Frequently Asked Questions
About Graves Systems

This page contains answers to . . .

Question mark under a magnifying glass. . . a variety of questions we are frequently asked about the value systems (or "thinking systems," as they are sometimes known) first described by Dr. Clare Graves. Click on the following topics to learn more.

What is Graves Systems Analysis?

Graves Systems Analysis looks at cultural dynamics as an interplay of eight systems of thought and values. Each of these eight systems has a distinct set of overarching concerns.

  • System One — Personal Survival
  • System Two — Tribe and Safety
  • System Three — Power and Glory
  • System Four — Truth and Order
  • System Five — Achievement and Fulfillment
  • System Six — Ecology and Egalitarianism
  • System Seven — Systemic and Holistic Solutions
  • System Eight — Planetary Integration and Identity

While multiple systems are layered within each individual and organization, one or two of these systems will exert dominant influence over the others. And dependent on which system is dominant, people will have widely differing approaches to:

  • How they form their sense of self worth
  • How they define their identity
  • How they are motivated
  • The kind of leaders they will follow
  • The kind of leaders and managers they will be
  • How they respond to crisis

By recognizing the interplay of systems preferences within an organization, Graves Systems Analysis allows leaders and planners to minimize conflict and polarization. It also allows frontline managers to optimize the motivation of their employees.

What is the research behind this model?

Dr. Clare Graves spent his entire career as a professor of developmental and industrial psychology conducting the research that identified the eight Graves systems. He referred to them by many terms, including "value systems." Unfortunately, he died before publishing a comprehensive study of his findings. Over the course of his research, however, he studied thousands of people in a variety of organizational settings in order to refine his observations and theory.

What is the theory behind this model?

Dr. Graves devoted his research to understanding the mind's response to a world that relentlessly becomes more complex. At certain thresholds of complexity, he observed, the mind's models for making sense of the world become overtaxed. At that point the mind must create far more complex models of reality in order to cope with the critical problems of existence.

In the history of mankind, Graves discovered, the human race has crossed seven thresholds of complexity that have triggered complete new systems of thinking and values. But not everyone has crossed all seven. In their personal development, many people still perceive the world in relatively simple (i.e., less complex) terms. Therefore, they cope quite well with less complex models of the world.

In a given society, therefore, as well as an institution or corporation, people with different dominant systems work side by side, an open invitation to tension, conflict, and even polarization. The role of leadership, in a Gravesian view of management, is to harmonize the overarching concerns of these competing systems in order to draw on the specific strengths of each system.

How can I learn more about Clare Graves and his theory?

Cover of Systems-Sensitive LeadershipOne of the first efforts to provide an extensive printed introduction to Graves' theory is the book Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity without Polarizing the Church, co-authored by Dr. Mike Armour and Don Browning and now in a second and thoroughly-revised edition. Even though it was written against a backdrop of church leadership, leaders in many other fields use it, since the two sections outlining Graves' model (about two-thirds of the book) are equally applicable to any leadership scenario.

Systems-Sensitive Leadership is one of our most widely-used LeaderPerfect® Resources. You can order Systems-Sensitive Leadership online from LifeThemes Publishing, a sister company to Strategic Leadership Development International under the umbrella of their parent Leadership Development Corporation.

A very comprehensive web page is devoted to Graves' life and research, with links to Graves publications and specialists around the world. The site is

Strategic Leadership Development International provides one and multi-day trainings on Graves systems. Dr. Mike Armour conducts the training and will customize it for business, non-profits, or churches. Contact us for more details.

Feel free to email us if we can answer other questions for you.