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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Kegan's Stages of Adult Development

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


June 04, 2018

In Chapter Ten of Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners (3rd,2016), Garmston and Costa delve into “seven of the human variables that influence the quest for meaning.” One of the seven variables that they explore in regards to coaching is based on Harvard Professor, Robert Kegan’s work around Adult Development. The authors point out that these stages are not “ways of doing” but are “ways of being.” The authors explain that knowing about the adult stages of development may provide the coach with insight into the coachee’s “container for all the other ways of making meaning.” Many of us think that being an adult simply means expanding our containers of the mind and getting better at what we do (i.e. acquiring more skills and knowledge). Kegan would disagree. He believes it’s about transformation — changing the way we know and understand the world (changing the actual form of our ‘container’).

Here are Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development

Stage 1: Impulsive Mind (early childhood)

Stage 2: Instrumental or Imperial (adolescence, 6% of adult population)

Stage 3: Socialized Mind (58% of the adult population)

Stage 4: Self-Authoring Mind (35% of the adult population)

Stage 5: Self-Transforming or Interindividual Mind (1% of the adult population)

Instrumental Knowers: These individuals follow along with rules, philosophies, movements or ideologies because of external rewards and punishments, not because they really believe in them. The know their worlds in concrete terms and may not engage in theory or abstract thinking. They may struggle with self-reflection. These individuals look to others for advice and solutions. They may struggle with seeing points of view that are beyond the ego centric. They would struggle with flexibility and consciousness questions that require them to flex their thinking. They are comfortable with people offering them judgments, personal observations, and inferences. They are often dependent in a relationship and they seek approval and validation before they can move forward. They are concerned with their own needs, interests, and desires.

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Instrumental Stage?

Which States of Mind might you draw on to further their thinking?

Which structures and protocols might you utilize in meetings to engage them in dialogue?

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