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Twenty years ago the accumulation of skills, knowledge and experience (‘horizontal development’) was sufficient for business success. Today, it’s not. 4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development, offers a new approach of ‘vertical development’.See Other Books
Business leaders are under enormous pressure to deliver results. Often the sheer enormity and complexity of the challenge they face is overwhelming.
In the recent past leaders responded by distilling the complexity into simplicity and leading from the front giving clear direction, often individually drawing on their own historical functional expertise.
In today’s markets this is an increasingly risky approach as leaders cannot be the singular source of thought leadership. Ambiguity, complexity and disruption reign supreme in today’s business world, and these phenomena will not go away. It is simply not possible for one individual to be across all the factors that might need to be considered by looking at challenges through one lens.
Noticing and understanding the interrelationships of all the systems at play and developing agile and differentiated strategies requires collective and highly collaborative ways of working. It also requires access to new ways of thinking, including the ability to sense and respond to emerging trends with speed and accuracy whilst delivering results short term. Such an ability requires the sensitive integration of multiple partial perspectives.
Unfortunately, these abilities may not come easily. Many organisations today are led by leadership cadres that have thrived and been rewarded by individualistic approaches. In fact, far from being diverse many senior level communities can be characterised as mono cultures. They are often insular and in the worst cases act like a self-referencing echo chamber. Group think abounds!
Furthermore, many leaders have developed and are strongly wedded to their own personal formula for getting results. These formulae, anchored in the past, are becoming less relevant to today’s complex multi-dimensional challenges.
These habitual patterns are hard to break. Changing them requires specialist professional intervention. Leaders need to develop the humility and acceptance that better answers might well be available elsewhere and that we might be better placed by listening to, assimilating and integrating more diverse perspectives. To do this requires leaders to have developed a level of maturity and sophistication and be willing to flex and develop a wider range of skills and behaviours than they may have needed up to now. In turn, this requires leaders to have an appetite for their own personal development.
Herein lies the problem. Leaders are restricted by the belief that they are what they are, a finished article, and have nothing more to learn. They are deluded by their echo chamber of like-minded leaders that maintain the view that their current modus operandi is right and fit for purpose.
To step up and be open to development takes enormous courage. Letting go of tried and tested formulae can feel very uncomfortable and risky, but let go we must. Moving on and up requires specific and carefully sequenced development interventions. It also requires an investment of time.
To persuade leaders to take the plunge requires a compelling description of what lies beyond. Developmental frameworks that describe clear levels of attainment are very helpful. Moreover, these frameworks must describe, in concrete and contextually relevant terms, what will be different because of the leader’s investment in their own development.
How will leaders develop genuine hunger and thirst for their own development and see this as commercially and personally relevant?
The first step is to help leaders see the limitations of their current ways of working and the commercial consequence of not changing. The second step is to excite leaders about how things could be different and better. And not just for their business, but for them personally too. Generating this excitement can be challenging because it is not always easy to see and understand what the next level offers you when you’re at the level below. One way to help is to quantify the benefits and measure the value in terms that resonate with the level at which they currently operate.
Moving up through the levels of development is something that we, at Complete Coherence, have been pioneering. We call it ‘vertical development’ and we have created a range of assessments that measure your current developmental level as a leader and tools to help you learn how to move up and realise the benefits of a higher level of development.
Given the need for more collaborative ways of working, cross functional alignment and integration of diverse perspectives, team development also needs to be high on the agenda.
This is often seen as a luxury, a discretionary investment best postponed to less pressured times. This is a dangerous view, most teams operate sub-optimally, and many are dysfunctional. To unlock the talent, realise the full potential and increase the speed with which leadership teams can positively impact sustainable business performance requires focused and regular attention. For businesses to develop competitive advantage, leadership teams must also develop vertically.
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