Vertical Leadership Development

Investments in leadership development should enable your team to dream big and execute your mission, but that’s easier said than done. Traditional development efforts  focus on building skills and competencies, which is insufficient for today’s multitude of complex challenges. This leaves your people unprepared to address the demands of a growing organization, and you’re left with a sunk cost that brought no real results. 

A better approach focuses on how people think, in addition to what they know

In addition to horizontal development, The Sparks Group concentrates on ‘vertical development,’ which does much more than simply add skills and competencies to your repertoire. It changes mindsets and enhances the ability to teach others how to be leaders themselves. 


What is Vertical Leadership Development?

Think of human beings like a smartphone. When you add apps (Netflix, Venmo, Waze, etc.) to the phone, it can do new things. This is like a person learning new skills. We call this horizontal development – adding new capabilities to the same human container. Vertical development, on the other hand, is akin to upgrading the operating system on the smartphone – it can do everything better and faster. For humans, this means being able to see and navigate more complexity, hold multiple perspectives and ideas simultaneously, and self-reflect and adjust more effectively.


An Example

Take performance management for example.

Imagine there's a manager who struggles to give candid feedback because he’s worried about being liked and people leaving if he’s too harsh. You, as this manager’s leader, want to help him develop to be better at giving feedback.

Horizontal development would entail teaching the manager what the company's performance management philosophy and process are and providing a tool or framework for how to structure feedback. This is a very common approach and has value, but it is insufficient.

Even though the manager learned about the performance management process and how to give feedback, this kind of development does not address the underlying beliefs that are getting in the manager’s way. Vertical development offers a deep understanding of how human thinking evolves and matures, so the manager would be invited to unpack his limiting beliefs, and then identify and experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving. This is a deeper, more powerful, more sustainable way of approaching development.

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Why Does it Matter?

The world is changing faster and getting more complex. We need leaders who can meet these challenges and not be overwhelmed by them. Research tells us that a leader’s stage(s) of vertical development are highly correlated with their leadership effectiveness and ability to achieve organizational outcomes.

While in general we need more leaders with more vertical capacity, we don’t just push vertical development for its own sake. The key question is about the fit between what someone is asked to do at work and in life and their stage(s) of development.


Why is It Different?

Vertical leadership development is different because, instead of investing in skills and competencies, you’re investing in growing human capacity. Vertical development shows leaders how to grow as a leader and a person. And as their capacity grows, they’re able to bring others along with them.

The traditional approach to leadership development is, in general, outdated - and, frankly, ineffective. Vertical leadership development stands out because, since it focuses on widening a person’s perspective and how they view themselves and the world, the benefits will last far into the future and benefit the organization indefinitely.

Vertical development is doing more than dumping information into people’s heads. It’s changing the way people think.


Overview of Benefits

It focuses on people and their unique wiring and needs, which makes for business-wide growth that starts at the root of the issue.

Vertical leadership development changes the way your people think, making your workforce more creative and agile.

It increases a person’s capacity for leadership, not just their skills, which enhances their potential to overcome challenges they face.

Are You Ready to Explore Vertical Leadership Development?

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