MaST Business Forum - Taking Leadership Development To The Next Level - Summary

MaST Business Forum - Taking Leadership Development To The Next Level - Summary

15th March 2017


Facilitators: Sally Kleyn, Mark Mercer and Mark Hawkswell


The latest MaST Forum asked the question ‘If the Leadership landscape is increasingly complex, how are we developing our Leaders to meet this complexity?’.  A variation of the law of requisite variety (Ashby’s Law) states that our capacity to think must be at least as complex as the environment we are facing, otherwise we are doomed to failure.


Increasing complexity


During the first part of the session we explored the INSEAD research describing the increasing complexity that Leaders are facing:


  • Different stakeholders to manage 56%
  • Increase in cross-functional responsibilities 53%
  • Significant change in your business environment 49%
  • Increase in multinational scope of job 42%
  • 30% or more increase in the number of people working for you 41%
  • Start-up of a new business or market 22%


Horizontal and vertical development


We then explored the differences between vertical and horizontal development, which is also referred to as the difference between capabilities and capacity.


Horizontal development is the ‘what’, which is the teaching of skills and the passing on of knowledge.  Whereas vertical development is the ‘how’, which is about the way Leaders think - their ‘capacity’.  As Leaders develop vertically their ability to think more systemically and interdependently increases.


In our experience, most organisations and training providers focus on horizontal development.  They fill up the Leader’s bucket with a mixture of skills and knowledge, however, quite often Leaders know what they need to do, they may have been on several strategic thinking courses, but they still do not think strategically, or assertiveness courses but they are still not assertive.


Whilst the Leader knows what they need to do, they just cannot be what they need to be.  They have some reactive tendencies that prevent them from moving forward.  For example, it is going to be very difficult for Leaders to be assertive when they are ‘self-programmed’ to be compliant and passive, driven by an insatiable need to belong.


Vertical development focuses on changing the way a Leader thinks, at the same time reducing their reactive tendencies so that they develop the capacity to deal with the complexity that they are facing.  We are interested in moving them to a new psychological space so they can do more, in the same way that Windows 10 allows users to do more sophisticated tasks than Windows 95.


Stages of development


Adults progress though vertical stages of development.  At each stage of development a Leader’s capacity to think will become more evolved and, as a consequence, they will be able to do more.  So we should not be asking ourselves ‘Does our Leader understand the competency?’, but rather, ‘How does the Leader think about this competency and how do they express it?’.


This is how three Leaders might respond behaviourally to the competency of ‘dealing with conflict’, starting from a dependent to a more evolved interdependent mindset.


Conflict behaviours


  • Dependent - They will react to conflict by either complying (being passive), defending themselves (passive aggressive) or controlling (aggressive)
  • Independent - They will listen to others views whilst clearly outlining their own perspective.  Their aim is to win whilst minimising conflict
  • Interdependent - They engage in collaborative dialogue to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes


Vertical development impacts on Leadership effectiveness and the bottom line


Whilst there are a number of studies showing the impact of later stages of development and higher performance we showed just one, the Keith Eigel study which found that CEO’s who measured as interdependent also scored more highly on a number of key Leadership competencies.


We also know from the Bob Anderson studies that a reduction of the reactive tendencies in a Leadership population leads to greater profitability for the organisation.


How do you do Vertical development?


There are three necessary conditions to help Leaders to develop their operating system:


  • Heat experiences - Intense experiences where the Leader is stretched slightly beyond their capacity to cope with the complexity they are facing
  • Colliding perspectives - The Leader is exposed to the widest and most contrarian views so as to broaden their perspective
  • Elevated sense making - The Leader works with an adult development map and coach to help them to make sense of their experiences


All three conditions are necessary and need to take place concurrently. Omitting one of the conditions is likely to result in the Leader’s operating system staying the same.


  • Heat and colliding perspective but no sense making - The Leader will be unable to ground and consolidate their experiences
  • Heat and sense making but no colliding perspectives - The Leader will not be able to broaden their perspective to enable them to find answers in the complex milieu
  • Colliding perspectives and sense making but no heat experiences - The Leader will not be able to test out their experiences in the real world so it just becomes an intellectual exercise


What are the sacred cows or blocks to vertical development?


Lastly we explored some of the blocks to vertical development.  These included:


  • The need for short term immediate results within development which does not create the conditions for vertical development to take place
  • A focus on content (horizontal) being delivered through e-learning.  E-learning can save time and money but it does not facilitate vertical development and change a Leader’s operating system
  • Inadequate focus on the system when a Leader comes back into their environment from a training course.  They have changed but their system has not, so they fall back into their old behaviours.  We need to develop individuals, teams and their culture and systems simultaneously


What MaST offers?


For the last seven years MaST has been developing the capacity of Leaders with the support of a range of vertical development methodologies.


We work with you to create ‘heat experiences’.  This might include encouraging Leaders to seek challenging tasks and roles or developing challenging workshops with self-assessment, 360° feedback tools and / or culture surveys that are all underpinned by robust vertical development research.


We bring diverse groups of people and Leadership teams together and enable differences to be expressed and integrated so that people gain from their colliding perspectives.  Systems thinking tools and body practices encourage people to look beyond default thinking patterns.


We have experience of coaching using vertical development maps that elegantly guide people in both consolidating their current stage as well as inspiring people towards their next development edge.


In short, we work with you to create the necessary conditions for your Leaders to upgrade their Leadership effectiveness.




We used the research of the following people to develop this Forum: Robert Keegan, Jenny Berger, Nick Petrie, Bill Joiner, Bob Anderson, David Rooke, Susan Cook-Greuter, Yvonne Agazarian.


Should you wish to discuss this topic or other areas of Learning and Development please do call on 0800 316 9090, email or visit