Have you ever wondered what sets apart great people from not-so-great people?

What developmental psychologists have found is that the difference between great people (people we admire) and no-so-great people (people we don’t necessarily admire) is how vertically developed they are. This is another way of assessing how cognitively and emotionally sophisticated they are.

Unfortunately, most people do not yet understand the concepts of “vertical development” and “cognitive and emotional sophistication.” And, they do not yet understand how a cognitively and emotionally sophisticated leader operates differently from a less cognitively and emotionally sophisticated leader. So, I want to bring this to life for you with a couple of videos of leaders of musicians (see below).

Vertical Development

When someone enhances their cognitive and emotional sophistication, this is called vertical development. They are elevating their ability to make meaning of their world in more mature and complex ways.

For example, consider how people make meaning of constructive criticism:

  • Less vertically developed: Constructive criticism feels like and attack and so I will get defensive
  • More vertically developed: Constructive criticism is an opportunity to learn and grow and so I will embrace it instead of reject it

In both instances, they are seeing the same thing, but making meaning of it with different levels of cognitive and emotional sophistication.

Let’s see how this plays out in leadership.

Examples of Cognitive and Emotional Sophistication in Leaders of Musicians

The first video clip comes from the movie, Pitch Perfect. While this is, of course, fictional; I do not think it is far-fetched. Instances like this happen all of the time.

The idea presented, although not presented in the best way, was a game-changing idea. But, the leader dismissed it, largely because of her own fears and insecurities connected to a lack of cognitive and emotional sophistication.

(It appears she was operating in Mind 1.0 or Mind 2.0; see below)

Watch this next clip of Benjamin Zander, the founder and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and ask yourself, “How would Benjamin Zander have reacted to the suggestion to try something new?”

With an attitude to help “awaken possibility in other people” and have their “lights shine,” it seems unlikely that he would have tersely shut down the idea to try something different. In fact, I think he would have embraced it.

(It appears he operates more in Mind 3.0; see below)

Can you feel the difference in cognitive and emotional sophistication between the two leaders? Who would you rather follow? Who would you rather be?

If we want to be a positive influence within our spheres of responsibility, it will require that we vertically develop.

More about Vertical Development

If you want to learn more about vertical development, download my Vertical Development White Paper.

Also, developmental psychologists have found that there are three different levels of vertical development. I call these Mind 1.0, Mind 2.0, and Mind 3.0, because they are representative of our internal operating system.

At each level, we are internally programmed to fulfill different needs:

  • Mind 1.0: Safety, comfort, and belonging (i.e., standing in)
  • Mind 2.0: Advancing, winning, and/or getting ahead (i.e., standing out)
  • Mind 3.0: contributing, adding value, and lifting

Also, developmental psychologists have found the following statistics about where people generally operate:Vertical Development Example 1