Check out the following article written by one of our own program faculty, Dr. George Sharp.
Weaving Interconnections Between and Among Vertical Development, Reflection, Perspectives, and Time Horizons
George Sharp, Ed.D.
Assistant Professor, School of Education, LEAD Program
Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership
The Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership program at Stockton University was designed to reflect a different type of journey, where horizontal and vertical leadership development are emphasized equally. Horizontal leadership development refers to the adding of knowledge, skills, and competencies. It increases the number of tools that occupy space in the leader’s ‘toolbox.’ It also answers the question, ‘What does good leadership look like?’ Having the knowledge, skill, and competency to lead teams, make decisions, coach and mentor, develop culture, initiate change, generate creative ideas, build trust, influence people, span boundaries, and serve with ethics and integrity are examples of horizontal leadership. Historically (and continuing into the present), horizontal leadership has been the primary focus of leadership development programs and has, more often than not, been delivered as a prescriptive approach.
Vertical leadership development (in its static, ordered and hierarchical sense1) refers to the developmental stages (or action logics2) that differentiate the capacities in how leaders think, communicate, use power and authority, build and sustain relationships, and take action. Typically, leaders at the later action logics have more developed capacities. Vertical leadership development asks the question, ‘At what developmental stage is the leader actually applying the tools in the toolbox, or stated differently, ‘At what developmental stage is the leader actually practicing good leadership?’ Thus, two leaders with similar styles and preferences; the same number of tools in the toolbox; and the knowledge, skills and competency to use them equally; will actually think about the tools, make decisions about how to use the tools, and take action with the tools in very different ways when they operate from different developmental stages. The developmental stages reflect an evolutionary journey of growth in the leader’s vertical capacity to use horizontal knowledge, skills, dispositions, and competencies in ways that will grow and/or sustain an organization, or some part of an organization.
According to Petrie (2015), three primary conditions are necessary to support vertical leadership growth and development. They are: (1) disrupting and disorienting the leader’s current ways of thinking, giving the leader a need and reason to grow; (2) providing exposure to people with new and different perspectives and views, with applicable connections to real work and learning from doing; and (3) coaching and facilitating the leader as he/she interconnects the experiences and makes sense of the different perspectives and ways of doing vertical leadership, allowing developmental growth to begin to emerge.
In order to weave the three primary conditions into a tapestry of vertical growth, Petrie (2015) adds the element of time and the process of reflection. He offers: To help leaders make sense of the different perspectives, “a third of leadership development time should be devoted to structured reflection.” So, thanks to Petrie, we have a connection between reflection and time, at least moving forward into the future, which is essential for vertical growth. But, in order for a more complete sense-making to take place, we can never be completely devoid of our past and present. It remains an interconnected part of who we are, and how we became who we are. So, how do we connect future reflection with past and present reflection in a way to cultivate vertical leadership development?
In the Stockton Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership program, we cultivate reflective practice through an interconnection of experiential and holistic learning, while placing value on the leader’s autonomy to make decisions on reflection that enhance and sustain transformative learning and vertical growth. Further, we have designed our concept of reflection, connecting reflective thinking and reflective inquiry with action inquiry; with first-person, second-person, and third-person perspectives; and with the interdependent past, present, and future time horizons. Figure 1 offers a graphical illustration of the interconnections, as designed by the author of this article.
||‘I/Me’ Perspective; Intrapersonal; Self-awareness
||Past to Present Connections
||‘We’ Perspective; Interpersonal and collaborative with regard to the thoughts and questions I choose to share with and frame for another (or others)
||Present to Future Connections
|Action Inquiry (Thinking, Communicating, Using Power and Authority, Building and Sustaining Relationships, and Taking Action)
||‘It/They’ Perspective; Interpersonal and collaborative with regard to the organization and the ways in which the past, present, and future are interdependent
||An Integration of the Past, Present, and Future Connections
Figure 1. Interconnections between and among reflection, perspectives, and time horizons. This figure illustrates the reflective thinking, reflective inquiry, and action logic processes, and the respective connections to intrapersonal and interpersonal perspective, and past, present, and future time horizons.
Reflective thinking is recognized as a part of the critical thinking process3, referring to the interconnections between and among the following self-reflective practices: describing, questioning, interpreting, explaining, framing, observing, analyzing, evaluating, assessing, and making judgments about something that has already happened (past to present time horizon). The above actions constitute an introspective and intuitive feedback loop, contributing to self-awareness4 and helping to transition sense-making by helping to move the leader from one experience to the next with a deeper understanding. In our program, we refer to reflective thinking as an intrapersonal practice (involving the internal use of thoughts and questions, or communication occurring within the person).
In our view, reflective inquiry becomes a natural extension of reflective thinking in several ways. In addition to the 10 self-reflective practices described above, reflective inquiry encompasses the additional practices of imagining and an open-mindedness to different, creative, and innovative ideas with a focus from now and into the future (present to future time horizon). In our program, reflective inquiry is interpersonal and collaborative as it happens with another person, or with a community of people. While each leader decides what he/she is going to share, discuss, express, affirm, advocate, and/or question with another person, or with other people, we believe that the process of reflective inquiry allows each of us to see new and other perspectives, make sense of new ways of understanding, receive support from others in the exchange of ideas, provide insight, and inform decision making.
It is in the process of reflective inquiry that four of the seven Essential Habits and Mindsets6 overarching our doctoral program interconnect with the reflective process. These include: listening and connecting, building trust and respect, building and sustaining relationships, and growing and improving from risk taking. We believe that the first three are absolutely crucial for vertical leadership growth to occur in this interpersonal, collaborative, and reflective process. While the same can be said for the fourth Essential Habit and Mindset, we also believe that being comfortable with risk taking (whether it is engrained as a way of thinking in an organization’s culture, or whether it is an inherent quality that characterizes the leader’s way of taking action) is required in order to engage and interact with the three conditions necessary for vertical leadership growth.
Through the self-reflective practices and the respective Essential Habits and Mindsets mentioned above, a mutual, trust-extending, and relational feedback loop is formed. It is a feedback loop that deepens the degree of self-awareness and responsibility and further transforms the leader’s sense-making to a more integrated and interdependent perspective.
In our program, action inquiry refers to the way leaders think, communicate, use power and authority, build and sustain relationships, and take action in an organization. Action inquiry differentiates the capacities that characterize leaders at the different developmental stages, or action logics. As with reflective thinking, action inquiry is intrapersonal and introspective as it takes place within a person. As with reflective inquiry, action inquiry is interpersonal and collaborative as it also takes place with a community of people. In both respects, action inquiry takes a much broader focus, viewing the entire organization, or system, through the human, political, historical, relational, and experiential lenses. Transitioning action inquiry into a reflective experience at the level of the entire system involves the same self-reflective practices as reflective thinking and reflective inquiry; it also requires a capacity to interconnect the system with the past, present, and future time horizons in a holistic way, weaving all three together into the same view, at the same time.
Because the Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership program is designed for the practitioner leader, we believe that the practicality of the reflection structure and process described is best tested holistically, as ‘inquiry on practice,’ with ‘problems of practice,’ and in everyday life. Thus, we realize that leaders in the program will interact and engage with reflective thinking, reflective inquiry, and action inquiry in different ways, at different times, and in accord with their different developmental stages during the twists and turns and ebbs and flows of their respective journeys. Our intention is to meet each leader where he or she is, then move forward with each leader, taking the journey of growth and development with him/her.
As indicated in one of our belief statements: “We believe that the Stockton Ed.D in Organizational Leadership is a different type of journey, where horizontal and vertical leadership development are co-emphasized equally; it is a journey where listening and connecting, building trust and respect, building and sustaining relationships, and growing and improving from risk taking are expected, cultivated, nurtured, and valued; the program is a place for people to grow that inner drive towards self-development and the development of others.” We have worked to create the opportunity for everyone, in this program, to take this journey in ‘safe-to-fail’ and ‘safe-to-learn’5 environments.
Petrie, N. (2015). The how-to of vertical leadership – Part 2: 30 experts, 3 conditions, and 15 approaches. Center for Creative Leadership, White Paper. Retrieved from https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/verticalLeadersPart2.pdf
- Herdman Barker and Wallis refer to the constant balancing of ‘inter-independencies’ that co-exist as two parts of human (vertical leadership) development: (1) a static, ordered hierarchy, and (2) a dynamic, chaotic fluidity. As a dynamic, chaotic fluidity, vertical leadership development exists as a continuum; it includes the movement and flow within the current, or prominent, developmental stage (action logic) as well as all of the qualities and characteristics of the prior developmental stages. Movement between and among the current and prior developmental stages can be intentional (as different challenges can require the application of different qualities from different action logics to successfully resolve them) or unintentional (as a result of drift, excessive stress, or other glitches in the human operating system). Herdman Barker, E. & Wallis, N. (2016). Imperfect Beauty: Hierarchy and fluidity in leadership development. Center for Creative Leadership, Leading Effectively. Retrieved from http://www.leadingeffectively.com/leadership-explorer/imperfect-beauty-hierarchy-and-fluidity-in-leadership-development/
- William Torbert defined the term ‘action logic’ to reflect the movement and flow within each developmental stage as well as the movement, or transition, from one developmental stage to another on the continuum. See: Torbert, W. and Associates. (2004) Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
- See Elder, L. & Paul, R. Critical thinking development: A stage theory. The Critical Thinking Community. Retrieved from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-development-a-stage-theory/483
- “Reflection is the first step to self-awareness, a key development trait and a necessary pre-cursor to personal and professional change.” See: Lord Associates. (No Date). Business & People Development, Coaching Toolkit: Post Session Brief Note. Dublin, Ireland: Marie Lord.
- Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston provide a set of ideas to guide our thinking as we work to establish safe-to-fail experimentation and practice as well as “a sense of the spirit in which these experiments should be created.” ‘Conversation, discovery, and experimentation’ and ‘making sense of the inclinations of the system’ are critical factors in working to establish safe-to-learn organizations. See: Garvey Berger, J. & Johnston, K. (2015). Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- The Essential Habits and Mindsets document can be viewed at: https://www.stockton.edu/graduate/documents/Core_Understandings_Essential_Habits_Mindsets.pdf.