How Vertical Are You?September 26, 2012 4 Comments
I want to tip my hat to mentors and thought partners, both near and far, for fueling my thinking around the topic of this post – thanks to Carol Sanford, Richard Hawkes and Tom Lombardi at Growth River, Glenda Eoyang, Richard Barrett, and my IISC colleague Gibran Rivera. There is much discussion in the social sectors these days about the need to be more fearless, to take risks, to fail early, to be innovative and vulnerable. Influenced by my colleagues, I like to frame all of this as being about our need to think and act more “vertically,” that is, with an evolutionary thrust, in the direction of personal and systemic growth and development, opportunity generation, and a sense of accountability to a greater community or “we.”
On the flip side, times of crisis and uncertainty can fuel our fear-full side, the tendency to pull back and think more about individual (and perhaps collective) survival, and drive a focus around conserving what we have. This might be framed as a tendency to think and act more “horizontally.” While one or the other is not inherently better or right (we need both), here’s the thing – in most cases, a team, organization, or community cannot be more vertical/evolutionary than the thinking of its formal leadership, and certainly will not get more vertical than the overall orientation of the system as a whole. Furthermore, being too horizontal for too long means simply surviving (not thriving) and ultimately results in stagnation and irrelevance.
So this means that it behooves leadership to be aware of and/or intentional about:
- its own current degree of verticality
- where it needs to be to move forward given contextual factors and desired future state; and
- creating conditions that help bring more of the system for which it assumes some degree of stewardship, into alignment.
Verticality can manifest at different systemic levels (see Iceberg Diagram above), including mindset/beliefs, structure (policies, role differentiation), strategic practice/patterns of behavior. So what do you think? How vertical are you (individually and/or collectively)? How vertical do you need to be and where? How might you get there?