Adult development theory in coaching

Josef Gardiner
March 19, 2023



In adult development theory, we talk about four forms of mind: The Sovereign mind, the socialized mind, the self-authored mind, and the self-transforming mind. The Sovereign mind is that mindset that most children to keep babies really young people are in, where you are basically the center of the whole of your Universe. The only person that otherwise really matters is your caregiver. So, everything that you are doing is focused around more. As we grow older, we move into that more socialized form of Mind where we're more aware of our place within the group and where often what we think of ourselves is very much shaped by what other people think of us. You'll find that if you've got young people in your lives in that teenage space, it's very much defined by who they are, is defined by who other people think they are, and lots of adults are in this space as well. We move through that into this more self-authored mind where what we think of ourselves is not necessarily determined by what other people think, but it's determined by who we know we are, what our values are, what's really important to us, the direction that we're going in, sticking really clearly to that direction regardless of what other people say that we should or should not be doing, and fewer adults are in that space. And then even fewer in the self-transforming space where you are able to look at things from a whole range of different perspectives where you're able to hold ambiguity in complexity really comfortably. It doesn't phase you.

And so, no one is ever in just one frame of mind or one form of mind. Even those of us who are in the self-transforming space where we're able to handle all this ambiguity and complexity really easily, when we're in a traffic jam, I'd be somewhere. It's all about us. Why are you sitting in my way? I just need to move, you know. You go immediately back to that self-solving form of mind. And so, why this is important in leadership is because most adults are in the socialized space where what they think of themselves as determined by others. It's not the healthiest spot to be in as a leader. You want to be far more in that self-authoring kind of form of mind. Many people find working with particular colleagues or with particular teams quite challenging, and that's because they're dropping down. There might be in the self-authored space a lot, but they're dropping back into the socialized form of mind when they're faced with some kind of challenge.

So, what we're trying to do is let people see these different forms of mind and figure out for themselves where they're placing themselves. It's not necessary for me to say, "It sounds like you're being really self-transforming there." It's for you to figure out, "Okay, with this kind of theoretical framework, how does that help me to situate myself and think about how I want to be in different kinds of spaces?" Yeah.


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