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Vertical Development at a glance

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What is it?
Vertical Development isn’t about teaching leaders a new skill. It’s about transforming how leaders think, impacting their (inter)actions.

Simply put:
Horizontal Development = More information, skills, competencies
Vertical Development = More complex and sophisticated ways of thinking.

Some experts compare the different stages of Vertical Leadership to a human being growing up. From a need driven baby to an impulsive toddler, then a child that starts mastering many skills, through adolescence to adulthood. Each stage represents a new level of development. The first is not better than
the second, but an adult can often handle more complex challenges than a young child. As adults, we have the capacity and the responsibility to continuously develop ourselves further. Moving from being defined by others to defining your own life. Or your organization.

Why does it matter?
Leaders today grapple with the challenge of constant change, requiring them to adapt strategies swiftly and effectively. They also face significant ambiguity, having to make decisions with incomplete information, balancing risks and uncertainties. Mastering professional skills alone is not enough in this environment. In contrast, asking questions, making observations, and reflecting before taking action or offering advice are crucial skills for navigating uncertain and complex situations. This approach yields numerous benefits, including improved decision-making, greater resilience, stronger relationships, increased creativity and innovation, greater social impact, and better organizational performance.

An organization trying to navigate these complexities should hence ask itself whether their people are a good fit for the task, depending on the current stage of their Vertical Development.

VD picture 1

How to get started?
Implementing Vertical Development requires a deliberate and ongoing effort to cultivate self-awareness, personal growth, and promote a more holistic and socially responsible approach to leadership.
Leaders don’t grow because they like to; they grow because they have to. Vertical growth begins when you face a challenge that is so difficult for you to solve, that you almost have to grow to survive it. Some life events, such as a serious illness or a change of country, force you to reevaluate and see the world in a new way. Workshops can be designed to create that same developmental heat, but at a level that leaders can tolerate. They also need to experience colliding perspectives, and take time to integrate the learnings from both the heat experience and the different views to arrive at an elevated level of sense-making.

In summary, three elements are key:

  • a “heat experience”
  • colliding perspectives
  • space for making sense of both.

The complex task about implementation of vertical leadership is that it doesn’t have firm goals and time frames, and implementation depends on the organization. It is a long term, strategic investment, and requires giving space and allowing for transformational thinking to happen.

However, leaders need to experience all three dimensions (heat experience, colliding perspectives, sense-making) in roughly equal terms.

Reflecting on their careers, leaders often cite intense heat experiences as times of greatest growth. Those who have learned to love the heat have the tremendous advantage of embracing and seeking out challenges as learning opportunities. They have become self-motivated learners. This is invaluable for any organization.

To create the right framework, emphasize the importance of self-awareness, presence, and connection, and offer insights into how individuals can cultivate greater wisdom and compassion.

Additionally, ensure you partner with experienced practitioners who truly embody vertical leadership in their interactions. Can you trust them right away? Are they inquisitive and attentive listeners? Are they credible and collaborative? Designing the right program isn’t just a cognitive exercise — it should exemplify applied Vertical Leadership.

Curious to hear more? Connect with us by sending an email to Tom van Dyck.

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