Why Organizations Need Vertical Development

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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A Big Problem Organizations are Facing

Organizations are increasingly recognizing that the complexity of the world their leaders are facing exceed their abilities to effectively navigate this complexity. The consequence of this is that most leaders are operating at a leadership deficit, with consequences that include exhaustion, burnout, turnover, and poor decision making.

Leadership Deficit

Organizations recognize that if they are going to be successful in the short term as well as the long term, they need to help their leaders elevate in their ability to navigate complexity and be agile and future-ready.

How do we help leaders elevate to operate at a higher level?

Traditional approaches to leadership development focus on helping leaders gain more knowledge, skills and competencies. This is called horizontal development.

Horizontal development is like adding an app onto an iPad. It is helpful in that it broadens the iPad’s functionality. But, it has a severe limitation: It does not help the iPad operate any more effectively than what it could previously.

The same goes for horizontal leadership development. Helping leaders gain more knowledge, skills, and competencies will broaden their functionality, but it will not elevate their ability to effectively navigate change, stress, uncertainty, and complexity.

If we want to elevate leader’s ability to effectively navigate change, stress, uncertainty, and complexity, we need to engage in vertical development.

What is vertical development?

If we want to improve an iPad’s ability to operate more effectively, rather than download new apps onto it, we need to upgrade its operating system.

Vertical development accomplishes just that with leaders. Specifically, vertical development is a cutting-edge form of development that focuses on upgrading leaders’ internal operating system.

Vertical development involves:

  • Improving how leaders’ making meaning of their world
  • Broadening their window of tolerance
  • Elevating their emotional intelligence
  • Helping them become more complex thinkers
  • Helping them develop an infinite mindset
  • Helping them become more psychologically flexible
  • Helping them become more intellectually humble

Research on Vertical Development of Leaders

Research on vertical development has found that there are three levels of vertical development that leaders can operate from, and only a small minority operate at the highest level: Mind 3.0.

Mind 2.0 leaders operate with an internal operating system that can be classified as “progress makers.” They generally are good at hitting clear benchmarks, but they are often not very good at being agile or navigating complexity.

Mind 3.0 leaders operate with an internal operating system that can be classified as “value creators.” Because they can see and operate with greater complexity, they are able to create transformational change in their organization.

The table below identifies the differences in leaders’ internal operating systems at different vertical altitudes. The table also presents how common it is to find leaders at these different altitudes.

differences in leaders internal operating systems

The Impact of Vertical Development

Vertical development is all about helping leaders to elevate, or “level up,” and it can be transformationally helpful. The traditional horizontal development approach of helping leaders “tool up,” can only be incrementally helpful.

The six laws of vertical development explain why vertical development can be so impactful:

laws of vertical development for leaders

How Ryan Gottfredson Can Help

Ryan Gottfredson can help you engage in the cutting-edge work of vertically developing its leaders and believes this effort can not only be a competitive advantage for the organization, but also elevate the value of your organization for all stakeholders.

The process of vertical development generally proceeds as follows:

Step 1: Create Awareness

The first step of any vertical development efforts is to help leaders become aware of vertical development, help them awaken to their current vertical altitude, and help them see what they can develop into. If leaders can’t see a gap between where they are and where they can be, they won’t have any reason or motivation to elevate.

This step generally involves:

  • Introductory workshops
  • Self-assessments
  • Coaching
    • 90-degree feedback
    • Vertical development exercise to get clear on specific mental blocks and mindsets that are keeping a leader stuck in Mind 1.0 or Mind 2.0

Step 2: Elevate Mindsets

The formal definition of vertical development is: Elevating leaders’ ability to make meaning of their world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways. If we want that to occur, we have got to focus on their “meaning makers.” Their meaning makers are their mindsets.

This step can involve any of the following:

  • The creation of a personal vertical development plan
  • Continued workshops
  • Book clubs
  • Small little interventions repeated over time (e.g., questions during meetings, empathy museum, reading books, journaling)
  • Trauma therapy (When people have been through trauma, rewiring their internal operating system can take some deeper work)

Step 3: Create a Rising Tide

When a leader vertically develops, it creates a rising tide that lifts all ships.

Studying the most vertically developed leaders, I have learned that they have the unique ability to help those around them operate at a higher level, and they do four specific things to help create that lift:

  1. Develop a clear, meaningful, and stakeholder-centric purpose
  2. Develop clear values and lovingly hold others accountable to those values
  3. Create an environment of psychological safety
  4. Develop a comprehensive strategic plan to fulfill the clear, meaningful, and stakeholder-centric purpose

Ryan generally facilitates interactive workshops to help leaders develop all four of these components.

Working With Ryan

If you would like to bring vertical development into your organization to level up your leaders, contact Ryan here.

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