Constructive Development


Since 2016 I have been researching leadership development and Constructive Development Theory (CDT).


People often ask me what CDT is.


Constructive relates to the idea that people make meaning from interacting with their environment.


Development is the act, process, or result of developing.


Essentially it regards adult development, or the developmental stages an adult can reach.

It’s important to note that many adults do not reach the highest plateaus of development but get stuck at the first or second plateau.


Development has to do with mental complexity, or the variety of perspectives, concepts, and vocabulary an individual possesses to make sense of the world. With greater mental complexity, an individual can perceive more and take more effective action. Greater levels of mental complexity may also provide a more accurate view of reality.


The three levels, or plateaus, of adult development, are:


The Socialized Mind

The first level of adult development is the socialized mind. At least 60% of people are at this stage of development. However, that statistic comes from several years old studies and may be significantly higher in the general population today.


Some attributes of the socialized mind are:


· They are dependent upon acceptance within a group or environment.

· Filters what it hears through what it believes others within the group want to hear.

· Communicates in accordance with group ethics and beliefs.

· Belonging is the most important goal.

· Possesses a minimal ability for independent thinking.

· Unlikely to want a leadership position.


The Self-Authoring Mind

The second level of adult development is the self-authoring mind. Approximately 30% of adults are at this plateau.


Some attributes of the socialized mind are:


· An independent mind that is creative, ambitious, energetic, and driven.

· They may be seen as free thinkers, mavericks, or rebels.

· Responds to opportunities or requests by seeking to further its agenda.

· They are mission-driven but are prisoners of their ideas and unable to consider outside perspectives as possibly valid.

· Wants to be accountable and take on responsibility.

· Tends to take on the leadership role.


The Self-Transforming Mind

The third and highest level of adult development is the self-transforming mind. Only about 5% of people ever reach this plateau, and those who do never reach it before the age of 40.


Some attributes of the socialized mind are:


· These are the employees who will change your business.

· An interdependent mind that loves to connect with other minds.

· Knows that its ideas are, at best, incomplete.

· Seeks to further its agenda but is not a prisoner of its own beliefs or position.

· Open to the ideas of others and willing to take good ideas and integrate them into their own.

· Sees the big picture and seeks senior leadership roles.


Approaching Development

When coaching or conducting training, a sophisticated understanding of adult development can inform our approach. An individual at the socialized mind will interpret what you say completely differently from someone at a higher level. This is true even if they are sitting in the same room, listening to the same information. You might ask why this happens, and it is because they make meaning in qualitatively different ways and interpret your words through a vastly different lens.

One key takeaway from this is that a one-size-fits-all training format is generally ineffective on an organizational level. Development is a highly individualized experience. However, the one thing that all development has in common is the presence of “developmental conflict.”


Developmental conflict is a method of facing the hard truth about oneself, and one’s own contributions to successes and failures. It also includes the idea that once an employee masters a position, it is time to move them into another, even if its outside of their current role or department. This constantly challenges the individual, which is a form of conflict. This is not an easy way to advance, but it is effective.


What do you think? Does any of this resonate with you? Would you be willing to work for an organization that conducted itself in this manner?

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