The Value of Understanding What “Maturity” Really Means

“She’s just not mature enough to manage this team”.

“He’s so immature, always getting emotional when people don’t agree with him.”

“She’s really mature for her age. I think she can handle the promotion.”

If you’ve heard comments like this or even said something like it yourself, you’ve stepped into the shape-shifting arena of a word that is often misunderstood and often used negatively to describe a person’s behavior in a given circumstance or on a specific subject or topic.


Why does it matter that we understand the word more deeply?

What’s the value to you of learning more about it?

The simple answer is that a better understanding will help you use the word more precisely and possibly give you a deeper insight into what’s going on when you observe “mature” or “immature” behavior.

Most dictionaries define “maturity” in terms of a complete end-point, physical or structural.

For example, a mature person is “fully grown”. A mature business is “stable with slow, steady growth”.

Unfortunately, these definitions don’t really help when it comes to using the word “mature” in the workplace because maturity isn’t really a static end-point.

And, this is complicated by the fact that, in business, “mature” is often used to focus on someone’s ability or inability to “do” something in a specific situation – which means it is judgemental.

That’s why, at Breakthrough Management, we’ve evolved the definition of “maturity”, with the goal of increasing clarity and using this clarity to improve awareness, understanding, management, and growth of the self.

Our definition of “maturity” is simply – “An unfolding journey of self-knowledge”, which implies three things:

  1. That maturity is always changing (unfolding)
  2. That it is cumulative (journey)
  3. That it has to do with the self (self-knowledge)

Here’s some more detail on this definition.

1. It is always Changing

This means that maturity is not static and therefore is never completely the same. It is always moving and growing.

2. It is Cumulative

This means that it keeps building on itself.

3. It has to do with the self

This means that maturity has to do with self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-management.

This definition of “maturity” is based on the universal truth that we are always evolving, which literally means we are different from one moment to the next, which is why we can never completely “know” ourselves and can consequently never be completely “mature”.

We can only ever be in a continual process of “maturing”.

Another way to look at this is that we are in a continual process of getting to “know ourselves”.

This enhanced definition allows us to be more precise when we use the word in the workplace.

Specifically, to look at how one can measure and/or decide how mature someone is in a given circumstance and/or skill set.

Our level of maturity in a given circumstance is determined by our ability to apply the following 8 skills in a particular circumstance.

Specifically, in the situation or circumstance, how we…

  1. Cope
  2. Adapt
  3. Survive
  4. Discover
  5. Practice
  6. Learn
  7. Grow, and
  8. Evolve within the situation we find ourselves in.

This plays out in sequence.

When we are in a given situation or circumstance, how do we cope?

Then, how do we adapt, which allows us to survive it and discover?

Based on this discovery, we can practice, learn and apply the learning to grow.

Which allows us to evolve within the situation.

The more we know ourselves, the better we will be at doing the above 8 things and consequently, the “more mature” we will be.

The less we know ourselves, the less we will be able to do the above 8 things and the “less mature” we will be.

The more situations we find ourselves in, the more we get to learn about ourselves which is why “maturity” is an unfolding journey of self-knowledge.

With this information, we can gain greater clarity on some of the ways that “maturity” is used as a qualifier (often negative). You’ve probably heard some or all of these.

“He (or she) isn’t that…

  • Emotionally mature
  • Socially mature
  • Mature for their age (the alternative is “they’re very mature for their age”)
  • Mature as a musician, a player, sportsman/woman
  • Mature (without any qualifier)”

Each of these judgements is usually based on observing someone’s behavior and then concluding that it somehow doesn’t match an expected behavior that may or may not have been negotiated with the individual being observed.

Our observation of another individual – regarding a specific behavior – is also based on how mature we are in our ability to demonstrate the same behavior.

So, the next time you find yourself using the word “maturity” in any given circumstance, you may want to think about what you actually mean as well as your intent in using the word.