Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl A. Getz, EdD; Lea A. Hubbard, PhD; Theresa M. Monroe, EdD


Constructive-development theory, cross-key-thinker analysis, fallback, Grounded theory, Human development, Leadership studies, Meaning-making, stage developmental theory


Constructive-development and stage development theory, which posits that individuals move through different stages or action logics throughout life, has been the foundation for several models of human transformation. The literature on the leading stage theories indicates that research has focused on exploring stages and their behavioral correlates, but little work has been done on how individuals move between stages. Stage theory has primarily been conceived of as a linear and unidirectional transition from one stage to the next, which encompasses earlier stages, however emerging research has revealed that stage transition may be more fluid and bi-directional than originally thought and may involve fallback to earlier stages in certain circumstances. Further, fallback to an earlier stage of meaning-making may prompt learning that can lead to growth. The purpose of this study, which used grounded theory methodology, was to examine the phenomenon of fallback through twenty-seven interviews with six key thinkers in the field of adult and leader development: Jennifer Garvey Berger, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Robert Kegan, David McCallum, Chuck Palus, and William Torbert. Several research questions guided this study, with the overall intention of exploring fallback as situated within current developmental theory and learning how these key thinkers understand the fallback phenomenon. This research also examined the role that fallback may play in developmental growth, and how fallback might be studied in the future. The findings are presented through the key thinkers' own lenses, then through a cross-key-thinker analysis that suggests that fallback can indeed be understood through the existing theory of stage development. Additional findings indicate that the most important criteria for defining fallback is the absence of options at the more complex level of development that one is capable - be they in thought, feeling, behavior, or meaning-making - and that fallback requires springing forward. This research demonstrates that fallback, under the right conditions has the potential to facilitate developmental growth, and that these conditions for growth to occur are most likely to be met by those in the post-conventional developmental stages. Finally, this exploration reveals the importance of having a theory for understanding fallback to both human and leadership development.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies