What is Leadership Really? Is it Working?

Teri Baydar

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In his white paper, Future Trends in Leadership Development, Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership points out that "leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment," and that "managers have become experts on the 'what' of leadership but novices in the 'how' of their development."

Understanding how leadership development is or is not effective in employee development hinges on clarifying the two kinds of human development.

The first kind of self-development is learning skills and competencies referred to as "horizontal development skills" (skills, abilities, and behaviors). These skills are akin to the tool belt of competencies that an individual can adequately perform, like using a platform, speaking a language, solving a problem, understanding and following a process, having satisfactory management skills, exhibiting good communication, giving a valuable presentation, having a strong presence, etc.

The second kind of self-development is vertical development. Vertical development is not a competency per se but a mature and wise way of being. Through adopting a continuous growth mindset, vertical development takes us up Maslow's hierarchy of needs toward self-actualization or individual realization. At each higher developmental level, we make sense of our world in more complex and inclusive ways, displaying higher human, strategic, and visionary capacities. Through this process, our minds and hearts grow bigger, opening up new ways of thinking and doing.


Photo by Fredrick Kearney on Unsplash.

In their book, Transforming Your Leadership Culture, Center for Creative Leadership fellows John McGuire and Gary Rhodes explain:

Organizations have grown skilled at developing individual leader competencies but have mostly ignored the challenge of transforming their leader's mindset from one level to the next. Today's horizontal development within a mindset must give way to the vertical development of bigger minds.

This vertical development—or true personal development—is the core of leadership effectiveness, innovation, and successful change. This development is the quality and personal development of the individual human inside the professional that gives rise to effective leadership. Without that vertical development, there will be no effective leadership—just an ever-increasing display of basic competencies.

Vertical development translates into human qualities like self-awareness; emotional intelligence; mental agility; lower stress reactions; higher, complex problem-solving capabilities; a higher sense of responsibility; strategic vision; inspiration; motivation; and even random acts of kindness in the workplace.

Leadership effectiveness requires vertical development, yet this self-development process has been greatly ignored or traditionally only provided to the elite echelons of management.


Photo by Rawpixel.com on Unsplash.

In today's fast-paced, agile, meritocratic workplace, these vertical capacities are much needed at all levels of an organization. Unfortunately, the typical leadership pipeline is far too skimpy to meet today's companies' needs.

Studies have shown that less than eight percent of managers have reached a level of thinking that allows them to engage in strategic thinking, collaboration, systems thinking, change, and "comfort with ambiguity." These are the qualities required to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace.

So, why is this happening to us? Think of it like this: we pile on all the horizontal development tools (skills, competencies, behaviors, etc.) to our increasingly heavy tool belt. The belt gets too heavy, and we can no longer take the weight of all there is to do in a day. You feel me?

Vertical development is the support that allows the individual to move freely with strength, confidence, and wisdom to deploy all the tools in that super-duper tool belt of competencies.

Those individuals who pass into this vertical development mindset are ripe to enter into strategic leadership positions as they naturally display that rare and revered leadership know-how while still using the horizontal competencies they have picked up on their career path.

One of my mentors, Kevin Cashman—best-selling author of Leadership from the Inside Out—made the following point to me in a session as we spoke of the importance of authentic personal development in our clients:

There is no way that these high performing individuals can do their jobs well and remain human beings without uncovering and developing the higher self.

So, how do we develop the whole person inside the professional?

We have all experienced bad leadership at some point in our lives. It all boils down to the lack of personal evolutionary development of the leader and their capacity to handle a situation. The only remedy for this is the transformation, growth, and evolution of the individual's mindset and being. The best way to do this is through continued personal growth and self-development.

Somehow, we have developed the idea that personal transformation is not supposed to happen in the workplace but in our private lives. Only, we spend at least eight hours a day and five days a week at work. We call this "work-life balance," as if work and life are somehow in opposition to one another.


Photo by Priscilla-du-Preez on Unsplash.

Instead, I propose a different view. That work is a part of life, just like health, family, relationships, money, education, spirituality, and all the rest. I suggest that we no longer be in the mindset that we need to leave ourselves at home when we go to work, but show up as full-fledged human beings.

Having worked with clients to discover and develop their whole selves—instead of compartmentalizing their work and real-life selves—I have the joy of witnessing first hand the positive changes this approach to professional and personal development has yielded.

Clients have told me:

  • "I just had this epiphany that it's me. I am the one in charge of my life."

  • "I no longer feel like an imposter. I now know in my heart that I have a place on the executive team and that I can do the job. Somehow I belong there. My puzzle piece fits!"

  • "I'm not scared to stand up and present anymore. I feel like there is this new presence inside me that gives me strength."

  • "It's like I have some new x-ray vision that shows me what's really going on, and I am no longer blinded by all the bullshit and the noise. I know what to do. And people are even asking my opinion. That's new!"



Through this transformative self-development work, my clients feel more empowered with a deep sense of belonging and knowing that they can tap into it. They feel whole and "get noticed" as career and life opportunities open up.

Dr. Teri Baydar works with individuals who seek to step up to the next level in their organizations and communities. She provides a coaching and training program that puts personal development back into leadership development. She believes that developing whole human beings creates effective leaders for a better world.

Learn more about Dr. Teri and White Lily Individual Development.

Originally published on AceUp.

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