Today, we’re exploring the fascinating intersection of adult mental development and leadership, guided by the pioneering research of Robert Kegan. Understanding the principles of adult mental development can profoundly impact how we lead, learn, and grow in our professional lives.

Adult mental development isn’t just about accumulating knowledge; it’s about transforming our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Kegan’s research illuminates how adults progress through different stages of mental complexity, each with its own way of making sense of experiences.

1. The Socialised Mind

At this stage, individuals are shaped by the expectations and values of their environment. Leaders thinking from the perspective of the socialised mind are team-oriented and seek harmony, but they may struggle with autonomy and asserting their own vision.

2. The Self-Authoring Mind

Leaders at the self-authoring stage have developed a personal ideology, their own *North Star, and can steer their course independent of external opinions. They set goals, create visions, and align their actions with their beliefs.

*Read about discerning your North Star here.

3. The Self-Transforming Mind

The most complex level of thinking is the self-transforming mind, where leaders embrace and even seek out the paradoxes of life and can hold multiple perspectives at the same time. They are adaptive, open to change, and can foster transformative growth in their organisations.  Leaders who are able to operate at this level are increasingly needed in our complex world and Kegan challenges us as leaders to develop ourselves toward this level of thinking.

Of course, leaders make a valuable contribution at each level of thinking and the journey through the stages is not linear and neither can we ever be said to have reached the end of our development.

Incorporating the principles of adult mental development into leadership can lead to more nuanced, flexible, and effective leadership. By understanding and nurturing our developmental, we can better meet the demands of our roles and foster a culture of continuous growth.

As we reflect on our leadership journey, let’s consider where we are in our own developmental path. Are we aligning with the socialised mind, crafting our self-authoring narrative, or embracing the transformative potential of the self-transforming mind? Wherever we are, there’s always room to grow.

Remember, leadership is not a static state but a dynamic process of becoming. By engaging with the research of Robert Kegan and others in the field, we can unlock new potentials within ourselves, those we work with, and our organisations.

We had the honour of facilitating The Leadership Framework Module of the MBA in Cork University Business School 2021/2022 and we saw firsthand the positive impact of exploring Adult Mental Development with participants and challenging them to expand their thinking capacity as well as adding skills to their leadership toolkit.

Read here about Getting on The Balcony, one potent way of shifting your level of thinking.

If you sense there’s more to achieve, if you desire to expand and elevate your leadership thinking and magnify your impact, then we invite you to reach out to us at and discover how our Elevate coaching or our SOAR Leadership Programme can empower and support you as you embark on a journey of growth, fulfilment, and transformation. We’ll be delighted to help you.