Developmental psychologists have found that:

  • Adults can develop in their cognitive and emotional sophistication
  • There are three different stages of adult development
  • At each stage, the individuals’ internal operating systems are programmed to fulfill different needs
  • Most adults never progress in their development during adulthood

In this article, I want to help you gain clarity on what the three different stages of adult development are so that you can better assess where you are in your development journey and how you can level up from where you currently are.

The Three Different Adult Development Stages

The figure below identifies each of the three adult development stages and the percentage of ‘all people’ and ‘executives’ that operate at each stage.

Good Soldiers Progress Makers Value Creators Mind Levels

I discuss each level below. Try to feel into what vertical altitude you operate from (hint: we generally think we operate at a level higher than we really do, myself included).

Mind 1.0 – Are you a Good Soldier?

People at the first adult development level have an internal operating system that is programmed to fulfill the needs of:

  • Safety,
  • Comfort, and
  • Belonging

When we are here, we operate in the following ways to stay safe, comfortable, and belong. We:

  • Play nice
  • Focus on putting out fires
  • Focus on fitting in
  • Avoid conflict
  • Don’t seek to stand out
  • Don’t want to ‘rock the boat’
  • Focused on limiting problems
  • Wants to avoid value
  • Wants to follow the rules
  • Wants to do what is comfortable
  • Wants to fit in
  • Likes structure
  • Doesn’t overextend themselves

64% of people operate here.

Mind 2.0 – Are you a Progress Maker?

People at the second adult development level have an internal operating system that is programmed to fulfill the needs of:

  • Standing out,
  • Advancing, and
  • Getting ahead

This is a dramatic departure from the previous internal operating system. In fact, when we are here, we are willing to be unsafe, uncomfortable, and not belong in order to standout, advance, and get ahead.

When we are here, we operate in the following ways to stand out, advance, and get ahead. We:

  • Are really goal oriented
  • Want to win (competitive)
  • Are focused on outcomes (e.g., sales, profitability)
  • Want to be right
  • Want to be efficient
  • Want to achieve
  • Want to get things done
  • Want to look good
  • Want to be perfect
  • Want to be the expert

35% of people and 85% of executives operate here.

The more and more I work with executive teams, I am seeing this dynamic. Most operate at a Mind 2.0 level. They are good Progress Makers. For them, being a Progress Maker is a proven formula for success. But, what they have a hard time seeing is that they are not yet the leaders they can be.

Mind 3.0 – Are you a Value Creator?

People at the third adult development level have an internal operating system that is programmed to fulfill the needs of:

  • Contributing,
  • Adding value, and
  • Lifting others

This is another dramatic departure from the previous internal operating systems. When we are Good Soldiers, we want to “stand in.” When we are Progress Makers, we want to “stand out.” When we are in either of these modes, we are self-focused.

When we are a Value Creator, we are not self-focused or self-protective. Instead our focus is on something outside of ourselves, often on a purpose larger than ourselves.

When we are here, we operate in the following ways to contribute, add value, and lift others. We:

  • Are mindful, balanced, and centered
  • Focused on the long term
  • Purpose-focused
  • Are a seeker of truth (don’t have to be right)
  • Stand up to power
  • Are willing to explore beyond the conventional
  • Embrace complexity
  • Are courageously vulnerable
  • Are intellectually humble
  • Are psychologically flexible
  • Are willing to let go of the past and embrace a new unknown reality
  • Explore new ideas and new worlds

Only 1% of people and 8% of executives operate here.

relaxing and thinking


Can you see and feel the differences between the three adult development levels?

Where are you at? How is your internal operating system currently wired? Are you programmed to operate as a Good Soldier, Progress Maker, or Value Creator?

What Now?

These concepts and questions are not meant to be evaluative. They are meant to be developmental.

Here is what I have learned about adult development and leveling up:

  • It starts with awareness. Are you aware of your fears and insecurities that cause you to be self-protective?
  • The deeper we go inward in terms of our self-awareness, the higher we can go upward in terms of our vertical development and impact that we have on the world
  • At a foundational level, vertical development involves healing from your past trauma and trauma-fueled fears and insecurities
  • A great place to start is by exploring and awakening to your mindsets, as (1) most people are not conscious of the quality of their mindsets, (2) our mindsets drive 90% of our thinking, feeling, judging, and acting, and (3) mindsets are something we can change and improve, and as we do, we are going through the process of vertically developing.

If you would like to awaken to the quality of your mindsets and get resources on how to improve your mindsets to elevate in your vertical altitude, start by taking this FREE personal mindset assessment: