Jan Rybeck's picture Submitted by Jan Rybeck November 22, 2016 - 12:00am
Not for Sissies! Vertical Development and the Challenge of Transformation

Our last child left for college recently. A bedroom that was once kid space will soon be transformed into office, guest, and closet space.  In the meantime, I can’t find anything, everything is a mess, and I am constantly sifting through what to throw out and what to bring in, questions I can’t readily answer because, well, I have never been here before.

To be honest…I can’t wait to feel the spaciousness of clean and tidy rooms, something I have not experienced in 25 years. And yet, my heart crackled a bit as I scraped smiley face stickers and puffy paint graffiti off the bunk bed set. I long for the fullness of knowing my place as mommy. Feelings of satisfaction and bone deep sadness mingle together in my belly. 

I am in that liminal place of breakdown that comes with transformation.

Call it the neutral zone of William Bridge’s transitions model, the middle part of Otto Scharmer’s U Theory, or the “unfreezing” that kicks off Lewin’s change process… all transformation processes involve breakdown of the old to allow for integration of the new.

We know this.

Our work as coaches and facilitators of change and transformation asks us to understand, make space for, and support the real life impact of transformative growth.  It’s a given.

And still, the dirty little secret is that transformation is not easy, fun, nor sexy. It is just so inviting to rush, simplify, and fix things when the strain of change takes hold.  

What we need instead, are transformative programs that support deep shifts in mindset and build our capacities to consider, empathize and respond in different ways to the complexity of change.  The risk here is that we, or the companies that hire us, might forget, overlook, or simply blow past what it takes to support the breakdown-to-breakthrough that transformation requires.

Vertical Development provides both a map and a process for navigating the formidable challenges and opportunities that come with stepping into different ways of thinking, doing, and relating.  I have come to appreciate the following four elements of Vertical Development as critical, whether in one-on-one coaching, leadership development programs, or, well… my own growth.  

  • Embrace the challenge of different perspectives.
    • Use narrative, metaphor, and imagery that open up new possibility.
    • Introduce somatic experiences to integrate the emerging reality at a physical level.
    • Support clients to make space for the emotions that come with both loss and emergence.
  • Recognize the catalytic experiences.
    • Offer both on-the-ground support and big picture perspective.
    • Identify action learning projects and stretch assignments that risk failure and require letting go of rote modes of operating and thinking.
    • Support clients to frame the opportunity in positive and proactive ways.
  • Build conditions that support and enable new ways of being and doing.
    • Identify safe-to-fail opportunities that encourage reflection and iteration on learning from experience.
    • Engage feedback, shadow coaching, and other on the spot workplace approaches for real time practice adjustment.
    • Become skillful in defining and working with developmental edges, paths, and practices.  The Vertical Development frameworks of Susanne’s Cook Greuter (Leadership Maturity Framework), Bill Torbert  (System of Action Logics), and Bob Kegan (Frames of Mind) are invaluable.
  • Tap into the courage that comes from clarity on what matters most and allow clients to be changed by their experience.
    • Focus on the “why” and “for the sake of what” questions to build clarity of conviction.
    • Create space for clients to accept fear as a natural part of the process.
    • Sift out a path through the unknown with questions that clarify what else might need to shift to enable the changes they seek.

One more thing…and this is a big one for those of us who do this work because we want to relieve suffering in others…. It is important to continually check in with our own capacity for being with upset, ambiguity, and not knowing.  Jumping in to problem solve when a client is struggling outside their comfort zone denies them the opportunity to build capacity to move through discomfort, an important building block for transformation. For this I suggest a regular gut-check question that goes something like this, “Am I helping them (or myself) feel better or supporting them in their process of growth?” What I love about this question is that in the letting go and stepping into the unknown that comes with my client’s transformative process, I am changed a bit too.

Jan Rybeck, MCC, is an IOC Fellow and a partner with COPIA , a Washington DC based coaching and consulting firm.

See Jan's CoachX video on vertical development!

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