Why Vertical?

By Carl Sanders-Edwards

Aug 21

Carl Sanders-Edwards shares his thoughts on why vertical development is beginning to thrive in the world of leadership development (four minute read)

The world faces many complex opportunities and challenges.  For example global mobility, technology and population growth are contributing to:

  • Social changes such as the opportunity and challenge of immigration
  • Economic changes including automation and more global (and restricted) trade
  • Environmental changes such as climate change

These are examples of the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in.  The same VUCA challenges play out on a smaller scale daily in most of our work.  Despite (or because of) our technological advancements life and work isn’t simple and predictable.

However I believe that on a case by case basis we have the technologies to solve these big challenges.  For example, ‘Project Drawdown’ outlines 100 initiatives that could reverse climate change while delivering a positive return on investment.  Therefore our technologies aren’t the constraint.  We are.  The challenges are beyond any one person, one organization or one nation to solve.  Our ability to lead and mobilize people to act positively in this complex environment is the constraint.  We need a very large number of capable people (I prefer to say people than say ‘leaders’) who are equipped and evolved to deal with today’s reality.

The good news is that we can develop such leadership.  Adult developmental theory has shown that humans naturally develop through predictable stages.  Later stages have more capacity to deal with complexity and are more able to bring about the leadership we need as a species and a planet.  We call this ‘Vertical Development’. 

There are many benefits to vertical development, not just saving the planet!  Organisations speak to the importance of collaboration, listening and fostering diversity and inclusion in their leaders.  Training courses to develop these capacities are created and delivered costing billions annually.  This type of development is called horizontal development and is important.  However when a person develops vertically they have more capacity and can ‘see’ more of the complexity in the environment they face.  They naturally realise that they alone can’t create solutions and therefore need to listen, collaborate and foster diverse thinking.  They then either go learn on their own accord or respond to formal training more effectively.

It’s easier said than done.  Vertical development takes time, is driven by experiences not content and requires a big mindset shift for most leadership development practitioners.   Also, the field of Vertical development is new and proven approaches and case studies are hard to find.

It is for these reasons that I believe our focus and investment in advancing the space of Vertical development is worth the effort.  Taking actions and reflecting or ‘having experiences’ is central to our leadership development approach and puts us in a unique space to do some very special things.   


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