Labor Day weekend just finished, and I would like to reflect upon the topic of career development. Over 15 years ago, I was introduced to the “Four Stages Model” of career development. While simple in construct, the “Four Stages Model” provides a powerful tool in assessing not only your personal development but the development of your team.

The “Four Stages Model” is based on the research of Harvard Professors, Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson. The model describes four different stages of career development: Dependent Contributor, Independent Contributor, Coach / Mentor, and Visionary.

Dependent Contributor

The first stage is Dependent Contributor. In this stage of a career you rely on the direction of others in your work assignments. This is the learning stage where you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to perform your role in the organization. All of the stages are independent of age or position status within an organization. At any point in time, an employee may become a Dependent Contributor, even for a short period of time (e.g. once promoted, there is usually a ramp-up stage where you rely on the advice of others).

Independent Contributor

The second stage is that of Independent Contributor. As an Independent Contributor, you understand the needs and objectives of the company and determine the activities required to meet those goals. Independent Contributors accept responsibility for tasks and objectives within an organization. Your goals are closely aligned with the company or department and are measured in results. Independent Contributors are critical to the growth and success of a company. An independent workforce properly aligned with the company objectives can provide a powerful engine for growth.

Coach / Mentor

The Coach / Mentor stage is usually associated with managerial positions within a company. However, experienced subject matter experts within the company can also act in a coach / mentor role. Identifying these subject matter experts can be critical in sustaining long term growth. If the Independent Contributor relies on him or herself, then the Coach / Mentor must rely on the contributions of others. They set the goals and objectives for the company and define the processes and steps for success.


The last stage in career development is that of Visionary. Employees in the Visionary stage set the strategic mission for the company. They define the core values that form the company culture. They lead by inspiring the people around them to follow their example. If the 3rd stage defines goals and objectives, then the 4th stage sets the strategic priorities for the company. By necessity, there are only few Visionaries within a company. This is the one stage where position and status within the company matters.

Working Together

From a personnel perspective, an employee can be in any of the four stages during a career. Many times, they will need to go through stages 1-3 as they take on new responsibilities. From a management perspective, it is crucial that people spend the minimum amount of time within stage 1 (Dependent Contributor). High performing organizations have higher percentages of Independent Contributors (stage 2) to drive the company forward. Managers (stage 3) must recognize the given stage of an employee and create the environment necessary for them to move into that next career stage.

Questions to Ponder

Now that you understand the different stages let’s pose some questions:

  • If the Visionary is vacant (i.e. new owner or CEO search), can the company achieve break-through growth?
  • What happens if an organization consists primarily of employees in stage 1 (Dependent Contributor) and stage 3 (Coach / Mentor)?
  • If employees in stage 3 (Coach / Mentor) are few, can you develop the processes and procedures required for continued growth?

The answers to the above deserve their own studies. What can be stated is that balance is required within the organization. You need the proper balance of all four stages to sustain growth within a company.


The “Four Stages Model” of career development is a great tool to help organizations define their workforce. High performing organizations recognize that it is in their best interest to accelerate an employee’s growth significantly through stage 1 (Dependent Contributor) into stage 2 (Independent Contributor). Managers / Coaches / Mentors set the goals and objectives for a company. They work with others to define the processes and steps required for growth. Last, the Visionary must set the strategic priorities. The Visionary can inspire the organization to new heights. They identify the changes required for sustained success.

About the Author: Garrett Grega is a Certified Business Coach with FocalPoint Business Coaching where he specializes in reconnecting executives, business owners, and managers with their business passions! He has 20+ years helping international companies launch new products and processes. His professional experience includes: strategic planning, business development, marketing, and product development. See more at .


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