Jennifer Garvey-Berger

Center Stage: Researcher Jennifer Garvey-Berger

January 26, 2024

Posted by BOLDLY


Jennifer Garvey-Berger is a renowned figure in the field of coaching psychology, celebrated for her lifelong dedication to researching and advancing the understanding of adult development and leadership coaching. Her work has significantly contributed to the coaching profession, enhancing its effectiveness and impact. Jennifer Garvey-Berger holds a Ph.D. in Human Development and Psychology and has been associated with Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, where she served as a lecturer, and with the Harvard Institute for Learning and Teaching. She was also affiliated with Cultivating Leadership, a consultancy focused on leadership development and coaching.


Key Models:


1. The Growth Edge Interview Model: One of Jennifer Garvey-Berger's seminal contributions to coaching psychology is the Growth Edge Interview Model. This model provides a framework for coaches to identify and understand their clients' developmental stages and growth edges. It emphasizes the importance of meeting clients where they are in their development, tailoring coaching approaches accordingly. This model has become a valuable tool in coaching practices worldwide, helping coaches engage with clients in more effective and meaningful ways. Here are some examples of how a coach can use this model in coaching sessions:

Assessing Developmental Stages:

Imagine a coach is working with a mid-level manager who is struggling with leadership challenges. Using the Growth Edge Interview Model, the coach can start by asking questions that help the client reflect on their current developmental stage. For instance:

"Can you describe a recent leadership situation where you faced a significant challenge?"

"How did you approach that challenge, and what were your thoughts and feelings during that time?"

Based on the client's responses, the coach can begin to identify which developmental stage the client may be in, such as Socialized Mind, Self-Authoring Mind, or Self-Transforming Mind.


Identifying Growth Edges:

Once the coach has a sense of the client's developmental stage, they can move on to exploring the client's growth edges. Growth edges are the areas where clients have the potential for further development. For instance:

"What are some leadership situations or decisions that have made you feel uncomfortable or uncertain?"

"Are there any patterns in your leadership style that you've noticed but haven't been able to change?"

By probing into these areas, the coach can help the client identify specific growth edges that they can work on during the coaching process.


Tailoring Coaching Strategies:

Once developmental stages and growth edges are identified, the coach can tailor coaching strategies to address the client's unique needs. For example:

If the client is in the Self-Authoring Mind stage and is struggling with autonomy and decision-making, the coach might focus on helping the client build self-awareness and develop their decision-making skills.

If the client is in the Self-Transforming Mind stage and is grappling with complex, systemic leadership challenges, the coach might explore how to help the client navigate and lead in a more adaptive and integrative way.


Reflecting and Evaluating Progress:

Throughout the coaching engagement, the coach can use the Growth Edge Interview Model to periodically check in with the client's progress. They can ask questions like:

"How have your perspectives or approaches to leadership evolved since we started working together?"

"Have you noticed any shifts in your comfort level with complexity and ambiguity in your role?"

These questions can help both the coach and client assess the impact of the coaching process on the client's development.


Building Developmental Partnerships:

The Growth Edge Interview Model also encourages coaches to build developmental partnerships with their clients. Coaches can engage in reflective conversations about the client's development and offer support tailored to their current stage and growth edges. This approach fosters trust and collaboration between coach and client.


2. The Cynefin Framework: Jennifer Garvey-Berger has also applied her insights to the field of complexity theory through the Cynefin framework. While not originally her creation, she has integrated this framework into her coaching work. The Cynefin framework helps individuals and organizations navigate complex problems by categorizing them into different domains, offering guidance on how to approach and solve each type of issue. This incorporation demonstrates her ability to bridge diverse disciplines and enrich coaching psychology with interdisciplinary perspectives. "Cynefin" is a Welsh word, and its pronunciation may vary depending on the regional accent within Wales. However, a general approximation of its pronunciation is "kuh-NEV-in." For example: "Kuh" rhymes with "duh", "Nev" rhymes with "rev," and "In" is pronounced as it typically is in English. Here are examples of how a coach might use the Cynefin Framework:

Clear Domain (Simple):

In the Clear domain, problems are well-understood, and there are clear cause-and-effect relationships. Here's how a coach might use this domain:

Problem-Solving: If a client is dealing with a straightforward issue, the coach can help them apply known best practices and standard procedures. For example, if a manager is struggling with time management, the coach might provide time management techniques and tools.

Decision-Making: When a client faces a clear decision with known outcomes, the coach can guide them through a rational decision-making process, emphasizing data-driven choices.

Complicated Domain:

In the Complicated domain, problems are still ordered, but the solutions are not immediately obvious. A coach can assist by:

Analysis and Expertise: If a client is dealing with a complicated problem like implementing a new project management system, the coach can help them gather information, conduct analysis, and possibly bring in experts to provide guidance.

Decision Frameworks: Coaches can introduce decision-making frameworks and tools to help clients navigate complicated decisions, such as cost-benefit analysis or risk assessment.

Complex Domain:

In the Complex domain, problems have multiple interacting factors, and cause-and-effect relationships are not clear. Here, a coach can:

Experimentation: Encourage clients to experiment and probe the situation to gain a deeper understanding. For example, if an organization is facing changing market dynamics, the coach might suggest pilot projects or scenario planning.

Adaptive Leadership: Help clients develop adaptive leadership skills to navigate uncertainty, embrace diverse perspectives, and experiment with different approaches.

Chaotic Domain:

In the Chaotic domain, situations are highly volatile and unpredictable. A coach can:

Stabilize: Assist clients in taking immediate action to stabilize the situation. For instance, if there's a PR crisis, the coach might help the client create a crisis management plan.

Sensemaking: Support clients in making sense of the chaos by gathering data, identifying patterns, and moving toward a more ordered state.


Sometimes, a situation may be in a state of Disorder, where it's unclear which domain it falls into. A coach can help by:

Clarification: Work with clients to assess the situation, determine its characteristics, and decide which domain it belongs to. This involves asking probing questions and gathering information.

Transition: Guide clients in transitioning from the Disorder domain to one of the other domains, where they can apply appropriate strategies.


Key Research Contributions:

Adult Development and Leadership: Jennifer Garvey-Berger's research has significantly focused on adult development and its implications for leadership. She has explored how individuals continue to grow and evolve throughout their lives, affecting their leadership styles and capabilities. Her work challenges traditional views of leadership by highlighting the importance of embracing complexity, uncertainty, and diverse perspectives.


Coaching as a Developmental Practice: A notable aspect of Garvey-Berger's research is her emphasis on coaching as a developmental practice. She has conducted extensive research on how coaching can facilitate personal and professional growth in individuals, allowing them to reach their full potential. Her work has encouraged coaches to view their role as developmental partners, guiding clients through transformative journeys.


Published Books and Articles:

  • "Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World": Jennifer Garvey-Berger's book "Changing on the Job" is a landmark publication in the coaching psychology field. In this book, she explores the dynamic relationship between adult development and leadership, providing practical insights for leaders and coaches alike. It has become a foundational resource for those seeking to understand the intersection of leadership and personal growth.
  • "Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders": In this co-authored book with Keith Johnston, Garvey-Berger presents actionable strategies for leaders facing complex challenges. The book offers practical advice for navigating the ever-changing landscape of leadership in today's world.



Jennifer Garvey-Berger's lifelong research journey has made significant contributions to the field of coaching psychology. Her models, such as the Growth Edge Interview Model, and her deep understanding of adult development have transformed coaching practices worldwide. Her work emphasizes the importance of adaptive leadership and the role of coaches as facilitators of personal and professional growth. Through her publications and research, she continues to shape the future of coaching and leadership in an ever-evolving world. Jennifer Garvey-Berger's legacy stands as a testament to the power of rigorous research and lifelong dedication to advancing the coaching profession.