There are three primary conditions that when combined in different ways, produce different flavors of vertical leadership development.
The three primary conditions are:
1. Heat Experiences (The What)
The leader faces a complex situation that disrupts and disorients their habitual way of thinking. The leader discovers that their current way of making sense of the world is inadequate. Their mind starts to open and search for new and better ways to make sense of their challenge.
2. Colliding Perspectives (The Who)
The leader is then exposed to people with different worldviews, opinions, backgrounds, and training. This both challenges the leader’s existing mental models and increases the number of perspectives through which they can see the world.
3. Reflection (The How)
The leader then uses a process or a coach to help them integrate and make sense of these perspectives and experiences from more elevated stages of development. A larger, more advanced worldview emerges and, with time, stabilizes.
Many leadership programs contain one or two of the primary vertical conditions but not all three. The absence of one or more of these conditions weakens the opportunities for growth. For example:
Colliding Perspectives + Reflection (but no Heat) = The leader lacks a reason to grow. The leader treats the development process like an intellectual exercise. Any learning that does occur is “classroom learning” and little gets transferred back to the real world.
Heat Experiences + Reflection (but no Colliding Perspectives) = The heat produces positive disequilibrium for the leader who starts searching for new answers. However, because the leader is not exposed to fresh perspectives, they fall back into their status quo thinking and arrive at the same conclusions as before.
When you design leadership interventions (and workplaces) you want to create holding environments that support the leader’s experience of all three conditions.
Ideas for Practitioners
Ask leaders to reflect on how much they experience the three circles in their work and life. Most are surprised to see how out of balance they are (“I have lots of heat, but no reflection”). Your leadership programs are a great place to help people rebalance. Create safe environments for the leaders to reflect out loud on the heat experiences they are having. Continuously set up dialogues where they collide perspectives with others who see the world differently to them. Bring in outsiders who will both challenge the group (heat) and give them worldviews that clash with their own (colliding perspectives).
How do you bring the three circles into your leadership development work?
This is an excerpt from one of my whitepapers on vertical leadership development.