No Image Available

John Whitmore

Read more from John Whitmore

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

What Kohlberg and Gilligan reveal about our leaders


The scandal of MPs expenses and bankers' bonuses opens questions about the suitability of the people in these roles and the system they represent. Sir John Whitmore uses the Kohlberg and Gilligan's four step model to analyse their behaviour.

In all the newspaper articles, radio programmes and TV shows now exposing MPs expenses, and previously, failed bankers’ bonuses, two core issues have been missed. One is to question the suitability of the type of people currently in both those roles to be there at all. The other is to question the wisdom of desperately propping up a failing, obsolete and unsustainable world economic system.

Let us start with the first issue: Individuals, tribes, cultures, nations and humanity all mature or evolve psychologically, psychosocially and psycho-spiritually over time in a broadly similar predictable sequence. Some individuals may mature rapidly triggered by a crisis, and others may choose to embark on a journey of conscious self-development by a variety of means including the use of psychological or spiritual practices. Thereby these individuals climb the evolutionary ladder through sequential stages in a decade or three, whereas collectives such as a culture may take several centuries to attain the same heights. 

By understanding the pattern that individuals follow, the progress of a culture or a nation becomes predictable, and the stage that they have reached is identifiable by certain known characteristics. Those who study the evolutionary consciousness of humanity all over the world, have developed countless maps and models of the evolutionary journey, from simple easy to understand three stage models to complex ones of 15 or more stages. When they are superimposed over one another, they show a consistent sequential pattern. 


One of these models, a four stage one devised by Kohlberg and Gilligan, labels egocentric as the lowest level, followed by ethnocentric, then worldcentric and finally kosmocentric. The other more complex models provide more detail, but I am intentionally keeping it simple here.

This model can be described as showing the size of the person’s consciousness or what the person includes in his or her field of care. A recent study suggested that some 77% of the world population is currently ethnocentric or below. 

This ethnocentric stage is characterised by tribal orientation, nationalism, rivalries, adolescent behaviours, and the like. Let us consider now the responses made by the bankers and the politicians to media and public criticism. They were very similar.
• The claim: “Everything I did was within the rules.”
• An inability to recognise that what they did was ethically or morally wrong.
• The excuse that “I made a mistake”, but the mistakes were all to their own benefit.
• An almost pathological inability to take responsibility, and to say “I am sorry”.


Anyone who has a teenage son will recognize these adolescent traits; however, when one is under 25 such behaviour is to be expected as an acceptable phase in growing up. Above 30 or so, and especially if one is a banker or a politician with power over many, such behaviours are not only unattractive, unacceptable, and inexcusable, they are positively dangerous. Why have the media not picked this up and pointed it out?

Introducing tighter regulations for bankers or politicians does not raise their level of maturity, morality or their ethics, it just limits what they can get away with. No, it is the type of people, the ethnocentrics themselves, that have to go. Worldcentric people by definition and by their nature would not have abused the old regulations, let alone need new ones. Anyone below worldcentric on the “chart” should not be selected or elected into positions of leadership in politics or big corporations, not just banks. Fewer people would fit the bill and that would limit our choice, and so it should. 

Golden opportunity

The second of the two issues was the failure of commentators to seriously question the capitalist economic system that has proved to be so fragile and unjust. It has brought wealth to half the world while the rest starve; it thrives on excess consumption and the inevitable emissions, and it seriously retards the evolutionary development of individuals and cultures. Bankers and politicians alike strive to prop up the old failing system which they abused, because they know no better. 

It did not occur to them that this was a golden opportunity to start to create a viable, sustainable economic system in line with the requirements of emerging Wworldcentric human consciousness stage. Putting off the inevitable only makes the next economic crisis bigger and sooner. Worldcentric observers are amazed, distraught by the primitive ethnocentric thinking of our politicians and bankers, but they are up against the power that they still exercise.  

However there is also a groundswell of more conscious or worldcentric people who will no longer tolerate the old order and they will become ever more vociferous until the ethnocentric majority of politicians are discredited, ousted and replaced. Some commentators will reread if not resurrect Karl Marx, but the way is forward not backwards. A new economic order is essential, one that puts people and planet before profit.


So why have these two core issues been bypassed? Because few can contemplate the  demise of capitalism and so they retreat into a state of denial, and few so called leaders can face the fact that despite their profile and in some cases their cleverness, their behaviour is adolescent. They have no knowledge of the evolutionary imperative that determines our future and ultimately our survival, let alone any understanding of it, or are guided by it.

Why not? Because our schooling has tragically failed many generations now by ducking evolution, in simple terms, it omits the development of emotional intelligence followed by wisdom. Instead schools have been obliged to promote quantitative technowledge to meet commercial goals. The result is a gross excess of designed obsolescent material gadgets, goods, guns and emissions, and an absence of the wisdom to use our innovative ability responsibly for the collective benefit of mankind.

Are worldcentric politicians and bankers too much to ask for? Many conscious people are waiting in the wings for this adolescent lot to get out or grow up. Worldcentric people are described as having “a greater expansion of self to embrace all people regardless of race, gender, class, or creed; social activism, moral relativism, rationality that questions rigid belief systems and transcends traditional rules and roles”, and so on.

Kosmocentric ones would be better still. They “identify with all life and consciousness, human or otherwise, have a deeply felt responsibility for the evolutionary process as a whole, and have an innate universal morality”, amongst other things. This is, after all, what we need if we are to overcome further economic crises and the even greater environmental and social justice crises that are on the way. 

Sir John Whitmore is executive chairman of Performance Consultants International. He is a pre-eminent thinker in leadership and organisational change and works globally with leading multinational corporations to establish coaching management cultures and leadership programmes. He has written five books on sports, leadership and coaching, of which Coaching for Performance is the best known having sold 500,000 copies in 17 languages.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!