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Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, wherever you are

If you are a regular reader, and I hope you are, you will know that I have been focusing on the need for transcendent leadership in these difficult times. The times we are in bring up challenges and complexities that none of us have faced before. Logically, therefore, what we did before is unlikely to cut it today. We need to find ways to rise above these challenges and complexities. Often this will start with us as people and leaders.

The question often arises as to whether leaders are born or made. While there are certainly people who at a young age show natural leadership or who, given leadership roles, grow into them, I believe that the better answer to the question is that leaders mature. In each of these examples of born or made leaders, I think you will normally find that the person has for some reason been more mature than his or her peers in the way he or she responds to challenges.

As Viktor Frankl and Stephen Covey, amongst others, have reminded us from time to time, we are taught at school that for every stimulus there is a reaction. Their big reminder, however, is that we always choose our response or reaction – and it is in this moment of choice that the requisite maturity as a person or leader is demonstrated, or not. The majority of us react as if on autopilot; without thinking we tighten our grip on the reflexive, self-defeating behaviours of our personalities. My observations as an executive and leadership coaching, is that the more mature people or leaders are more present and conscious in that moment. In that moment between stimulus and reaction, they consciously choose to respond appropriately rather than react according to the habits or impulses of their personality.

In fact, it seems to me that my role as a coach is to help my clients be more conscious and present in those moments between stimulus and reaction; to help them to be more self-aware of their personality traits; and to enable them to resist giving in to their habitual impulses arising from those personality traits.

So, how are we supposed to do this, particularly in this complex and challenging world we are currently experiencing (and may continue to experience, albeit differently) in the future? Dr Alan Watkins indicates in his book, 4D Leadership: Competitive Advantage through Vertical Leadership Development, that:

“There is little doubt that the vertical development of the leadership cadre is the single biggest determinant of future success and if ignored the single biggest obstacle to growth.”

The obligation to grow our people normally falls on the shoulders of the Learning and Development (L&D) Department. Watkins’ point though is that most of these departments focus only on learning as learning and development are seen as similar. However, there are two types of development: horizontal and vertical.

“Horizontal development is the acquisition of skills, knowledge and experience of ‘learning’.” (Alan Watkins)

By comparison:

“…vertical development transforms the underlying capacity of the leader to make sense of and respond to situations, working directly on their internal ‘meaning making’, rather than just behaviours or actions.” (Mike Vessey)

Shane A Ng, in one of his blogs, develops an analogy to describe the difference more visually. Horizontal development, he says, is to add water into a glass, whereas vertical development is to expand the size of the glass. As Watkins is quick to point out, horizontal learning is important because leaders need to have technical skills and a knowledge of a variety of factors or business issues. Without expanding the size of the glass, however, there is always a limit to how much water the glass can hold. Similarly, without (vertical) development, (horizontal) learning will always have its limitations.

I remember reading an article in Harvard Business Review in the late 1990’s entitled What makes a leader? by Daniel Goleman, a doyen of emotional intelligence. A couple of things always come to mind when I reflect on this article during the course of my work. The first is Goleman’s reflection that the old-fashioned word for emotional intelligence is maturity. That word again!

The second is his reference to the courses and workshops used by organisations in building leadership skills, including emotional intelligence, as being a waste of time and money, because they focus on the wrong part of the brain. Emotional intelligence (and other examples of vertical development) is located in the neuro-transmitters of the limbic system which governs feelings, impulses and drives. The type of courses used for leadership development at that time, were aimed at the neocortex that governs analytical and technical ability. He went on to say that his studies had found that these latter approaches could even have a negative impact on people’s job performance.

So what do we do with this? What is it that our leaders should be learning, sorry, developing, to achieve a higher level of leadership maturity? I will deal with this in my next newsletter where I hope to integrate, amongst other things, the approaches and/or models of Alan Watkins and Daniel Goleman:

  • Alan Watkins works from a model developed by Ken Wilber, a widely recognised philosopher and thinker of our times, which organises the entire human experience into three dimensions: the objective, the subjective and the interpersonal.
  • I see that Daniel Goleman has recently adapted his early model and renamed it “Crucial Competencies” – I hope to present this to you in a way that is useful for you as a person, leader and / or, err, developer!

I’d love to hear your comments of the views and ideas I have shared this week. Please feel free to email me on

If you would like to find out more about how you might achieve, and apply, transcendent leadership so that you are able to consistently rise above current challenges, drop me an email (also at so that we can explore together how my Transcendent Leadership Coaching Programme might help you lead yourself, your team or your organisation in these times.

I look forward to hearing from you.

In the meanwhile, please take wearing your mask, washing your hands and social distancing seriously at this time. Keep safe and keep well!

Warm regards


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