Episode 32: Finding Your Center of Gravity with Dr. Nancy Popp

In this episode, Dr. Nancy Popp goes deep on vertical development based on her 35+ years of studying and assessing where people are on the journey. She is one of the foremost experts on the subject-object interview method, which is how we assess Leader Levels.  

You will feel like you're sitting in on a college developmental psychology class as Keith and Nancy paint a picture of the vertical development journey in language different to the way we have spoken about it so far.

About our guest

Connect with Nancy at Halgren Coaching.
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Nancy is a developmental psychologist, coach, consultant, educator, and writer. She is also an obsessed and passionate gardener. It is not surprising that gardening and developmental psychology are really all about the same process: supporting healthy growth through understanding and attending to the unique needs and requirements of the growing individual before you—whether rooted, winged, furry, or two- legged.

In the human realm, supporting healthy growth is about creating contexts that encourage deeper empathy toward oneself and others, broader perspective-taking, more productive engagement around conflict, a more civil and respectful discourse, and a more compassionate regard for those who are different.

The one important difference between supporting healthy growth in humans and supporting healthy growth in the garden is that in the garden the plants and animals and insects and birds do not strive to be anything other than what they are. The ferns do not strive to be roses, nor do the birds strive to be groundhogs (thank goodness!) This is a great struggle for many humans.

These are the things that fuel Nancy’s work—the small miracles of paying attention, and in that attention, together creating a space in which these wondrous individuals can and do grow and thrive and become even more wondrous.

Other, more academic things also fuel Nancy’s work. She is the foremost expert on the Subject-Object Interview (SOI), the developmental assessment tool developed by Robert Kegan and his colleagues at Harvard. In the early 80s, Nancy was a member of the first and only group to be trained and certified by Kegan, Lahey, and Souvaine in SOI assessment.

As she continued her doctoral work with both Kegan and Lahey, Nancy took the reins of training others in the SOI and she continues that work today. Many of the current thought leaders in the field were among the early training groups Nancy led: Suzanne Cook-Greuter, Otto Laske, Ellie Drago-Severson, Keith Eigel, Jennifer Garvey Berger, and others. Nancy has supported over 40 doctoral dissertations and has conducted and assessed upwards of a thousand SOIs. She has written numerous articles and chapters and a book on the developmental implications of many different topics from conflict to consciousness to ecological decision-making. She works with researchers, graduate students, and scholars to provide developmental assessments for their work.

In her coaching practice, Nancy uses the SOI and other tools such as Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change (ITC) process, Bill Torbert’s Action Inquiry, Jung’s shadow work, and Donald Schön’s reflective practice. These tools help provide some excellent supports, scaffolds, and fertilizer for growing humans.

Nancy lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband, son, and lots of plants and wildlife.

Episode transcript