Growing up – Why vertical development is the key to growing capacity

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Anyone can set themselves up as a coach, and while certifying organisations, who set themselves up as such, may offer some guide to quality, there is no widely agreed standard in the UK or internationally. As a result, it is very difficult for many organisations to know what a good coach looks like. Companies don’t have time to sift through thousands of profiles on LinkedIn and if, like most people, you just follow the recommendation of a colleague, how do you know that the person suggested is right for you or is suitable for your organisation?

Traditionally leaders have been developed by giving them additional skills, knowledge or experience.  While a leader needs a firm foundation of capability, they also need to build enhanced capacity.  And that’s where vertical development comes in.

How much better to expand our capacity, than to continually add more and more demands on our capabilities. Vertical development is a bit like an operating system upgrade. Horizontal development, on the other hand, is adding more and more software into a leader’s existing operating system.

As we grow, or mature, vertically we expand our capacity for understanding ourselves and our experiences – we see the world with different eyes.  We are able to develop more sophisticated ways of thinking, greater wisdom, and clearer insights.

How to develop vertically

In Coherence: The Science of Enlightened Leadership, I describe four critical processes that determine the speed at which a leader can develop vertically.


First, leaders must awaken to vertical development, and this is challenging because how we see the world is limited by the level we’re at.  It can be difficult to imagine the view from higher up and it is uncomfortable heading up into the ‘unknown’.  Effective assessment of leaders can help to raise awareness of the other levels that are open to us in vertical development.


Reaching a new level of leadership takes more than just intellectually ‘getting it’ – leaders must put in effort to grow up to that level.  Coaches can support this transition, but it’s important that they have developed vertically themselves to successfully guide others. 


As leaders develop, they can own up to ‘shadow’ characteristics that are considered unhealthy, such as being excessively detailed. They can understand how to value and work with these characteristics rather than try to suppress them. Integrating the shadow enables leaders to let go of baggage and become ‘lighter’.  Traditional leadership development rarely addresses the need to ‘enlighten’ leaders, instead seeing the shadow as faults to feedback and correct.


Alongside the processes of evolving and becoming enlightened, a leader will need to authentically embody their new version of self.  The most effective leaders often have a nourishing presence, tremendous energy and powerful concentration.  These are key qualities necessary to meet the challenges of leading in today’s complex and ever-changing world.

The vertically development leader

The result of vertical leadership development is huge benefits both personally and organisationally, including:

  • Greater energy and cognitive capacity
  • Increased capacity for emotional self-management and relationship building
  • Better ability to engage, inspire and align people within a culture
  • Stronger team fellowships with enhanced cross-functional collaboration

Vertical development should be at the heart of every organisational L&D programme. Its benefits transcend work and the individual, to reach every part of our lives and our organisations.

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