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  • Writer's picturekimhafjall

Vertical Development Approaches

Developing skills takes time. There is a significant difference between learning and applying a skill in horizontal versus vertical development.

Horizontal Development

Horizontal development refers to the development you get from learning new stuff. From childhood, you develop new skills. From early days through parents, other adults and daycare institutions. Later through various schools, educational directions and other professionals. When starting a professional career, most corporates continue investing in their people's development. Often with the most focus on horizontal development - more tangible skills. Be it in the form of courses, upscaling of qualifications, or using new systems and techniques. It all helps the individual to become broader in their skillset. It teaches valuable skills needed to carry out jobs effectively and often has positive spillover effects on how you manage your life.

Vertical Development

You also develop vertically throughout your life. From early on, you go through various stages of development. Gradually you increase your understanding of yourself, begin to observe others, and slowly start to understand your strengths. Equally, you must accept that you are not perfect and that there is still room for further development. Thus, vertical development focuses on the various capacities built inside yourself as you grow. New capacities build on capacities developed in previous stages.

When you vertically develop, you either "add" a new way of thinking, approaching and doing things or strengthen an existing one that is not so strong. You, therefore, need to "replace" a given "preferred" approach in addressing specific types of problems or challenges with a new one or become more comfortable in a given approach you don't master that well yet. It means that you now have more ways of approaching challenges or getting a new preferred way of approaching them. Changing human behaviour is slow and requires much focus - it takes time. Human behaviour is often driven by our unconsciousness, which primarily draws on habits. That way, your brain keeps energy consumption to a minimum, and you can argue that your brain is lazy and chooses the least demanding approach. It requires far more from the brain to do something new. Try to brush your teeth with the opposite hand that you usually use! The first time, you need to concentrate and think about every move. If you continue for 30 days, it will gradually become a new habit, and you can now brush your teeth with either hand. Which do you think you will use – if you are not consciously thinking about it on day 31?

Leadership Skills and Capacities

Imagine you operate solidly at the Expert stage. Let us assume you find it challenging to provide feedback to others. There may be many reasons for this. It could be routed back to your childhood or teens, where you may have had unpleasant experiences with this; thus, you have found ways to avoid giving feedback (or receiving it). Each time you need to, you automatically fall back into avoiding it. You may accept a particular behaviour compared to having to confront a person. Or tell yourself that it is not your problem; thus, you do not need to face the person or that someone else should do it (like asking your HR business partner or colleague/manager). Suppose you now want to build the capacity to provide feedback (including negative ones). In that case, you need to hardcode your brain into "I can do this" and develop successful ways to put you at ease; hence, you can build solid capacities with this.

One approach when you want to become better at providing feedback can be the following. First, you "observe" the topic you wish to address. Your self-awareness will help you uncover the underlying behaviour and root of the behaviour. The next is to analyse. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence, fear of the receiver's reaction, or a desire to please that causes you to feel uncomfortable. Once you've rooted this out, what will you do about it? Lay out a "strategy". Perhaps you could set a goal to give feedback to three persons over the next month. Maybe you role-play with a friend before approaching the first person. And eventually, you execute your strategy (taking actions). Finally, and importantly, the loop starts again. You observe and assess the outcome of your actions - what went well and what you should do differently next time. You set another goal that builds on your learnings and creates a new strategy. It is a cycle that will vertically develop you repeatedly (see Figure);

Expert to Achiever Example

The approach is slightly different when you need to move up and operate at a higher vertical stage. Instead of improving an existing skill or capacity, you must learn a new one. Let us assume that you still work solidly at the expert level. Your approach is very much task oriented. You lead a team of five and mostly see your leadership role as helping the employees become better at solving their tasks. You, therefore, approach team members with feedback on their tasks and point out how they can approve. Suppose you want to develop another approach to leadership, like coaching and developing the team members to become more self-aware and grow as employees. In that case, you need to focus on them as persons, their behaviours and less on their tasks. You need to apply a new way of engaging with your team and hardcoding your brain into trying new approaches that focus on coaching and providing feedback on their behaviour and practice. You have now been used to only concentrating on their tasks and how they can improve, so just observing people with a different lens is a challenge.

Make the right call regarding when you should focus on the task they are working on or their personal development. Applying the same strategy of observing-analysing-strategising-take actions can help lift you. However, it requires a lot in the beginning to change focus; at first, it may feel uncomfortable trying new ways unfamiliar to you. Your surroundings may also be puzzled by your new approach. But it is paramount that you now choose the new approach as often as possible; hence it becomes your preferred one.

Achiever to Catalyst Example

Another example may be that you want to vertically develop from the Achiever to the Catalyst level and strengthen your stakeholder understanding. One effective way to do this is by strengthening your self-awareness to a level where you can begin to see the image of yourself as just an image. It is not the truth. It is not you. This understanding will make you self-acceptance regarding your weaker points and how you see others. One exercise is to understand yourself better. Become aware of how your upbringing, childhood, socioeconomic class, and national culture bias your beliefs and values, how it all colours your perception so far, and makes your evaluation and views of things very subjective. As you look more into how this has coloured you so far, you begin to develop an ability to understand perspectives different from yours more deeply. Your ability to reflect is essential in this journey. Gradually your empathy deepens, and you will start to envisage how it must be to "be" someone else (not only imagine their feelings and thoughts but feeling inside). This journey can be unpleasant at times, as it requires that you come to terms with your "real" you. It will also help you understand that others (stakeholders) are also coloured, and your approach to them softens as you now better understand where they are coming from. Your ability to engage and work with stakeholders improves as you develop.

Support in the Development

Mentors, colleagues, friends or family (especially if they operate at higher vertical stages) can help you identify the most vital areas to work on first. An executive coach may sometimes be more helpful in accelerating vertical development. As the coach will have no personal relations with the coachee, it provides a neutral space for a person to explore new ways of doing things and become more conscious of limitations and other factors preventing the person from developing. Talking about your views and perceptions with a non-judgmental coach can be easier than with a friend or family member. The coach can then play back; what you explain is the truth for you - and in that way, help you realise how you may be driven by unconscious beliefs and thoughts that are not rooted in reality but in your unconsciousness. In addition, coaching techniques are an effective tool to help people create new ways of addressing challenges. The solution is developed by the coachee and thus more fit for the person than the advice or guidance often given by a colleague, friend or family - delivered with the best intentions.

One final piece of advice. Do not work on too many objectives at the same time. When doing so, you will most likely gain nothing. Focusing on one or two capacities makes you more likely to succeed.


Are you interested in discussing how you can Vertically Develop?

Get in touch today for a quick and informal chat. You've got nothing to lose - this one's on me. It starts with the simplest of things - a meaningful conversation.


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