Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
28 Oct 2014

The future of development is vertical

28 Oct 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Understanding vertical development

If your business enjoys a competitive advantage, beware – the ‘game’ is changing so quickly that it might be lost in just a few months. Conversely, if your business is struggling to compete, take heart – you could leapfrog the competition within a year. In both scenarios, the only thing likely to protect or enable your success is vertical development.

Upgrade your operating system

Vertical development is not about acquiring skills that enable you to be slightly more proficient – that is learning. It’s about unlocking higher levels of capability and upgrading your operating system to step change performance.

Picture a six-year-old child looking at a page of algebra. Their frontal cortex has not yet developed to enable them to think in an abstract way, so they aren’t able to work it out. A 12-year-old child, meanwhile, is at the next developmental level – their brain has sped up and they are able to think in the abstract. Their ability to understand the algebra has come ‘online’.

The older child has a level of capability that did not exist when they were younger – they have made a quantum leap forward. Vertical development offers this for leaders.

There is no reason that the kind of development we see in children cannot continue into adulthood to enable us to thrive in today’s complex world. Unfortunately, very few leaders ever ‘upgrade their own personal operating system’ – because they don’t know how.

Power battles and immaturity

Most 14-year-olds can function pretty well in an adult world. Introduce them to your friends at a dinner party and they can hold their own in a conversation. After reaching this level of coping, there is no imperative for a 14-year-old to develop, so while they continue to learn, they don’t actually develop much.

Similarly, many executives are extremely knowledgeable about all manner of commercial activity. They may have experienced all kinds of market cycles, cultural challenges and geographic postings – but this is all learning, not development. So many leaders remain 50 years old on the outside and 14 on the inside. This is why we see many power battles at the top of companies: ‘toys out of the pram’ episodes in the boardroom, tantrums and bullying.

This lack of development is at the very heart of business success and failure. Recent research suggests that the more sophisticated a leader is, the greater their ability to drive organisational transformation.

Assessing your vertical development

Vertical development is objectively quantifiable through assessments that can help you jump to the next level. Of the different ‘lines of development’ that can be measured in a human being, there are only eight that really matter in most businesses: physical, cognitive, emotional, ego, values, behaviour, connection and impact.

A common start point is to look at the ‘physical line’, which defines how much raw energy we have and the quality of that energy. As a leader today, you need an endless supply of energy to drive your business forward. If your biology is in chaos, your brain can shut down and derail your leadership performance.

Your energy can be quantified by measuring your 24-hour heart rate variability (HRV). Developing more energy can start by learning to regulate your HRV through rhythmic breathing techniques and then learning to control your emotional state.

Next in need of attention is usually the emotional line because a lack of emotional and social intelligence will often derail development in all other lines.

Step changing capability in the emotional line is not simply about increased awareness, which is a ‘level two’ capability – it is also about cultivating increased emotional literacy (level four), emotional self-regulation (level five), emotional resilience (level six), self-motivation (level seven), optimism (level eight), empathy (level nine) and the ability to sustain positive relationships with people you don’t necessarily like – a level 10 skill which reveals you are truly socially intelligent. 

Emotional mastery and response-ability

The upgrade with the most dramatic effect is the jump from level four to level five. This upward transition in social intelligence is associated with the ability to master your own emotional state.

Most people believe that their emotional state is the result of other people’s actions – the thought that “you made me feel bad – you did it to me”. When you reach level five, you realise that no one is ‘doing it to you’, you do it to yourself. Your emotional state is down to you and you alone. This shift is truly game-changing – you move from a position of ‘victimhood’ to a position of ‘response-ability’, so titled because in this state of being you find yourself ‘able’ to control your own ‘response’.

The ability to change how you feel on demand, under any circumstance, is genuinely life-changing. You never have to feel anything you don’t want to feel ever again.

It takes time and practice – and high quality guidance from a brilliant coach – to reach level five in the emotional line of development, but it will probably make more difference to your career than anything else you ever do.