The 10 Laws of Vertical Development for Leaders

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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When it comes to personal and leadership development, there are two forms of development:

  • Horizontal development – Increasing one’s knowledge, skills, and capabilities
    • This is like adding an app onto an iPad, it broadens its functionality
    • New knowledge, skills, and capabilities broaden one’s functionality, but they do not improve how effectively the iPad operates
  • Vertical development – Enhancing one’s ability to make meaning of the world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways
    • This is like upgrading the operating system of the iPad. It is elevating how the iPad operates altogether

When development is desired, vertical (operating system upgrade) is generally what someone has in mind, but it is generally horizontal (app download) that gets focused on (by a wide margin). This is partly because relatively few people know about vertical development.

To help you learn more about vertical development, I have scoured almost every source I could find on the topic. I believe that this has led me to some thought-provoking insights related to the connections between vertical development, leadership effectiveness, and organizational agility and success.

Here are the 10 laws of vertical development for leaders:

  1. As leaders’ altitude of vertical development (cognitive and emotional sophistication) rises, they become more conscious of the dynamics of their world. They can see further, see more clearly, see more details, and see more interdependently.
  2. The greater a leader’s vertical development, the more capable they are at dealing with change, pressure, uncertainty, and complexity.
  3. The greater a leader’s vertical development, the more capable they are at doing things that may not make sense to others less vertically developed, such as:
    • They are ok looking bad if it allows them to enhance their learning and development.
    • They are ok being wrong if it means that they find truth and think optimally in the process.
    • They are ok wading through problems if it means that they are getting closer to their destination.
    • They are ok putting themselves on the back burner if it means that they can better lift others.
  4. Leaders put into place organizational structures, practices, and policies that emerge from their level of vertical altitude. More sophisticated leaders implement more sophisticated and effective structures, practices, and policies.
  5. The culture of an organization is a reflection of its leaders’ development level.
  6. Organizations cannot evolve beyond their leaderships’ level of vertical development.
  7. There is no organizational transformation without a preceding transformation in the vertical development.
  8. The most effective way to shift the altitude of an organization is to shift the vertical altitude (cognitive and emotional sophistication) of its executive team.
  9. The less vertically developed a leader is, the more resistant they are to vertical development. The more vertically developed a leader is, the more they recognize the importance of vertical development.
  10. The more vertically developed a leader is, the more capable they are of leading successful change (incremental and transformational). Also, the more vertically developed a leader is, the more they recognize that organizational change starts with changing themselves.

I am curious, which one of these laws stands out to you? Comment below.

Additionally, if you would like to learn more about the power and importance of vertical development, download my white paper – Vertical Development: The Key to Elevating Leadership Development.

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