Vertical Development

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

At EZCP 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 do not teach 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).

At EZC.Partners we support people through capacity building of 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. We teach them the ability to take, seek and coordinate perspectives. 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. In fact, 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 very suspicious of the promise of vertical development, implicitly and explicitly, more success in both business and life. We don´t find 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. And yes, that can result in a process that brings people from a socialised to a self-authoring and eventually a self-transforming mind – in Kegan´s terms. The way to go up is down.

This also has 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 well at all.

This why we complement our development work, developing leaders’ capacity to handle highly complex and uncertain working environments, with other approaches, that work with people, employees and staff members of the entire team, department, company or community with what is actually happening, without any trace of them needing vertical development to perform better. Read up here.


What are your thoughts?


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