Some of the most exciting research over the past 20 years has been in the field of adult development.
What we’ve learned:
- When we graduate high school/college/grad school that we don’t quit learning or growing. Shocking, right?
- Adults have their own developmental path.
- Most adults stop growing voluntarily – often in reaction to their environment.
- Adults can leverage prior stages as necessary – again in reaction to their environment.
Robert Kegan and Lisa Lachey summarized 30 years of this research in their book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organizations (Amazon link, non-affiliate).
Adults keep growing. This is not the steady, rapid growth of childhood. Instead, adults go through periods of change with periods of relative stability in between. There may be elaborations and extensions within the system, but the level of mental complexity and the general worldview stays stable.
Kegan and Lachey identified three plateaus adults may experience during their life:
- The Socialized Mind – We are shaped and defined by our environment and by others’ expectations of us. We identify ourselves based on our relationships with others and alignment with whatever we choose to align with – whether it is organizations, professions, ideologies, or other external forces.
- The Self-Authoring Mind – We develop our own personal compass within which we view the world. This is the level of the leader learning to lead, driving agendas, the development of personal belief systems and codes, and setting boundaries.
- The Self-Transforming Mind – We learn to learn, recognize the limits of our belief systems, reflect on ourselves and our environments, and learn to hold contradictions and paradoxes. Individuals at this level make space for feedback and modification as they gather information and feedback.
As time passes, the plateau period increases. At increasing levels of complexity, the number of adults who move to the next level shrinks.
The definition of each level may vary based on the theorist – but the notion that there are further levels of growth, that adults are capable of developing through each level (no skipping!), and that there are periods of
Many adults quit at the Socialized Mind stage of development. And that’s OK. Our environment encourages stopping here. Carol Dweck and her research on Growth Mindset recognizes that a) We’ve all be trained with what she calls the “fixed mindset” if we are adults in the early 21st century and b) Each of us has areas where we are more inclined to be fixed.
Dweck believes that this fixed mindset is a result of the feedback we receive in our environment in our childhood. We then take this feedback as who we are and where we belong in the world.
There are areas in our lives where we are much more inclined to go along with the tribe. Belonging is a key rung in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There is safety in the tribe and in the socialized mind.
What Kegan, Lachey, Dweck, and other adult developmental researchers invite us to do is continue our development.
We are not stuck with the values of our environments, or the beliefs from our childhood, or the decisions we made when we were forced to declare a major.
We have choices!