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Using Developmental Stages in Coaching and Personal Development out of people

October 2012

We have recently had the opportunity to assist one of South Africa’s coaches in conducting her research for her Masters’ degree in coaching. She is evaluating the impact of using Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson’s developmental stage theories in coaching conversations. The stages relating to adult development are shown below:



Each of the above stages has identified typical life challenges or psychological tasks that people need to address and achieve at various ages within their lives. Take a look at the questions for each stage. On reflection, people will notice that these challenges and tasks have been present in certain periods of their lives; how much more useful could it have been had there been some prior knowledge of what was typical to expect and achieve at certain ages in life?

Carol has found it extremely valuable to reflect on these stages when coaching her clients, and to share them with her clients in order to enhance their awareness and understanding, and to help create new ways of being and doing. One client has decided to embark on a complete career change at the age of 32 (refer to Levinson’s stage 3); another client (early 50’s) is exploring a new role in more of a mentoring capacity at work (refer to Erikson’s stage 7); while yet another client (40) is proactively setting himself up for a career move in 5 years’ time, which will be meaningful to him in the second half of his life (refer to Levinson’s stage 5).

Also coming out of these Developmental Stages theories is a really useful ‘Basic Strengths’ coaching and self-coaching tool. In order to develop into a resourceful and fulfilled human being, the following eight basic (and critical) strengths need to be developed and nurtured:

Hope the belief that our desires will be satisfied; persistent feelings of confidence,
despite setbacks.
Will determination to exercise freedom of choice.
Purpose the courage to envision and pursue goals.
Competence the exertion of skill and intelligence in pursuing and completing tasks.
Fidelity outcome of a cohesive identity; includes loyalty, sincerity, genuineness and
a sense of duty.
Love mutual devotion to shared identity, mutual fusion of oneself to other.
Care broad concern for others; manifested in the need to teach, not only to help
others, but also to fulfil one’s identity.
Wisdom a type of detachment over life, culminating in the ability to participate in heritage.

An awareness of the critical need of these strengths can be enormously useful to coaches in helping clients identify and develop the strengths they need to effect change in their lives. If a particular strength is missing, or needs further developing, this can be a key leverage point in a coaching conversation. So too can leaders and managers apply this summary of strengths to themselves and to members of their teams through coaching and personal development.

In his article, ‘Executive Growth Along the Adult Development Curve’, Steven Axelrod identifies some of the ‘soft skills’ required by effective executives. These include reflective and strategic thinking; tolerance of ambiguity and paradox; ability to listen and appreciate different points of view; prioritising and leading broad efforts, etc. Steven describes the coach’s role with executives as, “helping them ‘ride the wave’ of development from early to middle adulthood. Some are natural born surfers, but others need help spotting the wave and riding it”.

Whether you are a coach, mentor, leader, manager or a member of a team, reflecting on and applying the Developmental Stage theories and principles will assist you in making sense and taking ownership of your life’s challenges and decisions!