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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-Transforming or Interindividual Knowers

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


June 25, 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-Transforming or Interindividual Knowers: These individuals can “see beyond themselves” and see how people and systems interact. Costa and Garmston write, “An additional way of making meaning, occupied by only a few adults, might be summarized as ‘There are relationships and I am part of them.’” These individuals are highly interdependent and conflict is regarded as a valuable asset for growth, change, and optimal solutions. These individuals are highly reflective and can think in the abstract. They are self-monitoring, self-managing, and self-modifying. Garmston and Costa suggest that “systems thinking may be part of their way of understanding challenges and working toward goals” (194).

How might you support colleagues whose world view is in the Interindividual 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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