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4D Leadership

4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development

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’.

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Book Review: 4D Leadership


4D leadership, competitive advantage through vertical leadership development by Dr Alan Watkins

Book review by Frank Dillon, Irish Times

Mon, Jan 18, 2016

The need for authentic leadership has been a recurring theme of management books lately. Powerful authentic leaders, it is now widely accepted, bring a wider sense of themselves to the workplace and can inspire those around them.

This book suggests taking this to a higher level. Author Dr Alan Watkins is founder and chief executive of Complete Coherence, a consultancy that combines the latest approaches in neuroscience, physiology and systems theory to the challenges faced by business leaders.

Watkins works from a model developed by philosopher Ken Wilber, which organises the entire human experience into three dimensions: the objective, the subjective and the interpersonal.

Watkins describes various personality types including one-dimensional managers who focus on a purely functional task-orientated role as well as those who choose to immense themselves in the service of others, overdoing it to the point where they become ill. Then there are spiritual types who have cultivated a quiet tranquil mind and who are capable of piercing insight into the human condition.

Exceptional leaders understand and move between all three dimensions, developing vertically in each, becoming the “4D leaders” of the book’s title. Unfortunately very few people develop their intellectual capabilities beyond the level of where they were as teenagers.

This, the author says, is why we see so many power battles at the top of companies, “toys out of the pram” episodes, tantrums, bullying and all manner of activities that are more suitable to the playground than the corporate boardroom.

Vertical development of the leadership cadre is the single biggest determinant of success; if ignored, the single biggest obstacle to growth and research quoted here suggests that the more sophisticated a leader, the greater their ability to drive organisational transformation.

When leaders develop vertically to become 4D leaders, they unlock whole new levels of capability that can transform performance.

They often have significantly increased energy levels, are much more resilient and are less easily exhausted. Their leadership presence increases and they are more cognitively sophisticated to the point where they can understand multiple layers of complexity and polarity.


The good news, according to the author, is that we are all capable of developing. It requires a focus on upgrading our operating system, not just on adding on “more apps” in the form of skills and experience. The book explores this in detail across what it calls the eight “most commercially relevant lines of development” for most businesses. These lines are: physical, emotional, cognitive, ego, values, behaviour, connection and impact.

Multiple tools are described in the main body of the text. Deep network analysis is one example that can help managers understand how their business works in reality as opposed to in theory. It can help us pinpoint who to bring into negotiations, who is developing strategy and who is important in respect of employee engagement.

A business that is suffering from poor employee engagement, for example, can use network analysis to identify the people in the network who are highly emotionally connected. These are the individuals who energise those around them, so investing in them could significantly affect engagement without having to put everyone through a programme.

Network analysis allows us to identify who needs what development, so the development can be tailored to the needs of individuals.

By contrast, dunking everyone in the team-building course or in sales training is a colossal waste of time and money and deeply demoralising for most.

Watkins says relationships are increasingly important at the senior levels of business. It’s as if the rules of the game that elevated leaders up the corporate ladder, ie high technical skills and low people focus, have become inverted on entry to the C-suite. It can come as a nasty shock to many to realise that they are not equipped for the demands of people leadership

Practical as well as interesting, the book contains summarised action points throughout and should be of interest to leaders, aspiring leaders and human resources practitioners.

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