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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: Self-Authoring Knowers

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


June 18, 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)

Self-Authoring Knowers: These individuals are about self-authorship (they construct their own narrative). They are aware of identity and strive for refinement, and they know what they can do well. They construct their own meanings and ideologies. They can distinguish the opinions of others from their own. They can say, “This is who I am and what I stand for.” They can make decisions, set their own course, and articulate their own philosophies. They are reflective and can abstract ideas. “They can be a special asset to collaborative work as they have the ability to synthesize diverse points of view and critique ideas” (194). That said, they may also prefer their ideas to the ideas of others and may be resistant to multiple perspectives.

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Self-Authoring 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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