What is Leadership Development Really? Is it Working?

What is Leadership Development Really? Is it Working?

Article first published by Dr. Teri Baydar, November 21, 2017 on AceUp.

In his white paper, Future Trends in Leadership Development, Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership points out that “leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment” and that “Managers have become experts on the “what” of leadership, but novices in the “how” of their own development.”

The understanding of how leadership development is or is not effective in employee development hinges on clarifying the two kinds of development of the human being.

The first kind of self development is the learning of skills and competencies referred to as horizontal development (skills, abilities, behaviors). This is akin to the tool belt of competencies that an individual can perform adequately, like using a platform, speaking a language, problem solving, understanding and following a process, management skills, good communication, good presentation or presence, etc.

The second kind of self development is vertical development. This is not a competency per se, but a mature and wise way of being. Through the adoption of a continuous growth mindset, vertical development takes us up the ladder of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs towards self actualization or individual realization. At each higher level of development, we make sense of our world in more complex and inclusive ways, displaying higher human, strategic and visionary capacities. Through this process our minds and hearts grow bigger, opening up new ways of thinking and doing.

In their book, Transforming Your Leadership Culture, Center for Creative Leadership Fellows John McGuire and Gary Rhodes explain:

“Organizations have grown skilled at developing individual leader competencies, but have mostly ignored the challenge of transforming their leader’s mindset from one level to the next. Today’s horizontal development within a mindset must give way to the vertical development of bigger minds.”

This vertical development – or true personal development – is the core of leadership effectiveness, innovation, and successfully leading through change. It is the quality and personal development of the individual human inside the professional that gives rise to effective leadership. Without that vertical development there will be no effective leadership, just an ever- increasing display of basic competencies.

Vertical development translates into human qualities such as self awareness, emotional intelligence, mental agility, lower stress reactions, higher complex problem solving capabilities, higher sense of responsibility, strategic vision, inspiration and motivation, and even random acts of kindness in the workplace.

Leadership effectiveness requires vertical development and yet this self development process has been greatly ignored or traditionally only provided to the elite echelons of management.

Like a boss

In today’s fast paced, agile, meritocracy workplace, these vertical capacities are very much needed at all levels of the organization. Unfortunately, the typical leadership pipeline is far too skimpy to meet the needs of today’s companies.

Studies have shown that less than 8% of managers have reached a level of thinking that allows them to engage in strategic thinking, collaboration, systems thinking, leading change, and having “comfort with ambiguity.” These are the very qualities required to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace.

So why is this happening to us? Think of it like this: We pile on all of the horizontal development tools (skills, competencies, behaviors, etc.) to our increasingly heavier tool belt. It ultimately gets really heavy and we can no longer take the weight of all there is to do in a day. You feel me?

Vertical development is the support that allows the individual to move freely with strength, confidence, and wisdom to deploy all the tools in that super duper tool belt of competencies.

Those individuals who pass into this vertical development mindset, are ripe to enter into strategic leadership positions as they naturally display that rare and revered leadership ‘know-how’ while still using the horizontal competencies they have picked up on their career path.

One of my mentors, Kevin Cashman, best selling author of Leadership from the Inside Out made the following point to me in a session as we spoke of the importance of authentic personal development in our clients:

“There is no way that these high performing individuals can do their jobs well and remain human beings without uncovering and developing the higher self.”

So…How do we develop the whole person inside the professional?

We have all experienced really “bad leadership” at some point in our lives. It really boils down to the lack of personal evolutionary development of said leader and their personal capacity to handle a situation. The only remedy for this is the transformation, growth, and evolution of the individual’s mindset and being. The best way to do this is through the process of continued personal growth and self development.

Somehow we have developed the idea that personal transformation is not supposed to happen in the workplace but in our private lives. Only, we spend at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at work. We call this work-life balance as if work and life are some how in opposition to one another.

Instead, I propose a different view. That work is a part of life just like health, family, relationships, money, education, spirituality and all the rest. I suggest that we no longer be in the mindset that we need to leave ourselves at home when we go to work, but show up as full fledged human beings.

Having worked with clients to discover and develop their whole self – instead of compartmentalizing their work and real life selves – I have the joy of witnessing first hand the positive changes this approach to professional and personal development has yielded.

Clients have told me:

  • “I just had this epiphany that it’s me. I am the one in charge of my life.”
  • “I no longer feel like an imposter. I now know in my heart that I have a place on the executive team and that I can totally do the job. Somehow I belong there. My puzzle piece matches! ”
  • “I am not scared to stand up and present anymore. I feel like there is this new presence inside me that gives me strength.”
  • “It’s like I have some new kind of x-ray vision that shows me what’s really going on and I am no longer blinded by all the bullshit and noise. I know what to do. And, people are even asking me for my opinion. That’s new!”

Through this transformative self development work my clients feel more empowered with a deep sense of belonging and knowing that they can tap into. They feel whole and “get noticed” as career and life opportunities open up.

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