21 May, 2010

Coaching people through transitions - lifespan development perspective

Some thoughts on how we can bring lifespan development theories to our work in coaching people through transitions.

I was responding to a question from a student today following a university lecture I gave on coaching people through the parenthood transition, as part of a coaching psychology module. We had been looking at Levinson’s (1978, 1996) ideas about transitions and life eras, as well as cognitive-developmental approaches, such as Kegan (1982). Thought it would be helpful to share these thoughts more broadly:

The way I tie the life eras and developmental stages into my perspective on transitions is:
1. that people may have different goals depending on their life stage, so it can help our empathy as coaches to tune in to that (could be very different from the goals we might assume if we are not currently in that life phase e.g. varying career goals etc) (e.g. Cox, 2006)
2. people at different developmental stages will have access to different resources, solutions and states within themselves for handling complexity, relationships and demands and we have to work with people at the stage they are at, rather than assuming they are at the same stage we are (may be further on or further behind so to speak), or wishing they were at a different stage that might be easier to work with. (e.g. Kegan, 1982, 1994)

However, an important proviso: as coaches / coaching psychologists, while it can be helpful to have insight into where people are ‘coming from’ the most important thing - in my opinion and experience - is to be present to the real individual in the room rather than getting caught up in our imagination of who they are because of their life stage (so we carry the psychological knowledge ‘lightly’).

For more on the references behind this, please see the extended text by clicking the title of this entry. And do email me if you have a shared interest in this area.

“It is important for the coach to have an understanding of the life phases and adult life course development since, as Levinson demonstrates, the phase is often linked to the realisation of particular goals. The goals of the young man or woman will have a different emphasis that those of someone approaching, say, the midlife transition or someone in late adulthood.” (Cox, 2006, p202).

Levinson’s (1978, 1996) Four “seasonal cycles”: pre-adulthood, early adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood.

Kegan’s (1982) developmental stages

Incorporative stage
Subject: reflexes; Object: nothing
Stage 1: Impulsive stage
Subject: impulses, perceptions; Object: reflexes
Stage 2: Imperial stage
Subject: needs, interests, desires; Object: impulses,
Stage 3: Interpersonal stage
Subject: interpersonal relationships, mutuality; Object:
needs, interests, desires
Stage 4: Institutional stage
Subject: authorship, identity, ideology; Object:
interpersonal relationships, mutuality
Stage 5: Inter-individual stage
Subject: “the interpenetrability of self-systems”; Object:
authorship, identity, ideology

Cox, E. (2006) An Adult Learning Approach to Coaching In D. Stober and A,. Grant (eds) Evidence Based Coaching Handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients. Chichester: Wiley.
Kegan, R. (1994). In Over our Heads. London: Harvard University Press.
Kegan, R. (1982) The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Levinson, D. J., with Darrow, C. N, & Klein, E. B. (1978). Seasons of a man’s life. New York: Random House.
Levinson, D. J., with Levinson, J. D. (1996). Seasons of a woman’s life. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.