Welcome to leadership from the balcony.
My name is Shawn Griesemer with my co-host Justin Dorroh. And each week we bring you a new leadership concept to inspire your growth and effectiveness as a leader in every area of your life.
There was something in me that was now hindering the forward movement of what we needed to get done. The unique thing about a vertical challenge is there is no expert. That's why COVID created this vertical challenge for so many people. There was no playbook.
Today we're talking about vertical challenges. These aren't the typical challenges you face with ready-made solutions and reliable interventions. These challenges are complex and usually chronic. Thanks for joining us on the balcony. We hope you enjoy peering over the railing to gain an expanded leadership perspective.
That's what I love about this concept, there are two different types of challenges that every leader faces, or two different places they may need to grow. The words that they use, horizontal growth or horizontal challenge, and then a vertical challenge. The other words that are used are also technical challenge or adaptive challenge. I had no concept of growth or development are different things, or that what you might be facing has a categorization that might be different. That's when I read this article by a guy named Nick Petrie, who is with the Center for Creative Leadership. He talked about vertical challenges being different than horizontal challenges. Horizontal challenges are how you do something. It's taking information and it's a skill, or it's something that can be known. Competencies is oftentimes what we talk about. Somebody can learn to delegate. Somebody can learn to give vision and do presentations of vision. Those are all horizontal. You can go take a class. You can go to a seminar, and you can learn them. For people that don't have the technical understanding, you can take a class in it. That's growing knowledge in your head. We can call that growth. But then there's this, how do you develop your thinking around that? You may learn it. It doesn't mean you'll do it. And that is a whole different challenge that people face. And he called that a vertical challenge. Others, like Ronald Heifetz, have called it the adaptive challenge. And there is no class. There is no way to go out and get an education in addressing a vertical challenge because it is unique to every individual and how they make sense of the technical knowledge that's already in their head. I remember you and I having a conversation around, you know, because this stuff can be pretty non-tangible. And understanding the differences. And we were talking about a specific challenge we had at a specific period of time around sales and growing some component of our organization. We had challenges. You and me? Yeah, never. And I said, well, maybe it's a vertical challenge to us because we've never been here before. Like we don't know necessarily what to do. A horizontal challenge to us. Oh, go ahead. But the comment I made was maybe it's vertical. And your response was, it would be vertical if there wasn't a book to buy or an expert to talk to. But in this specific function, there's lots of books out there and there's lots of experts you can hire to help you get past it. The unique thing about a vertical challenge is there is no expert. And I'll never forget that just kind of crystallized for me of, okay, that's different. That's why COVID created this vertical challenge for so many people. There was no playbook. And we could try to create one. There really was no expert. And even the people wearing the expert hats, within three to six months, were changing their opinions, which is a normal part of the process, etc. But I think on a broad scale, none of us were really accustomed to that. Experts are supposed to have expertise. That's the point. That's what makes them an expert. But I think these vertical challenges aren't just new territory to you. They are uncharted territory in general. There are no solutions to these challenges yet, which is what makes it an adaptive or a vertical challenge. That's right. Actually, as you were telling that story, I was remembering when we had that conversation. And the feeling I had after that was, oh, shoot. My hope had always been I wasn't doing this because I didn't know how. But as we learned how, and I still wasn't doing it, it was no longer because I didn't know how. There was something in me that was now hindering the forward movement of what we needed to get done. And it meant I had to go inside to figure out, why am I resistant to this? Why won't I change? And that is a I would much rather have the challenge of, I don't know how to do something, so let me learn it. But when I'm the problem that has to be fixed, that's a big problem. And we see horizontal challenges, especially in people that are new to leadership, new to owning organizations, leading organizations, leading teams. There are all kinds of horizontal challenges. But when it starts to get into that more adaptive challenge, the internal, why aren't you changing? Why won't you do what you've learned? That is a much heavier lift for most people. Because in a lot of ways what you're starting to unearth is what are those hidden beliefs that actually are preventing you from taking that ground. And that work is at times embarrassing. To let another see the internal world is unnerving at some level. It requires high trust with someone. It requires a sense of psychological safety. Vulnerability. Vulnerability, all, humility, that's right, all of those things. And, you know, those are wonderful terms to read in a book. Those are a whole new set of categories to learn how to put action to and habits around. And so, yeah, it's, you know, development is not for the faint of heart. And we've said it before in previous podcasts, a lot of times this stuff sounds so inspiring when you read it. And then you start to do it and it's like, this is painful. This is difficult. I'm having to face things that I didn't even know I wasn't facing. Right. It makes me think of, you know, coaching. One of the things that I've loved about coaching people, coaching is much more in the vertical development world because coaches are trying to help people unearth and explore and discover, how am I making sense of things right now? And that's the vertical space, is how are you making sense of it and how do you develop your perspective on the information that you're considering? And I'll never forget, I went into a situation working with a young leader and was relatively new in leading teams the size that she was leading. And I was going into it thinking vertical leadership, coaching, or vertical challenge, coaching, help to make sense of things in a new way. And all of a sudden, as we were processing, I would always say, hey, come with a situation that you're currently dealing with and we'll really debrief it and so forth. And I wanted to ask a lot of questions. Well, what did you think when this happened? And what was going through your mind? And how did that make you feel? And all of these types of questions. And I realized it kept coming back to, well, how do you do empathy? And how do you ask questions to really get people to engage more? And I realized I made this quantum leap into I need to coach this person. I'm doing vertical challenge work. I'm helping to develop them. And what this leader needed was a lot of horizontal, technical, how do I do basic leadership skills? Right. And once I realized that it changed our entire coaching relationship. Right. Because being a leadership coach, I have a lot of time and experience in trying to develop my leadership abilities so I could bring some of that to bear. Right. And I realized that it was a conversation where I was giving her no new tools to actually bring to her situations. Right. And I think that's a great example of, even in our own work, while we might have a lot of passion and curiosity around vertical development and developmental challenges, adaptive challenges that people face, and trying to do leadership coaching in that space, I think it's recognizing there's more than a few folks that don't have enough of that horizontal growth in place to let that vertical coaching, that vertical development take place. And so, we even adjusted some of our process in how we work with organizations and leaders so that we're making sure to put the right things in so that when it's time to address those vertical challenges, there's enough experience and exposure that we can help them make sense of things in a new way versus like them looking at us like, I don't know what you just said. That's right. You just spoke Chinese, yet you used English words. Right. I don't know what you said though. Yeah. And so let me just state this again. Really on the horizontal side, horizontal is technical training that there is a known solution for. And some examples of that, project management, time management, conflict resolution, delegation, these are all things that you can learn how to do. But that adaptive or that vertical challenge is something that's unique to the individual and to the situation each time. There is no class you can take. So why does it matter? I can't remember when we first saw this, but we started reading these articles and they're out there all over the place now. Leadership development doesn't work. They were saying if you read the articles, it starts to talk about leadership development is generally done in a host of ways that people go to seminars and to classes and to a host of different ways to learn, hopefully, some technical knowledge. But they walk out of the training and three weeks later, it's as though the training never even happened. What was the statistic? Leadership development now is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It's in the high 20s or low 30-billion-dollar industry. And what's the current rate of disengagement in employees? Yeah. I can't remember the stat. I think in the US, it's something like 67% is disengaged. And globally, it's into the 70s. And they were drawing the correlation of leadership development is a bigger industry than it has ever been. And the trend of disengagement in employees is bigger than it's ever been. And they were showing the disparity of this is not working. Right. Right. That's exactly right. And, you know, when you think about it, often those environments, they are synthetic in nature. It's not your work team. It's not the height of some stressful moment. That's right. Everything s in a vacuum. And all you're doing is talking about concepts. And nobody sees you outside of that environment. So, when you come back, even if there's things to go do, you can come back and give a highlight reel or fib a little. That's right. And nobody's the wiser. And I think we started reading articles and books that started to give a language for what creates the right environment for development. And some language that we found really helpful was, I think, in one book, in Everyone Culture, they called it home edge and groove. Home being a group of people that you have some level of psychological safety with. You work with them consistently. So, there's trust. There's a place to be vulnerable. There's a place to be open and honest and receive feedback. Edge is everyone's identified. Where do they need to grow? Where's that growth edge that they have? And everyone knows everyone's. It's not just for a piece of paper that nobody sees. And then groove really are practices, developmental practices that help to expose and develop that edge. And it's really all three are necessary to see that growth. I think another article called it heat, colliding perspectives and elevated sense making. Heat being some kind of challenge that's stressful. Your own true real world. Yeah, exactly. Your own real world, not a case study that you read in a manual. The second thing is colliding perspectives, which means two people at a minimum see it from two different points of view. So, you're not seeing it the same way. That's something that we've never experienced. Not once. And then the third thing being elevated sense making, which correct me if I'm wrong, but my memory is it's almost like a coach who's gone a little bit further than the people that are in the heat moment. That can help them make sense of what they're experiencing, what's going on, how they might be able to see it from a different perspective. And all three of those elements are necessary. And if you lose one, you're not going to get the vertical development. You need all three. That's right. Do you remember when we did a program called a developmental sprint? Yes. And we were in a small group together. They actually just placed us in the group together. Right. And there was another coach who was in the group with us. Yes. And that's where it started. And we're sharing, you know, when you get into vertical development, it's a vulnerable place. Right. And you were sharing a story of something. I don't even remember what story it was, but you were sharing a story of something that had gone on with you. And this other Eloise, that was her name, she was asking you questions. And her questions weren't, well, how did you do this? No. It was not at all technical in nature. She started asking you, how did you feel when that happened? That's right. And tell me she didn't use this word, but how did you make sense of what that person said at that moment? And it was all of a sudden, it was like you paused and you were thinking through it. And it was this whole new space, but she tapped into a type of development in that moment. Yes. And it felt awkward. Because what you realize is I don't think about those things normally. That's right. And the other thing I remember, Eloise, if you're listening to this, I just want to say it was so helpful. So helpful. The other thing I remember her modeling so well, when she would give her kind of updates, is she would say what she did and then she would say how it felt. Yes. So, she would say, I did one, two, three, X, Y, Z, and you know what? It felt really good. And I remember thinking like, I'm not used to people saying things like that. Right. But I think I even made the comment, I said, Eloise, I feel like you're modeling for us how to add like a layer of emotional language in talking about these experiments that you've been running. And I've noticed, I've not like wholesale changed, but I have remembered that. Yes. So, it's at least been on the radar when I'm sharing with somebody, hey, here's this new thing I'm doing. Here's how it feels. And it is helpful as a way to process through some of those changes. Because that emotional language, it's not about getting touchy-feely and emotional. But it is about one, bringing your full, your whole person to a situation. But oftentimes the emotional side or the feelings, how did you feel in that moment? It's asking the question; how did you make sense of it? What did it do in you? It actually made me afraid. I was concerned that if this person was left with the responsibility, that it wasn't going to get done. And we were all going to fail because of it. Okay, well, oftentimes people can go there because they're answering the question, I was fearful. I was concerned. I was great, tell me more about that. It's a window. And it's not just find out what makes you afraid and what makes you happy. But sometimes to say, it made me feel really good. Okay, why did it make you feel really good? Well, because I was able to really engage in this way. Tell me more about that. So, the feeling just becomes a door, a window to peer through. It's not the goal. Correct. But man, when you ask those questions in that vein, it does open up into the mind of what's somebody really thinking here and how are they really making sense. Yeah, and you know, it's so interesting because I know we've talked about it in the past. But another key component to that experience was feedback. It wasn't like, hey, you did this wrong or whatever. But it was more around, hey, when you said this, did you mean this or did you mean that? Right. And you just start to get colliding perspectives on, oh, there's more than one way to interpret what I just said. And I can think of even recently some feedback I received, and it was not comfortable feedback to receive. Rarely is feedback comfortable to receive. But the next time that set of circumstances came up, what was so funny is I immediately remembered the conversation we had had literally a week ago. This is with my spouse, in case anybody's wondering. And my response this time was, I know actually what she means now. My answer is yes. Whereas before, I interpreted her question how I would say it. That's right. Yeah, for sure. And I was like, no, I'm okay. Because it wasn't a meaningful I would not attach the meaning that she was attaching. And so, in this scenario, I was like, yes, I'd love to go with you. Let's do it. I ve got nothing going on. I'm in. And it was great! But the reason I was able to respond differently is I had received feedback, colliding perspectives, and I had a new lens to look through, which was her lens. Right. And it mattered to me. Right. And I added my own meaning to the process as well. Yeah, that's so good.
So, our challenge to leaders this week is to take situations that you're in over the next few days, over the next week, evaluate challenges you're in and ask yourself the question, either if you feel the challenge for you, or if you feel the challenge for somebody that reports to you. Ask yourself the question, is this a technical challenge where I or the person that's sitting in front of me doesn't actually know how to do something? Or do they know how to do it? Do I know how to do it? But I'm just unwilling or something is standing in the way or there's something in me that's causing me to make sense of the situation that causes me to put my foot on the brake and not move forward. And you're dealing with a vertical or an adaptive challenge and you know to approach it in a totally different way. And in fact, I think we're going to do a podcast in the future where we're going to talk about once you have a vertical challenge, how do you handle that? If horizontal challenges, you can go to classes, you can go to seminars. What do you do with a vertical challenge and how do you approach it?
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