It’s a fact, some leaders operate at a higher level than other leaders.
From my experience as a leadership scholar and consultant, I have found that we can evaluate leaders along following continuums to be able to distinguish the degree to which they are lower-functioning or higher-functioning:
|Possess a low degree of emotional intelligence
|Possess a high degree of emotional intelligence
|Want short-term gains
|Want long-term success
|Rigidly hold onto the past
|Agilely move forward into the future
|Are focused on their personal success
|Are focused on the success of their team
Considering this table in light of Gallup’s research finding that only 18% of employees agreed that their manager demonstrates a high level of talent for managing others, we can surmise that the majority of leaders and managers in an organization struggle with at least one of the areas in the table above.
Honestly, I think most of us struggle with at least one of the areas in the table above.
This Begs Two Questions
If we fully appreciate the table above and the fact that most leaders have lower-functioning leanings, it gets me to wonder about two questions:
- Why are some leaders lower-functioning while others are higher-functioning?
- How can we take lower-functioning leaders and help them to become higher-functioning?
How well do you feel like you can answer these questions?
Allow me to attempt to answer these questions.
Why are some leaders lower-functioning while others are higher-functioning?
When I compare the characteristics of the lower-functioning leaders to the characteristics of the higher-functioning leaders, I first have to ask myself: Is the difference the result of a difference in knowledge, skills, and experience?
I think the answer to this question is: “It could be.”
But, I think a better explanation for why some leaders are lower-functioning while others are higher-functioning is: The higher-functioning leaders possess a higher-quality internal operating system.
What are leaders’ internal operating systems?
Computers have internal operating systems that:
- Controls and regulates the computer
- Operates automatically
- Undergirds everything that the computer does
- Contains programming that it is prone to replicate
Leaders also have an internal operating system that:
- Controls and regulates them
- Operates automatically
- Undergirds everything that they do
- Involves programming that it is prone to replicate
Leaders’ internal operating system is their nervous system, their body’s primary communication and regulation network. Psychologists have found that it explains 95% of how people think, feel, judge, and act. And, it largely operates at an automatic and nonconscious level.
The reality is that some leaders have a nervous system that is more refined and sophisticated than others.
When leaders have a more refined and sophisticated nervous system, they have a wider window of tolerance and have a greater capacity for being emotionally intelligent, purpose-focused, empowering, future-ready, agile, and team-focused.
But, when leaders do not have a very refined and sophisticated nervous system, they have a narrower window of tolerance and are prone to be less emotionally intelligent, purpose-focused, empowering, future-ready, agile, and team-focused.
But, good news: We can help leaders upgrade their internal operating system so that they can become high-functioning leaders.
How can we take lower-functioning leaders and help them to become higher-functioning?
At a foundational level, if we want to help a lower-functioning leader to become a higher-functioning leader, we need to upgrade and refine their internal operating system (i.e., their body’s nervous system).
We need to help them widen their window of tolerance. We need to help them to be wired less for self-protection and become wired more for value creation.
How do we do that?
How do we upgrade leaders’ internal operating systems?
There is only one form of development that focuses directly on upgrading leaders’ internal operating systems. That form of development is vertical development.
Vertical development is not about helping one improve their knowledge, skills, and capabilities (that is horizontal development). Vertical development is about refining one’s nervous system such that they elevate their ability to make meaning of their world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways.
For example, a leader might have an internal operating system that is programmed to automatically interpret failure as a sign that they are bad. This is self-protective programming that is justifiable. But, it is ultimately limiting for leaders because it prevents them from trying new things and taking on challenges (because doing so puts them at risk for failing). This is a less cognitively and emotionally sophisticated way to look at failure.
In this circumstance, vertical development is needed to help the leader refine and change how they automatically make meaning of failure from “failure is bad” to “failure is a valuable part of progress.” While failure can be a signal of a lack of talent, failure is often invaluable for one’s growth, development, and progress.
Horizontal development (our typical developmental approaches) is ill-suited to helping leaders change this internal programming.
What does vertical development look like?
Traditional leadership development (i.e., horizontal development) focuses on skill development. And, common efforts to develop skills involve:
- Identifying skill gaps,
- Practicing in an effort to close those gaps, and
- Providing coaching or support to speed up the closing of those gaps.
Vertical development (i.e., upgrading leaders’ internal operating systems) may involve similar efforts, but the focus of the development and efforts are dramatically different. Specifically, vertical development focuses on neural reprogramming. And, its core practices involved in upgrading one’s neural programming include:
- Awakening to one’s current neural patterns and programming,
- Practicing with alternative neural programming,
- Providing coaching to assist and support the awakening and practicing, and
- Engaging in exercises to activate and strengthen the value-creating mindsets of growth, open, promotion, and outward mindsets.
Vertical Development Case Study
To give you a sense of what this might look like, let’s consider Mike, a CEO of a mid-sized credit union. While he has been doing a good job as a leader, he has not been performing as a high-functioning leader. He and the organization have been struggling to effectively adapt to changing market conditions.
To help Mike, it is essential that we first investigate his neural patterns and programming. This might involve using a tool, like a mindset assessment, or a coach to reveal his current neural programming. It is likely that we would find that Mike has a fixed mindset and has neural programming that involves the beliefs that if he alters the way the credit union traditionally does business, then they may fail. And, if they fail in their efforts, then he will be seen as a failure. This is very common self-protective programming that prevents leaders from being agile and future-ready.
Having awakened to this programming, a coach could help Mike engage in experiments where he tests the beliefs. For example, he could try making a small adjustment to how the bank does business. If the small adjustment ends up being a failure, he’ll be able to assess whether or not he is viewed as a “failure.” It is likely that he won’t be viewed as a failure, but instead as an innovator who is willing to push the limits for the sake of progression.
Finally, knowing that a fixed mindset is a hurdle, a coach could structure a program where Mike engages in regular activities like watching videos, reading articles, and having discussions related to a growth mindset, which will help him to reprogram his internal operating system to possess more of a growth mindset.
Would you like to learn more about vertical development and how to employ it? Join my Vertical Development Community of Practice
If you would like me to help you integrate vertical development efforts into your work, let’s connect.