Adult Development Theory

April 30, 2020

Effective leaders grow the entire team, understanding that everyone has a significant role in achieving the team’s goals. So how will you grow your team when your organization contains individuals with generational differences that shape his or her approach to work, relationships, and learning? How will the team work cohesively when defining generational gaps lie among them?

As our workplaces become more diverse, more than ever do we have to understand that organizations are a mix of individuals whose differences are often defined by the life stage they are going through and the generation they are born into. These two factors characterize the way you operate in the world.

Life stages are categorized into six Adult Development Stages:

• Early Adult Transition: 17 – 22 years old
o This is usually when you are leaving or about to leave home. Choices are still made for you as you are planning your adult life. There is a sense of instability here.

• Entering Adult World: 22 – 28 years old
o This is where you start to choose your life plan. One is usually finishing college and figuring out his or her next path. Prior choices weren’t always yours, but now it’s all up to you. You can be a little loose with your choices, for example you can try your first job knowing you can always change it, or move where you want to live. This is an exploratory time of life with some stability and more flexibility.

• Age Thirty Transition: 28 – 33 years old
o This is where you realize that at some point your life plan has to be finite. If you went through the academy, got the job, and signed the papers, now it becomes more solidified. You start to question if you made the right choice and if you are doing the right thing. Here you are examining and revising your life plan, and some may even feel trapped.

• Settling Down: 33 – 40 years old
o This is where you overcome the fear of reevaluating your life choices. Some never get over the fear or it reoccurs, but usually you settle down. You are now established in your career and hopefully there are promotional opportunities. Some are getting married, already married, or having children. Your life is pretty established. Here you seek stability and order.

• Middle Life Transition: 40 – 45 years old
o This is where the “mid-life crisis” occurs, and people really start questioning their life choices. Statistically you are about halfway through life. We all know the end is coming, so now you really begin to question whether you did the right thing for your wellbeing, happiness, and those around you. We never stop evaluating who we are, what we do, and we always have these internal voices that make us self-doubt. This is normal and will continue until you die.

• Enters Middle Adulthood: 45+ years old
o This is where your life plan shifts to focus on family and retirement.

“Each generation has their
own defining characteristics”

As you read through the adult development stages you may think, “my child is 25 and hasn’t left the house yet.” The stages may alter depending on the generation an individual was born into. For example, early adult transition, which is considered the time to leave the nest, looks different from the Baby Boomers to Gen Z. In 1960 the average age of individuals living at home was 18, where in 2010 it was 27; however, we know there are certain factors that contribute to the age discrepancy like the cost of living, cost of homes, and cost of education along with greater access to education.

Statistics show that in 1960 there was an expectation to leave the house at 18, marry quickly, and for women to have children soon. Now people date for longer periods of time and don’t get married until they are ready to have kids. Also, we are closer to our parents’ age than we are to our children’s age.

Each generation has their own defining characteristics, and these are the generations today:

• Baby Boomers: Born 1945 – 1964

o Known as the legacy generation
o Assumption of lifelong prosperity
o Entitled to security when older
o Work centric
o Concept of paying dues
o Experimental
o Free spirited
o Distrust of government

• Gen X: Born 1964 – 1977

o Currently in midlife transition and settling down
o Self-reliant
o Individualistic
o Work/Life balance
o Laid back
o Multitask
o More focus on friends than family

• Gen Y/Millennials: Born 1977 – 1995

o Currently in age 30 transition and choosing life plan
o Easily bored
o Seek recognition
o Team players
o Continually connected

• Gen Z: Born 1995 – 2012

o Currently in early adult transition
o Digital communicators
o Instant gratification
o Individualistic
o Parent advisors
o Make their own decision

Implementing Adult Development Theory into your leadership can be trying, but will only grow you and your team. You must take into account each individual’s life stage along with his or her generational characteristics, because these factors shape how you and everyone else operates in the world.

By Alicia Iwakiri, adapted from the LAFDLA presentation of Anthony-Paul Diaz

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