Home Concepts Adult Development Searching for Vitality: Coaching through the Lenses of Adult Development Theory and Research

Searching for Vitality: Coaching through the Lenses of Adult Development Theory and Research

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Research on adult development strongly suggests that competence and productivity do not significantly decline as a function of age. The priorities of adults do appear to change, however, as evidenced by such things as their focusing on quality rather than quantity, and their potential role as organizational leaders. Understanding the characteristics of productive members of an organization, whatever their age, can help one as a coach encourage and guide clients in new directions or toward changes in their organization that facilitate vitality. In this essay, I will summarize the literature on internal factors associated with adult development and ongoing vitality across all age groups. As an aid in understanding the possible shifts in priorities as we age, I focus, in particular, on the literature about adult development as it specifically applies to men and women working in organizations.

Adult Development and Shifting Priorities

As we grow older, our interest in, and perspectives on, various modes of productivity change. We like to do different things in our 50s and 60s from what we did in our 20s, and aspire to different goals from those of our youth (Bergquist, Greenburg, and Klaum 1993). This is the central message to be conveyed by the research on adult development:  we must consider the factors that influence the productivity and vitality of our mature coaching clients.

The discovery—or invention—of adulthood and adult stages of development in the behavioral sciences is significant for it has shifted our notions about how to motivate and revitalize men and women beyond 21 years of age. We now know that people differ significantly with regard to needs and interests not only as a function of gender, race, socioeconomic level, and abilities, but also age. As we look as coaches that foster the vitality of our coaching clients, it is not surprising that we have recently looked to research and models of adult development for guidance.

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