The Growth Leadership Series – Part 1: Vertical Development


The pervasive view is that we all want to be leaders.  The difficulty is that the journey for leadership often has a defined goal – “the top.” If we maintain this view of leadership, it’s going to get crowded. Leadership is often perceived as holding positions of authority and achieving a particular place. The phrase leadership is a process has become widely used, but the culture of leadership as a “place” persists. The truth is, both of these understandings, that leadership is a position or that it is a process, are both missing the mark. Leadership is not a place or a destination, nor is it a “process” in it’s entirety. This perception of leadership enlivens the theory that leadership is about skills and technical knowledge. The need to shift the perspective of leadership from positional is long overdue – it needs to shift to leadership as growth.

It’s about Growth.

As the world’s needs and challenges continue to increase in complexity, the need to shift how we think about leadership and expand our sense of the world is a pressing one. Nick Petrie, from the Center for Creative Leadership, offered a white paper on “Future Trends in Leadership development” that outlined the need for “Vertical Development.” Vertical development represents the stages that people progress through in regard to how they “make sense” of the world (pg. 11). This is about expanding and shifting mindsets to see and build new possibilities. In contrast, horizontal development is about learning leadership techniques and technical skills in a currently existing framework and structure.

This shift toward vertical development is complex in itself. Vertical development must be earned (as opposed to learned), and consists of a three stage process as outlined by McGuire and Rhodes:

  1. “Awaken: The person becomes aware that there is a different way of making sense of the world and that doing things in a new way is possible.
  2. Unlearn and discern: The old assumptions are analyzed and challenged. New assumptions are tested out and experimented with as being new possibilities for one’s day-to-day work and life.
  3. Advance: Occurs after some practice and effort, when new ideas get stronger and start to dominate the previous ones. The new level of development starts to make more sense than the old one.” (Petrie, 2014, pg. 14)

Vertical development hinges on the ability of the leader to “awaken.” This requires exposure to new ways of thinking and recognizing that, within your current life structure, there are new ways of “seeing” things. With that in mind, this blog serves as part-1 in an 8-part series with the goal to “awaken” through a collection of insights about leadership. Below, you will find a brief description of each part in the series.

References: Petrie, N. (2014) Future trends in leadership development. Center for Creative Leadership 


The Growth Leadership Series: 

  1. Growth Mindset – If leadership is about growth at the core, then how we perceive ourselves, either as fixed (I am or am not) or as growing (I am not yet, but I can be), influences our ability to continually develop as leaders. This blog explores the important work of Carol Dweck, Ph.D. in understanding our mindset.
  2. Growth Language – As humans, we are hardwired for narrative. The stories we hear, and the stories we tell ourselves, have great influence and impact over our beliefs and actions. This blog examines the power of language in expanding our leadership mindset.
  3. Growth identity – Identities are powerful in shaping how we view ourselves and can either bolster or limit our growth. This blog delivers a structure for crafting and shaping a leadership identity built on growth.
  4. Growth as Resiliency – Challenges are the bedrock for growth. This blog offers insights into how to shift our perspective of challenges as opportunities for growth.
  5. Growth as Doing – At the core of growth is seeing what’s possible and building the way forward. Incremental practice and experimentation lead to growth. This blog offers insights into the mindset of experimentation and practice.
  6. Growth Awareness – As John Dewey noted, “we don’t learn by doing, we learn by thinking about what we do.” This blog examines the ways in which we can reflect to increase self-awareness and see new possibilities.
  7. Growth through Listening – The last blog in the series examines the power of listening as a tool for “awakening.” How growth as a leader is not about the answers, but about the questions that guide the journey.

About Author

Dave Newell is director of the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development.

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