Vertical leadership development

About vertical leadership development

Vertical leadership development is a way to develop individuals and collectives toward more mature and sufficiently complex ways of facing and solving complex challenges. This vertical approach is essential to the theory and practice of leadership development.

What is vertical leadership development?

What is the Transformations™ toolkit?

Brought to you by the Center for Creative Leadership in partnership with Global Leadership Associates.

Vertical Development: CCL Shanghai 2017 Leadership Forum (VIDEO)

This is my keynote on Vertical Leadership Development, at the
2017 Leadership Forum presented by
The Center for Creative Leadership, Greater China

Video, slides, and a bibliography follow.


Vertical leadership development for a complex world

Horizontal development is about adding more knowledge, skills, and competencies. It’s about what you think.transformations

Vertical development is about the ability to think and act in more complex ways. It’s about how you think. It’s about maturity, and  growing “up” and increasing one’s “depth.” (more…)

Forward to Numbskull, a Memoir by William F. (Bill) Torbert

Bill Torbert is publishing his memoir: NumbskullBorn Again & Again & Again: Transforming Self, Communities, And Scientific Inquiry.

I am honored to write the forward for his book. Here it is in pre-publication form.

In a moment of leadership gone awry, the young Bill Torbert dives headfirst into a shallow creek and splits his head on a rock — becoming the titular Numbskull of this memoir and eventually a man of knowledge. (more…)

Past, Present & Future Cloud Maps

Here is a description of how to use Transformations cards in a group setting to see one’s own path within a collective patterns. This creates both intimacy and safety while allowing people to go deep with their insights. Thanks David Hudnut, CCL Senior Partner!

We have used space on the floor with groups and teams to create cloud maps of past, present and future. As people put their Logics cards down into one of the three clouds they tell their own story to the whole group. This ends up creating a really fascinating collective story about how people see themselves in these different points of time in their lives. Then we use the Catalyst cards, so that which place Catalyst cards (which they have also chosen) in between the clouds that were created by the past, present and future exercise. This gives people an opportunity to explain heat experiences without necessarily having to use that vocabulary. It’s a way for them to make sense of the stimulus they feel gave them the push into a new way of thinking and making sense of the world. In my experience, when we’ve done this exercise with groups, the whole question of people getting uptight about what “level“ they might be at evaporates.


Vertical development of leadership culture

Here is an excerpt of Part 1 of our forthcoming article in Integral Review on the vertical development of leadership culture. The Leadership Culture Toolkit is described in Part 2. Contact John McGuire and Chuck Palus for the full article and look for it online shortly. /

McGuire, J. M., & C.J. Palus (2018). Vertical development of leadership culture. Integral Review. In press.


This article defines leadership culture and provides a framework for its vertical (aka constructive-developmental, or transclusive) transformation. The idea of leadership culture and its developmental potential has been a key focus of research and practice at the Center for Creative Leadership since the mid-1990s, as CCL began transcending and including its domain of developing individual leaders within an explicitly relational ontology. The Direction, Alignment, and Commitment (DAC) Framework models leadership as a relational process operating at both individual and collective levels, in which beliefs and practices for creating DAC are shown to develop vertically. Collaboration with Bill Torbert and associates has produced a model of leadership culture transformation in parallel with the action logics observed in individual leaders. The second part of this article describes an approach to change leadership via multi-year collaborative inquiries grounded in culture. The Change Learning Cycle integrates three intertwining domains of change: self, cultural beliefs, and systems. Finally, the article outlines the use of a leadership culture tool box for change leadership initiatives designed for engaging, scaling, and democratizing leadership culture development for everybody, everywhere.  

Introduction (more…)

Helping Leaders When Their Perspective Needs to Shift

This article by David Hudnut and Adam Pearson is a repost from Training Industry.

Leaders in this situation have greatly expanded their capacity to handle complexity and ambiguity.

Leaders sometimes face challenges that, with their current thinking, they find insurmountable. The problem may be sudden and unexpected, like a serious illness or natural disaster. It may be a slow-building crisis, like a marriage failing over time, the exhaustion of backbiting competition or workforce dissent. Or it may be challenges of success, like the emptiness of material excess, alienation from children, or slowly waking up to one’s complacency in the face of humanitarian or ecological devastation.

Continue to the full text here.

Polarity Thinking and Visual Explorer

This note comes to us from Peter Dupree of Polarity Partnerships. Thanks Peter!

This is from Doha, Qatar, using a Polarity Map with Visual Explorer on Continuity & Transformation. Excellent “sense making” with multi-cultural group!

I have done something similar with the polarity of Horizontal Development & Vertical Development. Once they get out on a map and relate to it kinesthetically, I have them explore images that speak to them, choosing an image for each pole, and talking about it. This brings them through a pre-cognitive doorway, and ‘readiness’ is less of an issue.

Webinar announcement: Kara Laverde from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on vertical leadership development

Please join us in our ongoing exploration of Relational Leadership through a variety of lenses, as part of the CONNECTED Community hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership, Global Research & Evaluation. Contact Chuck Palus for more information. Sign up here if you were forwarded this email.

Tuesday January 09, 1 pm Eastern USA

Log in at 
         No registration needed. Forward to colleagues.

Kara Laverde from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will talk about how they use the framework of vertical leadership development as both “spotlight” and “scaffold” in developing their people and promoting positive culture change.

View the Gates Foundation white paper, Lead Your Culture or Your Culture Will Lead You.
CCL white papers on vertical leadership development are here.

Tools and resources are at:
Labs@CCL for Explorers and Essentials
Transformations card deck
Vertical leadership development intro
Brief Bill Torbert videos on action inquiry

Yes it will be recorded and archived.

The CONNECTED Community resource site is here, including archived webinars and an annotated reading list.


Chuck Palus
Senior Fellow
Center for Creative Leadership

The Pragmatic Impact on Leaders & Organizations Of Interventions Based in the Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry Approach

Check out this great new review of the field of vertical leadership development, specifically the impact of Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry (CDAI) by William R. (Bill) Torbert. A brief taste is shown below. Access the complete article in Integral Leadership Review here.

As shown in this review, fifty years of research on real-world practice, guided by the Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry (CDAI) paradigm of social science and social action, have documented more powerful impacts than any other research and practice approach on leaders’ and organizations’ transformation (Fisher & Torbert, 1995; Taylor, 2017; Torbert, 1976, 1987, 1991; Torbert & Associates, 2004). CDAI is a rich combination of quantitative, qualitative, and action research in field settings where the researchers are also lead-participants studying themselves and their influence on the setting under study as it attempts to transform. In this early stage in the development of the CDAI paradigm, it is quantitatively anchored by the two psychometric instruments currently defensible for measuring and debriefing leaders’ developmental action-logics – the Mature Adult Profile (MAP) (Cook-Greuter, 1999, 2011) and the Global Leadership Profile (GLP) (Herdman-Barker & Torbert, 2012; Torbert, 2013, 2017).

This briefest possible summary of CDAI introduces the key terms “action inquiry practice” and “developmental theory of persons, organizations, and science,” as well as a brief history of the MAP and GLP psychometrics. Next, you will encounter a highly condensed, skeletal set of headlines to action inquiry studies and interventions in the realm of leadership and organizational development.  The most practically and statistically significant studies are telegraphically presented, and are also referenced to refereed scholarly journals, PhD dissertations, and research volumes, so that you can dig deeper at will.  See also McCauley et al. (2006) for an earlier peer review of the role of action inquiry in the field of developmental theory, research, and leadership.”

Continued here.

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Brief tutorial videos by Bill Torbert on action inquiry

Bill Torbert & his associates wrote the book on action inquiry, and you can read it here.

And you can start here with these very brief, informative videos that together frame vertical development and its main vehicle, action inquiry.


Transitioning to the Third Act

Check out the great work of Nick Owen and Edward Kelly in the Third Act Conferences and Retreats!

owenFriday January 20th (1800) – Sunday January 22nd (1530), 2017

The Third Act Retreat: Transitioning to the Third Act
Facilitators: Dr Edward Kelly, Nick Owen & Annette Hennessy
The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire

A weekend working with our own stories of transition, our stages of development, and the ancient insights of The Elder Tales in our journey to What’s Next for us? A residential weekend of craic and inquiry in a delightful rural setting.

Single: £495; Shared: £445 per person; Non-residential: £395 (including lunches & dinners)

To reserve your place contact or



Leadership stage development and its effect on transformational change

From Lyndon Rego at CCL:

I thought this paper does a very nice job of linking Torbert and Wilber’s work. Well worth a read.

Jorge Taborga (August 2012). Leadership Stage Development and its Effect on Transformational Change. Integral Leadership Review. 


Imperfect beauty: Hierarchy and fluidity in leadership development

Imperfect Beauty

Imperfect Beauty

In their new paper on vertical leadership development, Imperfect Beauty, Elaine Herdman-Barker and Nancy C. Wallis explore the complexities of development, in which the predictability and order we crave as practitioners is embedded in “an imperfect and fluid process, in which change is contextualized, dissonant and enigmatic.” This paper explores the polarity of development is which hierarchical order is in tension with fluidity. (more…)

Mediated Dialogue in Action Research

Here is an extended excerpt from our chapter: Mediated dialogue in action research, in The SAGE Handbook of Action Research, 3rd Edition, edited by Hilary Bradbury. To see the full chapter and lots of other wonderful chapters, get the Handbook!

The SAGE Handbook of Action Research, 3rd Ed., Hilary Bradbury, Editor

The SAGE Handbook of Action Research, 3rd Ed.,
Hilary Bradbury, Editor

Palus, C. J., & McGuire, J.B. (2015). Mediated dialogue in action research. In H. Bradbury (Ed.) The SAGE handbook of action research, 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. 691-699. Click here for the complete Handbook.

Here is our “how-to” white paper connecting this chapter to change leadership.

Mediated dialogue is an approach to reflective, insightful conversation that is useful for action research and related endeavors, including inquiry as a part of leadership development. With mediated dialogue, various media (typically visual images, such as those in Visual Explorer™) are used as sources of metaphor and as places to project thoughts and emotions related to one or more focal questions. (more…)

The Seven Life-Logics in Detail

More wisdom below in this post from our partners Elaine and Bill. This is a companion piece to their prior post on action inquiry. Note that the terms “life logics” and “action logics” are basically interchangable. (more…)

The Practice of Action Inquiry

The real point of the Transformations tool is to promote development in a way that supports increasingly wise and effective action. In the post below, Elaine Herdman-Barker and Bill Torbert introduce the powerful idea of action inquiry. (Also see their related post describing the seven action logics in more detail.) (more…)

Adult development (vertical) theory

The post below is adapted from McCauley, C. D., Drath, W. H., Palus, C. J., O’Connor, P. M. G., & Baker, B. A. (2006). The use of constructive-developmental theory to advance the understanding of leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 17, 634–653.


Constructive-developmental [also referred to as vertical development] theory is a stage theory of adult development that focuses on the growth and elaboration of a person’s ways of understanding the self and the world. (more…)