Is vertical development missing from your L&D plan?


In 2020, many organizational leaders surveyed their workforces and found they were missing key players – not just to execute their business strategy, but to guide it. With an uncertain future, they needed leaders with a specific skill set: the ability to make decisions without having access to all the information. What if those decisions don’t go as planned? They needed leaders who could be agile in the face of ambiguity.

As companies struggle to fill their leadership positions, talent managers are shifting their focus from horizontal development, or skill acquisition, to vertical development. At its core, vertical development expands a person’s thinking capacity so that they can act in more complex and strategic ways.

Read on to find out why you should — and how you can — incorporate vertical development into your L&D strategy.

Do not neglect vertical development

In many organizations, leaders tend to rise through the ranks because they have expertise in a particular topic. They know how to perform vital organizational tasks and have deep technical expertise. They are therefore promoted to management positions.

However, when these leaders move into complex leadership roles, they often realize that “what got me here won’t get me there”, and that a technical expertise mindset is no longer enough. . They realize that when faced with an ambiguous challenge or the need to create an innovative business solution, different ways of thinking and operating are often required: a mindset that matches the complexity of the situation.

I recently worked with a group of high level executives in the healthcare industry. One participant acknowledged that his success-oriented mindset alienated his team members and created barriers. In his search for results, he realized he was missing the opportunity to bring diverse perspectives. Once he understood the need to expand his mindset beyond his desire to “get things done,” he was able to facilitate transformational conversations and collectively identify the solution with the greatest impact.

It’s not that skill development isn’t important; it’s rather more effective when combined with vertical development. The combination of the two allows leaders to act collaboratively and find validity in multiple perspectives. Leaders are able to make effective decisions based on constantly changing dynamics, even when they have less information at their disposal.

Helps expand mindsets

In vertical development, leaders learn to go through seven stages, called “states of mind” or “logics of action”: Opportunistic, Diplomat, Expert, Director, redefine, Transform and Alchemist. One mindset stage is not better than another; everyone has a value. Moving from one stage to the next requires fundamental shifts in how leaders see and make sense of the world around them.

In general, individual leaders – and their organizations – operate from a mindset based on how they interpret and react to the world around them. This could be considered their “center of gravity”.

Although we tend to gravitate towards the logic of action where we are most comfortable, we also have a “range”, which helps us adopt the most appropriate mindset for the situation and the context. For example, my center of gravity may be in the Achiever mindset, but my range is probably from Diplomat to Redefining.

Here’s an example of why leaders benefit from expanding their mindset: If a COO operates from an expert mindset, they can be well served in situations that require an expert in subject matter or specialized knowledge to solve a particular problem. But if she finds herself in an ambiguous situation and without a good answer, she can be better served with a mindset of redefinition, a mindset where she is able to step back and seek multiple possibilities and perspectives, of not knowing and looking for new ways. to address the situation.

When leaders have access to a wider range of mindsets, they are better able to manage uncertainty and complexity.

Accelerate vertical growth

When participating in horizontal skills development, leaders generally easily learn and integrate new skills. Vertical development, or expanding their mindset, is more difficult and more of a process.

Expanding your mindset means understanding your own center of gravity and then pushing yourself to expand your range. Ideally, you have the vertical range to access multiple stages, and within each stage you are able to explore what works and what doesn’t, and how that stage influences your thoughts and actions. .

Every day, a top leader can embody three or four states of mind, depending on the situation he is facing. Perhaps an Achiever mindset is appropriate for a meeting where the group is trying to meet a deadline, while a Transforming mindset is needed to navigate a future strategy session.

Once people become familiar with the stages of vertical development, they may be curious about the mindset they bring to situations and begin to cultivate more versatility and adaptability in the way they think and practice. ‘to act.

bring the heat

In the not so distant past, many leadership development courses, including those offered by the Center for Creative Leadership, incorporated “warm” experiences or extended assignments, designed to challenge leaders. In today’s ever-changing world, however, leaders come to the table with their own experiences of heat, from navigating the new hybrid workforce to keeping their businesses afloat during the pandemic.

What do your employees do when they experience this daily heat? Do they squat and use muscle memory to get by, or do they recognize the opportunity the heat presents and take advantage of it?

Talent managers are responsible for helping their employees take advantage of difficult circumstances and providing support to maximize their learning. If you throw your men into the fire without giving them a lifeline, they’ll burn themselves out – or they’ll get away with it in survival mode.

If, on the other hand, you expose them to these seven mindsets and engage them to leverage heat experiences for development, you can help them expand their range. Warmth experiences, combined with seeking conflicting perspectives and engaging in reflection, help accelerate mindset growth. Talent managers who support these three conditions provide their leaders with a crucial growth opportunity.

Guide Action Survey

At CCL, our leadership development incorporates “action research”, a term coined by leadership professor Bill Torbert and defined as the habit of continually questioning, reflecting and adjusting actions – even when these actions occur.

In vertical development, action research includes techniques such as dialogue, public learning, challenging assumptions, embracing different perspectives, asking powerful questions, giving and receiving feedback and demonstration of vulnerability.

The Action Inquiry provides the conditions for growth through the stages, as it teaches participants how to pause in the moment and tap into their current mindset. It’s an instant pulse that helps leaders see the full extent of a situation.

Look beyond skill sets to hire and promote talent

As organizations struggle to fill critical leadership positions, they may need to promote people to positions for which they lack the role-specific skills. If these leaders have the opportunity to broaden their outlook by emphasizing vertical development, they are in a better position to respond to the demands of their environment.

Talent managers who prioritize vertical development as well as skill development build their leadership bench with clutch players who thrive even when the stakes are high.

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