“It is human to have a long childhood; it is civilized to have an even longer childhood. Long childhood makes a technical and mental virtuoso out of man, but it also leaves a life-long residue of emotional immaturity in him.”— Erik Erikson (1902-1994)
Eight months ago Myra was promoted from Controller to CFO. I was introduced to her by her CEO when their conversation turned to helping Myra develop “executive presence.” This was an intuitive objective as neither could define executive presence, but both agreed it was necessary. Myra had to grow up fast and she was seeking help to accelerate her maturity as a leader.
Mature leaders are best prepared to cope effectively with complex and difficult conditions, make good decisions, protect their culture, and develop talent. Mature leaders encourage and inspire others, express their vision clearly, and behave calmly in the midst perpetual change.
The psychologist Erik Erikson defined that human development is determined by the interaction of genetics and biology, psychology, and culture. While he organized life into eight stages, executive coaching focuses on young adults, middle aged adults and older adults.
As you read through the following eight stages, notice which of the Mature Adult strengths are manifesting in your leadership. If you know the terrain ahead, you may begin to prepare for it now! (The first 5 stages are for your general knowledge)
- Infancy: Birth to 18 Months
Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust
Basic strength: Drive and Hope
- Early Childhood: 18 Months to 3 Years
Ego Development Outcome: Autonomy vs. Shame
Basic Strengths: Self-control, Courage, and Will
- Play Age: 3 to 5 Years
Ego Development Outcome: Initiative vs. Guilt
Basic Strength: Purpose
- School Age: 6 to 12 Years
Ego Development Outcome: Industry vs. Inferiority
Basic Strengths: Method and Competence
- Adolescence: 12 to 18 Years
Ego Development Outcome: Identity vs. Role Confusion
Basic Strengths: Devotion and Fidelity
- Young adulthood: 18 to 35
Ego Development Outcome: Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation
Basic Strengths: Affiliation and Love
At the initial stage of adulthood we seek companions and love, and mutually satisfying relationships, primarily through marriage and friends. While we generally begin to start a family, this age has been pushed back for many young adults. If negotiating this stage is successful, we can experience intimacy on a deep level.
If unsuccessful, we may resort to isolation and distance from others. Should we not find it easy to create satisfying relationships, our worldview shrinks as, defensively, we feel superior to others.
7. Middle Adulthood: 35 to 55 or 65
Ego Development Outcome: Generativity vs. Self absorption or Stagnation
Basic Strengths: Production and Care
Erikson observed that middle-age is when we tend to be occupied with creative and meaningful work and with issues surrounding our family. Also, middle adulthood is when we can expect to “be in charge,” when we naturally gravitate to leadership roles.
Mature leaders strive to perpetuate culture and transmit values of the culture and work to establish a stable environment. What Erikson calls generativity, is the drive to care for others and produce things that contribute to the betterment of society. Mature leaders often fear inactivity and meaninglessness.
Significant relationships are within the workplace, the community and the family. If we don’t get through this stage successfully, we can become self-absorbed and stagnate.
8. Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to Death
Ego Development Outcome: Integrity vs. Despair
Basic Strengths: Wisdom
Erikson calls this stage integrity. He felt that much of life is preparing for the middle adulthood stage and the last stage is recovering from it. Perhaps that is because as older adults we have a chance to look back on our lives with a sense that life has meaning and we’ve made a contribution to life. We can take comfort in a wisdom that the world is very large and we now have a detached concern for the whole of life, accepting death as the completion of life.
On the other hand, despair may be the experience of some adults if they perceive their experiences as failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering “Was the trip worth it?” Alternatively, they may feel they have all the answers (not unlike going back to adolescence) and end with a strong dogmatism that only their view has been correct.