The Three Levels of Vertical Development

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

Mind Levels

Vertical Development Law #1: Different people make meaning of their world with varying degrees of cognitive and emotional sophistication.

Vertical Development Law #2: People with greater ability to make meaning of their world in cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways possess greater ability to navigate complexity, be more agile, and lead more effectively.

Based upon these two laws, if we want to become the very best versions of ourselves and enhance our ability to navigate our increasingly complex world, we need to vertically develop (i.e., enhance our ability to make meaning of our world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways).

In order to vertically develop, it is helpful to know three things:

  1. There are three vertical development levels that one can operate from. I call them Mind 1.0, Mind 2.0, and Mind 3.0. (You can click on any of the hyperlinks to learn about each in great depth. Although below I provide a high-level overview of their differences.). They are effectively our internal operating system, programming us to be focused on certain needs and operate in certain ways.
  2. The level of vertical development you primarily operate at: Mind 1.0, Mind 2.0, or Mind 3.0. This is our starting place.
  3. The next level of your vertical development journey, especially Mind 3.0, so that you can more clearly see where you are headed.

To help you in these three things, I have created the table below to quickly present a high-level overview of these three vertical development levels.

The Three Levels of Vertical Development

Mind 1.0

Mind 2.0

Mind 3.0

Level Name

Self-Preservation Mode

Self-Focused Reward Mode

Contribution Mode

Percent of All Adults




Percent of All Executives




Primary Focus


Safety, comfort, & belonging.


Standing out, advancing, & getting ahead.


Contributing & adding value. (Often

Primary Fears Exposing oneself, discomfort, & not fitting in. Not standing out, being redundant, & being seen as one of many. Not adding value or lifting others.
Value Comes From: Being accepted by their tribe. Standing out from or among their tribe. Adding value and lifting others, regardless of tribe.
Keeps Score Through: Social status Hitting outcomes Long-term contributions & quality of systems that generate outcomes
Primary Hallmark Dependent thinker Independent thinker Interdependent thinker
Operating System Programming #1 Willing to give up independence and power in exchange for safety, comfort, & belonging. Willing to take the independence and power of others in order to get ahead. Willing to give of self for the betterment of others.
Operating System Programming #2 Always on guard for threats to one’s safety, comfort, and belonging. They get rattled easily. Frequently competitive toward and judgmental of others. Such action helps them gauge just how much they are standing out from others. They get rattled if they are unable to hit outcomes/metrics. Generally operates from a very centered and balanced place. They don’t hold tightly to any outcome or expectations. Few things rattle those in Mind 3.0.
Operating System Programming #3 Focused on playing it safe, following the rules, not rocking the boat, and being agreeable. Develops their own self-compass that guides them. Usually holds tightly to their independently-derived beliefs and ideals. Embraces the world in its complexity (doesn’t want to simplify to make things easy), wants to see the entire system and the interdependencies within the system
Additional Programming Defaults Short-term oriented, black-and-white thinker, conformer, emotionally-oriented, conflict-avoider, fragile sense of self, low initiative, low drive others than to ensure safety, comfort, and belonging. Short-term oriented, initiative takers, generally focused on outcomes (effectiveness, efficiency, productivity), believe the self is more important than the tribe, willing to be oppositional, and driven to prove self. Long-term oriented, present, patient, grounded, intentional, ambidextrous (can bring multiple versions of self to different situations), power-sharers, open-minded, and effective activators and leaders of change
Response to Constructive Criticism Gets defensive (this is a threat to their safety, comfort, and belongingness). It seems illogical to see constructive criticism in any other way. It depends on who delivers it and how it is delivered. Sees it as a gift regardless of who delivers it and how it is delivered.
Response to Change Resists change (this is a threat to their safety, comfort, and belongingness) Will only accept change if it helps them get ahead. Accepts all change because they recognize that change is constant.
Approach toward Leadership Generally avoids leadership. Seeks leadership as an opportunity to stand out and get ahead. Accepts leadership as an opportunity to contribute, add value, and lift.


I hope that viewing different altitudes of vertical development helps you to better gauge your current level of vertical development and allows you to see what operating at a higher level might look and feel like.

Also, I imagine that you had two observations as you read through the table:

  1. If you largely operate in Mind 1.0 or Mind 2.0, the other mind levels don’t make much sense to you. Your current programming makes alternative perspectives difficult for you to comprehend and understand.
  2. You probably recognize that you have Mind 1.0, Mind 2.0, and Mind 3.0 elements within you. So, while it is healthy to ask, “What level do I primarily operate at,” it is equally healthy to ask, “What is my center of gravity? Where do I spend the majority of my time?”

As I have learned more about the different mind levels, I have come to personally realize that I operate in Mind 2.0 than I care to admit. But, by learning about Mind 3.0, I have something to aspire to and work toward.

What’s Next

I am currently writing my next book on vertical development, but it is about a year out from publication.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about vertical leadership development or if you would like me to help you vertically develop your leaders or employees, please check out my Vertical Leadership Development White Paper.

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