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Vertical Leadership Development

This month’s Gifted Leaders e-Newsletter features a Center for Creative Leadership White Paper by Nick Petrie that focuses on the future of leadership development. In the paper, Petrie makes a case for moving beyond traditional approaches that emphasize horizontal (knowledge, skills, and competencies) development. He argues that vertical development (thinking in more complex, systemic, and interdependent ways) is what’s increasingly needed in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.

Highlights from the Article

There are two types of leadership development: horizontal and vertical.

  1. Horizontal Development refers to the adding of more knowledge, skills, and competencies. It is about what you know, which we can measure through 360-degree feedback.

  2. Vertical Development refers to advancement in a person’s thinking capability. The outcome of vertical stage development is the ability to think in more complex, systemic, strategic, and interdependent ways. It is about how you think, which we can measure through stage development interviews and surveys.

Traditionally, leadership programs have focused mainly on horizontal development. What is it that leaders need to learn, and how do we give them that? At first this sounds sensible. But if your leaders already know what great leaders do and still can’t do it, what value is there in telling them again? What if the problem isn’t what the leader knows, but who the leader is?

The Center for Creative Leadership’s stages of leadership development model combines the thinking of Harvard’s Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey with CCL’s John B. McGuire and Gary Rhodes. In terms of leadership, the stage from which you are thinking and acting matters a lot. To be effective, the leader’s thinking must be equal or superior to the complexity of the environment.

Stage 1 – Dependent Conformer

  • Team player

  • Faithful follower

  • Reliant on authority

  • Seeks direction

  • Aligns with others

Stage 2 – Independent Achiever

  • Independent thinker

  • Self-directed

  • Drives an agenda

  • Takes a stand for what they believe

  • Guided by internal compass

Stage 3 – Interdependent Collaborator

  • Interdependent thinker

  • Sees systems, patterns, and connections

  • Longer-term thinker

  • Holds multiframe perspectives

  • Holds contradictions

To borrow a word from the military, the world we are living in is increasingly VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. In a VUCA world, everything is interconnected and no one can predict what big changes are coming next. Leaders who are equal to the task are those who can deal with constant ambiguity, notice the key patterns amongst the noise, and look at the world through multiple stakeholder perspectives. These are both the types of capabilities that flourish at more advanced stages of development and those that produce outstanding leadership in complex times.

Traditional, horizontal competencies still matter. But the real opportunity lies in looking at competencies through the horizontal AND vertical lenses at the same time. As leaders advance vertically, the way they think about and enact those competencies expands.

Read the article here.

The Gifted Perspective

Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” To meet the challenges of a VUCA world, what’s needed, for all of us, is a different developmental stage of thinking, that of an Interdependent Collaborator.

Influenced by our performance-oriented western culture, we observe that many business leaders are most accustomed to (and comfortable with) the Independent Achiever stage of development. We also still see many people at the Dependent Conformer stage in a variety of workplaces.

If you subscribe to the notion of collective leadership as we do (i.e. leadership doesn’t reside in one or even a few individuals but, instead, is a shared capacity within a team or organization) then we need to figure out how to develop the capability for interdependent, collaborative thinking in every employee!

We can assist you and your team to become Interdependent Collaborators!

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