Vertical Development

“Seeking the ideal has a long history, it produces many saints but few paradigm changes”. Dave Snowden

We work with developmental models and find them helpful in many ways, especially when working with leadership development. We draw on models from different researchers, such as Susanne Cook-Greuter (ego development), Bill Torbert (action logics), Robert Kegan (orders of consciousness and immunity to change) or Theo Dawson and her team (Lectica/LDMA).

We work with developmental models where they are adequate in order to cope with ever increasing complexity in the VUCA world. We don’t focus on teaching people to think at “higher levels”. “Higher levels of performance emerge when knowledge is adequately elaborated and the environment supports higher levels of thinking and performance. We focus on helping people to think better at their current level and challenging them to elaborate their current knowledge and skills”  (Theo Dawson).

We support people through working on building fundamental skills, like the ability to feel, the ability to direct one’s attention, to dis-identify from previously held viewpoints and identities, the ability to integrate projections and shadow material.  This work is directed inwards, bottom-wards, lateral, around, but not “up”. In this sense, vertical development can be a peculiar by-product and result of this kind of work. Often, we have found that an over-emphasis of vertical development as “growth” is often both counter-productive and partial.

This is why we hold “developmental logics” lightly, as so many people are mistaking vertical development for the ‘growth to goodness” and the ‘ladder of development’ for the only way how people learn, which is isn’t. Also, we are a bit suspicious of the promise of vertical development leading to greater success in both business and life. We don’t find real evidence for that correlation.

Teaching people at any level to gain awareness around their personal patterns and the ability to dis-identify with unreflected identities is the key for us.

This also has some implications for organisational development. This kind of work is fantastic for personal and leadership development, but the approach of “one consciousness at the time” doesn’t scale so well.

This is why we complement our development work with other approaches. We work with our clients to enable them to work in and with human systems and manage complexity and uncertainty. We work building capacities that enable them to participate fully and authentically in value creation and in organizational life with emergent outcomes and behaviors. We also work with approaches that engage employees and staff members of entire teams, departments, companies or communities. Read up on this approach here.

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