Today’s Implications of Adult Stage Development

So, who cares about this adult stage development stuff, SWOG lady?  Well, let me make the case for why we should all care.

Take a look at this chart, and focus on the difference in percentages between the UK and US when it comes to the earlier vs later stages of adult development (you can click on the picture to see it more clearly):


Knowing the little bit I do about the differences in how people behave in those earlier stages versus the later stages, the fact that the US has over 58% of US managers and supervisors operating at the “Expert” stage or earlier is concerning to me.  We wonder why the country is polarized and divided.   I think the following information taken from the Cook-Greuter work will help shed light on some of the behaviors demonstrated at those earlier stages:


  • Morality: When Opportunists lose a test of will, or overstep a boundary, they see the cause as outside themselves. They get frustrated and tend to show free-flowing anger and hostility. Others are to blame, never oneself. Their own anger towards the world is projected outward.
  • Interpersonal: Self-protective individuals especially the Opportunist type tend to cause much friction and hurt feelings wherever they go because of the “I win, you lose” mentality. This is especially so in relationship to others at more conventional stages. In turn, others describe Opportunists as unpredictable, unreasonable, manipulative and exploitative.
  • Cognitive style: Thinking is concrete and dichotomous, based on global, undifferentiated judgments, and simple ideas. Things look black or white. Others are either for me or against me.
  • Language clues: Experience is described in simple dichotomies – good/bad, right/wrong, fun/boring or with concrete, physical words such as in “life is hard.” Often strong negative affect is expressed.
  • Morality: Conformists adhere to a simple rule: “everything goes into two piles. The good, or correct, and the bad, or incorrect.” Knowing the distinction makes it easier to make sense of the world. Every decision, every idea, every person, every action, fits in one pile or the other. There are few, if any, shades of gray, no irony, and no intangibles. Actions are carried out with conviction. This is how it is done around here. “Either you are with us and agree or you are against us.”
  • Feelings: Blind conformism, fundamentalism and prejudice can be expressions of this early conventional frame of mind.
  • Interpersonal style: Because Conformists so desperately want to belong, they will conform to the rules and norms of whatever desired group, gang, political party they belong to.
  • Conscious preoccupation: Conformists put great value on appearance, status symbols, material possessions, reputation and prestige. They are concerned with social acceptance and attempt to adjust to group norms. They deeply care about other’s opinions and evaluations although they are not likely to ask for feedback.
  • Coaching-Counseling style: Conformists like to give lots of advice telling others what to do or not to do. They also tend to compare and evaluate others according to their own preferences where the way I manage or we do it here is the right way while other ways are simply wrong and need to be corrected.
  • Cognitive:  Experts tend to focus on doing things right or correctly, not yet on doing the right things. That is they offer single loop solutions, rather than questioning their preferred approach. Indeed, their own way of doing something is seen as the only right way.
  • Social: Experts may reject their family of origin or their childhood beliefs, yet they still need a reference group that accepts and respects them. Only now they want to be accepted by others because of how they are different and special. Expertise and knowledge are ways to distinguish oneself. Professional peer groups and organizations thus supply the need for approval and belonging. Degrees, authorities, and reference books in the field also provide the needed support for defending one’s approach. However, feeling special can easily lead to feeling superior as one wants to stand out from the crowd.

This is a small sample from her work but you get the idea.  And we wonder why we’re polarized?  If you have access to HBO, I would recommend you watch the special, “VICE Special Report:  A House Divided.”  See what you think about whether the above information is reflected in that report.

I’m not sure exactly what to do about this except push ourselves to continue developing broader perspectives, other ways of looking at things, realizing we’re not always right and our way isn’t the only way to do things.  Seek to understand before being understood.  If your natural inclination is to judge, I would encourage you to work on suspending judgement and conclusions in the interest of understanding.  And, of course, demonstrating that behavior to others you lead is an important consideration, as well.

I used to be drawn to intelligence and accomplishment.  Now I find myself drawn to open-mindedness and away from polarizing judgments.  I love the “what if” discussions instead of “this is the way–the only way–the right way.”  I also find myself admiring humility.  You know the person in the room who is the world’s expert on whatever and you would NEVER know it because of how unassuming he/she is;  the people who have grown beyond having to prove themselves to everyone or anyone who will listen to them; the people who don’t need to be the center of attention and tell people how special they are.

Maybe I’m just old and tired.  Maybe I’m onto something.  I’ll let you decide for yourself.  Next up is how to recognize (potentially) if you’re going through a transformation to another stage of development.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!




CATEGORY: All Posts, Lessons Learned, Other SWOG Blogs Referenced, Swell SWOG Suggestions


Learning is my passion and life is my classroom of lessons I experience along the way.

Comments (4)

I think you are on to something!
Happy New Year to you as well 🙂

Well said, my friend.

As a fellow student of adult development, I couldn’t agree more!
I too am drawn to more open minded and centered people, and I count you as one of them! Happy New Year to you and the entire SWOG community.

Thank you, Sheila! And a very joyous and peace-filled 2017 to you!

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