A Vertical Development Journey

Grace Ho
September 1, 2020

Observing children, we can see clear stages in their growth and development as social beings.  For example, it takes a baby over six months to discover that their bodies are distinct from other people and objects.  Over subsequent years, they develop theory of mind - the recognition that other people have thoughts, ideas, knowledge, feelings etc that are different to their own.  As theory of mind grows, children increase their ability to shape and make sense their world - from creating imaginary friends and telling stories, to understanding consequences and lying effectively.

In adults, there are also observable stages of mental and emotional development.  These are known as stages of vertical development (see below).  Like childhood development, each stage of vertical development reflects an increase in our awareness and our capacity to skillfully manage ourselves and respond to the complexities of the world.  This ability to think and act in more nuanced, creative, constructive and inclusive ways - to be more authentic, fluent and expansive in all aspects of life - is the source of leadership capacity.

Stages of Vertical Development (1,2)

But adult development, unlike childhood development, is not a given.  Without deliberate reflection and action (often triggered by meaningful stimulus e.g, dissatisfaction with an aspect of life, a stretch assignment), an adult’s development can stall.  Research shows that ~60% of adults remain in the dependent-conformer stage of development or earlier for their entire lives (3).  

The leadership training program you’re about to embark on is designed to be a meaningful stimulus for you on your adult/vertical development journey.  Unlike other leadership training you may have been on, this program will focus less on building your leadership toolkit in the form of new/upgraded skills, knowledge and competencies (e.g., dissecting executive presence, applying a feedback model or sharing tactics for negotiating a promotion).  

Instead, this program is an invitation to deeply explore who you are, and how you operate in your team, organisation, and the world.  It is an invitation to see different perspectives, to experiment with new responses to familiar people and situations, to re-write narratives that no longer serve, and ultimately, to more fully own and express your unique leadership potential.  

We have chosen a vertical (adult) development focus over a horizontal (skills) development focus for this program because we believe this is a more powerful and self-sustaining path to amplify your leadership impact.  Also this type of development is less readily available, meaning many leaders from diverse backgrounds have limited access to this type of development unless they specifically know about it and seek it out.  

To get the most out of the program, we hope you come with an open mind and an open heart.  We hope you will come ready to dig deeper and share more generously and vulnerably than you might normally with a group of relative strangers.  We hope you see the unique contribution of each member of our community, and that you support each other with care and candor.  This is a program that gives back as much as you put in.  

Our commitment to you is to create a safe space where you can be real, be heard, and learn from each other.  Please reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns ahead of our first session, and of course, any time after the program has started.   We are here to support you!


  1. The two most robust and well known vertical development models were developed by Robert Kegan (Stages of Adult Development) and  Bill Torbert (Action Logics)
  2. Taken from Vertical Leadership Development–Part 1 Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Nick Petrie
  3. Research findings by Robert Kegan (in In Over Our Heads) and Bill Tobert (in Managing the Corporate Dream)

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