The following set of “animation” questions were posed at a symposium sponsored by the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations (ICCO) held in Los Angeles on February 21-22, 2008. These questions concern the implications of adult development theory for the professional of coaching. They are worth pondering for anyone involved in the field of professional coaching.
1. Some developmental theorists (in the tradition of Jean Piaget) believe that we move to a more advanced stage of development only after we have mastered the cognitive/affective challenges of the previous stage. Until such time as we have mastered these challenges, we remain at this less advanced stage. Other developmental theorists (in the tradition of Erik Erikson) believe that we move to new stages of development irrespective of our success at mastering the cognitive/affective challenges of the current stage. When we move to another stage, yet have not mastered the challenges of the stage from which we just moved, then we carry the burdens of this previous stage to the new stage, making it more difficult to meet the new challenges associated with the new stage. What are the implications of each of these perspectives on adult development for those who are engaged in organizational coaching?
2. Some developmental theorists (such as Daniel Levinson) believe that we move through a set of developmental stages in a sequential and essentially linear manner: the developmental issues we address in our 40s and 50s differ from those we address either in our 30s or in our 60s. Other developmental theorists (such as Frederick Hudson) believe that we cycle through certain developmental challenges repeatedly in our lives, though in each cycle we approach these challenges in somewhat different ways. What are the implications of each of these perspectives on adult development for those who are engaged in organizational coaching?
3. Some psychologists (in the tradition of George Vaillant) believe that we only recognize the existence of developmental stages in retrospect. At any one moment, we don’t conceive of ourselves as being in a specific stage or addressing a specific set of developmental issues. Rather we are just trying to make it through the day! From the perspective of these psychologists, the themes of adult development concern not so much the way we live our lives as the ways in which we construct stories about our lives in retrospect. As a 50 year old woman or man we can tell stories about our developmental challenges as a 40 year old, but not as a 50 year old. What are the implications of this alternative perspective on adult development for those who are engaged in organizational coaching?