How to Develop Leaders to Entertain Future Possibilities

The Challenge of Leadership Development

There are two types of leadership development: horizontal and vertical learning. Horizontal learning is more skills, knowledge and competencies, thinking from the same perspective. Vertical learning is to develop more complex and sophisticated ways of thinking – to develop an elevated perspective that is more inclusive and embracing of multiple diverse points of view.

When we develop more skills, knowledge and competencies, we can become more effective leaders. However when we develop a broader, more open mindset, we can become inspiring strategic leaders who have the power to create a better tomorrow.

How to Foster Vertical Learning

The second thing is to better appreciate how vertical learning takes place. It does require a coach with a higher order perspective or later stage action logic. They can hold the space, internally and externally, to embrace multiple perspectives and ask provocative questions that challenge a more conventional mindset. And they have faith that we have the latent capacity to engage in the co-creative emergence of a better future.

Thirdly the consideration of complex issues, wicked problems and the entertainment of future possibilities that create a better and more caring world for us in symbiosis with the natural world, requires an open mind AND an open heart.

Our heart holds the past patterns of personal hurts. Until they are understood, we continue to attract emotionally reactive situations. However once these hurts are understood and forgiven, the voices in our head disappear and our mind clears.

Healing of the Heart Leads to a Clear and Open Mind.

This represents a holistic approach to leadership development.

Vertical Learning or Stage Development

Vertical learning or stage development involves a progressive series of mindsets or action logics in adult maturity. Here they are in brief.

Opportunists are focused on their own self-interest. They play win-lose and believe they are at risk in the world. Their strengths are seeing opportunities and taking action on them.

Conformists comply with the instructions of others in more senior positions. They give much of their personal power away through compliance and are sometimes described as good team players because they follow up and follow through.

Specialists are focused on the development of their expertise and skills. They are perfectionists and do quality work. However they identify with their work and therefore tend to take any feedback very personally.

Achievers focus externally on results, creating value for customers and genuinely thrive through teamwork. They are pragmatists rather than perfectionists. They enjoy the feedback loop on their work in order to achieve more. The shadow is that they confuse being constantly busy with being productive, and doing/wanting more with becoming happier.

Catalysts activate change in the workplace by exercising personal authenticity rather than positional authority. Their strengths are listening between the lines and engaging genuinely with others. They have ready access to their intuition, use the power of mindful intention and are prepared to be vulnerable and open with others.

Strategists have an expanded sense of consciousness and can hold the space for the emergent future. They are comfortable with ambiguity, conflict and complexity and feel safe exploring below the waterline to better understand and appreciate the diversity of multiple perspectives. They tend to become gracious and kind, and innovative collaborators.

Alchemists have the power to lead social and cultural evolution.

Developmental Approach

Having run various leadership programs in organizations as well as coaching many executives in recent years, I have arrived at the conclusion that an ideal leadership program to develop vertical learning is organic, peer-based, voluntary and aspirational.


By organic, I mean that the engagement process is deep and emergent – Theory U style. While there are specific cognitive frameworks to share and learn from, it’s actually the engagement process in relation to the frameworks that fosters embodied learning and new ways of seeing ourselves and the world.


By peer-based, I suggest that a small group of say 15 peers, colleagues scattered from across the organization who do not have a reporting relationship to or with each other, gather together to engage in a mutual developmental process. This brings together a microcosm of the macrocosm to facilitate the exploration of multiple functions, disciplines and perspectives. Representatives from external stakeholders could also be invited to join in.


The third aspect is that participation must be voluntary. If people feel they must join in and must develop, they become resistant. Instead they need to be willing to participate in order to meet a strong desire for personal growth. It is valuable for the organization to sponsor accelerated career advancement of program participants to recognise their investment of time and energy and provide a stretch working context for them outside of the Program.


Fourthly, the program needs to focus on the emergence of new insights, new possibilities and ultimately new solutions over time. Just to see each other and themselves in a new light, from a more conscious, discerning perspective is demanding in and of itself. But to need to do so in order to realize aspirational, seemingly impossible, outcomes, gives the personal development purpose and traction.

In general terms I suggest a four-part methodology: Disrupt, Discern, Distill and Discover to reflect the inner and outer exploration process.

Disrupt with new aspirations to face a complex set of challenges

  • The art of identifying a significant shared aspiration to realize over a 1-3 year period will set the scene for unknown challenges and conflict to stimulate vertical growth.

Discern with deep listening to feelings and values, beliefs and assumptions

  • The group dynamic will bring the complexity and the colliding perspectives into the room while the coaching inquiry from a later stage perspective will instigate new ways of seeing the situation leading to new insight and powerful individual action.

Distill polarities through a five-step process of: see, map, assess, learn and leverage

  • As we inquire into a series of seemingly impossible challenges or discords and begin to explore it from multiple perspectives, we develop our authentic leadership capacity. A larger, more advanced worldview emerges and in time, stabilizes.

Discover the systemic influences and new pathways to emergent possibilities

  • The act of taking accountability for complex situations generates new ways of thinking into situations. When we discover that our current way of making sense in the world is inadequate, our mind will start to search for new ways of thinking.

For more information on how to develop vertical leaders, take a look at the articles on Stage Leadership here:

I hope you enjoyed this post. I coach to enable executives make the quantum shift from business operations management to inspiring strategic leadership so they can explore, articulate and bring their Vision, Values and Voice to life in the world.

If you would like to keep track of my posts and updates, you can connect with me onLinkedIn and follow me on Twitter 

If you would like a pdf outline of the Holistic Leadership Program, please click here.

And you can join my Strategic Holistic Leadership Group to continue the conversation.

If you would like to meet with me, please email or go to: to set up a phone call.

All the very best,


The higher our self-expression and the deeper our self-awareness, the richer our life experience and the greater our soul evolution. Antoinette Braks

Published by Antoinette Braks

Antoinette Braks leads the design and delivery of SHIFT Leadership Development Individual and Group Coaching Programs for Senior Executives and High Potential Leaders to enable them to join the shift from being high performing achievers to becoming inspiring strategic leaders at divisional, regional and C-suite levels.

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