4 Stages of Adult Development

Recently I had a conversation with my friend, Jody Corbet, about the four stages of adult development. Jody has been bringing his wisdom and insight from strategic thinking to our staff at New Life. Here are the basics of that conversation. 

These stages of development are different from personality traits. People can also move back and forth into different stages. Most people will land in one stage as their primary comfort zone, but depending on the situation and their desire for growth, can move into new stages.  Here are the four stages and some of the characteristics that come with them.


Opportunists are typically the teenagers of the group. They are very much in it for themselves. "Why should I empty the trash? What's in it for me? Will you give me $5?" This makes them somewhat manipulative and distrustful of people. Because they are in it for themselves, the assumption on their part is that everyone else is also, including their peers. They ignore long-term consequences and aren't big fans of policies.

The positive side is that they are self-directed. While they may not be great on teams, they love to get after very specific work for a short period of time. You might say, "I need you to do 'X' job and here's what you will get out of it." This is one way to approach teens in your student ministry. "You should come serve at the shelter with us. Here's what it would mean for you…" Only around 5% of leaders in the world are opportunists.


Diplomats have grown to realize that the group is stronger than the individual. They move from an "I" focus into a "We" focus. As a teenager grows up, they realize they want to be in the group to some degree. Many adults will stay in the stage and have tendencies toward being people-pleasers. They follow rules, norms and procedures. They want to avoid conflict within their team or sphere of influence. If there is conflict with someone outside of the group, they are okay with that, but within the group they want to maintain peace.

Diplomats may be a challenge because feedback is difficult for them. They don't want to make hard decisions because it might rock the boat for the group. This can also tend to slow them when it comes to improving their own performance. They don't want it to create any issues with the rest of the group, team or organization. Unfortunately, diplomats don't make strong leaders. In fact, only about 10% of the leaders in our world are diplomats.

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Experts seek to be original and superior in their craft. They have grown in their role and believe there is one "right way" to do everything. They resent feedback from outside of their group, especially from someone they don't view as an expert also in their field. They aren't great team players and often view collaboration is a waste of time. Why? Because they already know the right answer. 

Some positives that come from being an expert as simply that they are good contributors. Because they are experts in their field, they have answers and are willing to share them. They follow procedures and policies well because they have become an expert in that environment. Changing the rules or culture can create tension for them since they aren't experts in this "new way" of doing something. Around 45% of leaders are experts.


Achievers focus on the plan that will lead to a specific outcome. They have a single purpose they are focused on. They are not afraid of change, but any change has to convince them that they will achieve the goal in a smarter or better way. They are open to feedback as long as it achieves the goal. A positive work environment usually follows an achiever. Again, they want to deliver a goal, a result, and a positive work environment contributes to that.

Some challenges that come with achievers are simply that they can inhibit "outside the box" thinking. They aren't open to it if they don't see how it achieves the goal. So they can be quick to squash ideas. And if there are experts in the room, there can be clashes between the two. Around 30% of leaders are achievers.

Understanding these stages of development can be extremely helpful in a ministry context. It can help you navigate conversations with people who always have ideas. The knowledge can help you lead through meetings more effectively. And it can also help you understand who is working for you on your teams and how to navigate those relationships. There are some great positives to understanding these stages of development. 

What questions come to mind for you as you read through these stages? Any questions about a specific situation you would like input on? Listen to episode 026 of my podcast to learn more or head over to my Contact page to share your question. I am planning to have Jody back on as a guest soon to answer your specific questions.