral development) as possible examples of ways to solve this problem. Certainly the various post-Maslowian levels assessment tools created by Dr. Brian Hall, Richard Barrett or Pat Dade can be far quicker than either SCT or SOI but of course will have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Interestingly, OECD research on key competencies for the 21st century drew strongly on a contribution from Prof. Kegan, where he stressed the gap between existing current capacity and the self-authoring (stage 4) requirements of 21st century competencies. As part of this project the Director of Social and Institutional Statistics, Statistics Canada, T. Scott Murray talked about the need for future assessments in the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey to include reliable measures of level of mental complexity for use in a household survey context (I don’t know if progress has been made on this).

Kegan’s conclusions to this OECD project I find pretty memorable: “More than half of even advantaged adults may notyet possess the level of mental complexity that would equip them to enact successfully the competencies we suggest are necessary for adults in the 21st century.”

The gap I suggest–between the mental demands implicit in our suggested competencies and the mental capacities of the “student”–actually provides a heretofore missing intellectual foundation for the purposes of adult or lifelong education that is as strong as the foundation which exists for the education of the young – namely, education not merely for the acquisition of skills or an increase in one’s fund of knowledge, but education for development, education for transformation.

Some people feel that the SOI offers far more depth, nuance and richness than the SCT (once you take into account the 5 gradations between each level, for instance). I’ve heard it suggested that SCT scores perhaps come out higher, one person even thought artificially high for certain stages (and there is surely an issue of espousal in the integral milieu, which complicates matters). Fitzgerald and Berger’s Executive Coaching: Practices & Perspectives includes a number of contributors successfully using Kegan in their coaching (including a co-author of the 1988 SOI manual).

One nit-picking point to add is that Laske’s term “Social-Emotional Development” might not really be inclusive enough to describe Kegan’s model of increasing complexity of mind/meaning-making (and Kegan’s model does itself include a cognitive line of development; these particular distinctions will likely be clarified by Laske’s upcoming volumes).

A (favourable) review of this book by Prof David Clutterbuck (in International Journal of Coaching and Mentoring) notes that it is “the densest, most difficult book on coaching I have ever worked through”—which isn’t surprising as it’s drawing particularly on a 433-page SOI interview guide and Kegan’s dense but rewarding books. Let that be a second warning that you’re going to have to really pay attention, if you read this book.

I’m also personally intrigued by the implications of Laske’s comment that “less than 10 per cent become self-aware (level 5) and can lead”. If only it were just the self-aware who became our leaders—but what happens in organisations when the leadership positions are filled by individuals with centres of gravity below self-aware level 5?

Bartone, P., Forsythe, G., Snook, S., Bullis, R. and Lewis, P.(2001), “Leader development at the US Military Academy, West Point: New directions in programs, theory and research,” Leader Development in Military Officers: International Perspectives on Policy, Practice and Research. Baltimore, M A: Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, October.
Cook-Greuter, S. (1999). Postautonomous Ego Development: A Study of its Nature and Measurement (Cambridge, M A: Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Fitzgerald, C and Berger, J. (2002). Executive Coaching – Practices & Perspectives. Palo Alto, C A: Davies-Black Publishing.
Kegan, R ,(2001). Competencies as Working Epistemologies: Ways We Want Adults to Know in D. Rychen & L. Salganik (eds.), Defining and Selecting Key Competencies Gottingen, Germany: Hogrefe & Huber, pp.192-204.
Kegan, R, Lahey, L, and Souvaine, E, ‘From Taxonomy to Ontogeny: Thoughts on Loevinger’s Theory in Relation to Subject-Object Psychology’ in Westernberg, P., Blasi, A., and Cohn, L. (1988). Personality Development – Theoretical, Empirical, and Clinical Investigations of Loevinger’s Conception of Ego Development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Lahey, L, Souvaine, E, Kegan, R, Goodman, R and Felix, S, (1988). A Guide to the Subject-Object Interview: Its Administration and Interpretation. Cambridge, M A: Harvard University Press.
Westernberg, P., Blasi, A., and Cohn, L. (1988). Personality Development – Theoretical, Empirical, and Clinical Investigations of Loevinger’s Conception of Ego Development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Matthew Kalman MA ( is a founder member of the Integral Institute (, and launched the London Integral Circle in 2000.

The group has hosted Integral Institute founder members including Susanne Cook-Greuter, Don Beck, John Rowan, and Rabbi Michael Lerner at events attracting up to 300 people.

He has worked with Henley Management College to develop the first model of Integral Knowledge Management.

Matthew works as a media professional and lives with his family in London, England.