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Nature of Reflection after Organizational Experience by Managers across Developmental Levels: A Study Using Excerpts from Subject-Object Interviews

Joshi, Himanshu

This research study breaks new ground in exploring differences in how managers’ reflection patterns, do or do not differ across levels of adult development as delineated by Robert Kegan’s Constructive-Developmental Theory.

It was a basic qualitative study exploring upper-level managers’ thought processes and patterns of reflection in revisiting and reinterpreting episodes of conflict and change that had emerged in past organizational experiences. The purpose was to discern in what ways, if at all, those processes vary with the manager’s Stage in adult development in Robert Kegan’s adult Constructive-Developmental Theory that stipulates generally what one can reflect upon impartially as object—or what one cannot.

Transcripts of fifteen Subject-Object Interviews (SOIs), that were previously conducted for the purpose of examining interviewee reasoning characteristics in relation their stage of adult development and had been professionally scored and certified for interviewee developmental level, provided the primary data for this study. These were sourced as a stratified, purposeful sample from an archival database of 148 interviews conducted by the Center of Creative Leadership between 2007-2009. Five each of the sample of 15 SOIs were selected to meet the criteria for one of three specific Stages or levels of complexity on Kegan’s adult constructive-developmental scale representing the Instrumental to Socializing transition, the fully Socializing equilibrium, and the fully Self-Authoring equilibrium.

Without The managers’ individual developmental levels being revealed, the researcher blindly coded the individual SOI transcripts and inductively analyzed and synthesized the data of each to discern patterns in the interviewee’s reflection. In a final step, the known, certified SOI scores were revealed to the researcher, who was then able to explore the relationship between patterns of reflection he had discerned and the individual interviewee’s actual developmental level—in particular to see in what ways, if at all, those processes vary and are engaged in differently—or similarly—depending on the manager’s Order of Mind or Stage of Adult development as delineated by Robert Kegan’s Constructive-Developmental Theory.

Mediating consideration of findings, the 5-participants-per-development-level samples were small and results thus not generalizable, and the interviews were conducted for the purpose of investigating reasoning as correlated with adult developmental level. Within that context, relatively consistent differences in patterns of reflection while either recollecting or currently reflecting upon past incidents that involved change and/or conflict were discerned in the following areas: granularity in description of emotion; recollection of inner dialogue; “stepping onto the balcony” for a changed perspective on issues; variations of “stance,” in terms of degree of self-focus rather than a relational or organizational one and demonstration of self-examination—mediated by what was at stake for the interviewee. Depending on developmental stage, current experience or, or recollection of past negative emotion could be either a prompt for self reflection or a barrier to it.

Constructive-developmental theory posits different Ways of Knowing in adulthood; each denoting an internally consistent meaning-making system that shapes the ways one makes sense of and interprets experience.

An in-depth descriptive analysis of the managers’ reflections within and across cases revealed different orientations toward the process of revisiting and interpreting experience with important variations across participants. To explain those individual variations, constructivedevelopmental theory (Kegan, 1982, 1984) appeared to be a valuable theoretical lens to shed light on some of the differences within and across the three different Ways of Knowing represented in the sample. This study overall supports the growing trend in the learning and development field toward paying more attention to supporting the development of leaders’ inner meaning-making structures as those will influence how they engage in, and take perspective on, their experience—and ultimately help their organizations and their members to learn. The researcher, blinded to adult developmental levels of the managers until after analyzing data for patterns of reflection, found the clusters of personally discerned patterns to closely match those that would to their subsequently revealed, certified developmental levels. This congruence suggests that Subject-Object Interviews may prove an insight-full source for further research on the difficult-to-probe subject of reflection-on-action.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Marsick, Victoria J.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 15, 2021