EXPAND THE CAPACITY OF YOUR LEADERS VIA VERTICAL LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

Surviving in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world can be tough enough, but what about development? You may wonder how to easily facilitate and enable learning and growth in this context.  The application of adult development theory has developed over recent years and an exciting approach has emerged – Vertical Leadership Development.

The basic premise of this model, as described by MDV’s paper**, is that there are stages and levels of thinking. Petrie* describes how there are two types of leadership development – horizontal and vertical. Horizontal is about adding more knowledge, skills and competencies and is what can be measured effectively via 360 degree feedback.  This is in contrast to vertical development which refers to “how” you think. This leads to the “ability to think in more complex, systemic, strategic and interdependent ways”.  Instead of just trying to fill your glass with more skills/water, the suggestion is that you can grow the size of your glass.  This totally fits my experience of what I refer to as “transformational” growth experiences.  Something happens that usually has a degree of intensity or drama about it and your perspective on life and on yourself is forever different.  Something has expanded.  This is what I am aiming for when I am designing and running 360 degree feedback initiatives.  This leads us to move from the question “do our leaders possess these competencies?” to “from what level of development can they apply them?”.  The ideal, it seems, is to find ways that leaders can develop horizontally and vertically at the same time.

The Centre of Creative Leadership* explain how there are three levels to develop your leaders:

  1. Intense stretch (or heat) experiences – that deal with the “what?” question
  2. Generate new ways of thinking that lead to elevated sense-making – which deals with the “how?”
  3. Developing through your network where colliding perspectives can enable a shift – this is the “who?”.

The most effective and powerful interventions will provide all 3 of these levels as it is at the intersection of them that you can move into the space of development and transformation. As Mike Vessey** describes in his paper, there are 3 key capacities – the interpersonal, conceptual and the personal.

People love to know where they sit on a hierarchy, some more than others. This approach provides (perhaps reluctantly?) a levelled structure to refer to.  It provides a direction of travel and an opportunity to evaluate your own position in relation to the wider wisdom and utmost maturity.  This can be humbling and motivating and certainly encourages you to stop and consider where you are at and why.  Are our leaders ready for this? Most of them may wish to be but actually are not quite.  Anything that encourages a reflection and conscious consideration of where you are up to as a leader I think though is a good thing so I am looking forward to developing a special 360 to clarify this.

Our job is not to force development on other people but to create the right conditions in which someone can grow. Clever and strategic design of interventions will take you a long way but then it is challenge and support, not force. Your leaders will then grow their own glasses.

ELVA AINSWORTH
August 2017

*Center for Creative Leadership: “Vertical Leadership Development–Part 1 Developing Leaders for a Complex World” Nick Petrie 2014

**MDV Consulting: “What in the world is going on? Mapping Vertical and VUCA beyond the bandwagon”


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