• nicholas petrie

What Is Vertical Leadership Development?




This week I want to introduce you to an idea that has obsessed me for the last 5 years – Vertical Development. One of the reasons that many leadership programs don’t work is that they don’t acknowledge that there are really TWO types of development that leaders require: horizontal and vertical.

Horizontal Development – refers to the adding of more knowledge, skills, and competencies. It is about what you know, which we can assess through measurement of competencies e.g.360-degree feedback.

Vertical Development – refers to advancement in a person’s thinking capability. The outcome of vertical stage development is the ability to think in more complex, systemic, strategic, and interdependent ways. It is about how you think, which we can measure through stage assessments.

Most leaders in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) work environments are suffering not from a lack of leadership knowledge or skills – ‘How do I empower staff again?’ But from the fact their vertical altitude is inferior to the complexity of their leadership challenges. As Robert Kegan, Harvard professor of adult development, would say – they are in over their heads. And yet most leadership programs don’t include the elements which help leaders grow vertically. So what to do?

To get started watch the video above where I explain the key components of Vertical Development to Phil Willburn. In the next post I will share how you can join a community of practitioners who are learning to design and deliver vertically focused leadership programs for their organizations.


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