The leadership development framework (LDF) is premised upon a fundamental belief in the potential of adults to experience continued growth and learning over the lifespan (Torbert & Associates, 2004). It holds that persons may develop fundamentally new ways of seeing, understanding, relating to and engaging with life (Cook-Greuter, 1999; Kegan, 1982, 1994; Loevinger, 1976; Torbert & Associates, 2004). Such a developmental arc significantly informs that individual's ability for a deeper understanding of and more dynamic world views, thus allowing for the expanded capacity to problem solve and act with wisdom and effectiveness in the world (Cook-Greuter, 2004). There are several other important points about these series of overlapping yet distinctly identifiable stage of development, or action logics, that are described next.


The growth across a logical sequence of action logics just described is known as the vertical aspect of development, which represents the relatively rare and hard-earned changes in how we interpret our experiences and how we transform our view of reality over a lifespan. It refers to learning to see the world anew and seeing more expansively, including a transformation of consciousness, thereby enabling the individual a wider choice of ways to influence and integrate experience (Cook-Greuter, 2004). While vertical development is considered transformational, horizontal development refers to the deepening and expansion of a person's meaning making within a stage and is often referred to as consolidation within a stage. It can be thought of as the learning and growth that occurs in training and development programs, when people learn new skills and behaviors, and learn how to influence more broadly with their new competencies. Therefore, one might think of vertical and horizontal development potentially occurring together over a lifespan as according to a spiral type of movement.


This movement through new ways of looking at and engaging with life occurs along a trajectory from the simpler to the more complex ways of understanding, and from a more static to a more dynamic view. Once an action logic has been assimilated it is part of an adult's meaning making capacity as subsequent action logics may be integrated. An image sometimes used to depict this is that of a sequentially nested collection of Russian dolls, each fitting inside the next larger one. This trajectory, one in which earlier stages are included and transcended, unfolds to later stages which are more differentiated, integrated, fluid, and more capable of effective action in increasingly uncertain and ambiguous circumstances. (Cook-Greuter, 2004; Torbert & Associates, 2004).


While a person's vertical development includes each previous stage, the LDF identifies how a leader is likely to interpret situations and therefore how they may act. So while a person can interpret events and situations from any of the action logics traversed or from the current one, it is most often the case that people act from one or possibly two dominant action logics (Torbert, 1987, 2004). This is termed a person's center of gravity. Under stress, it is possible a leader will act from an earlier action logic given either unconscious habits or even conscious ones. It is important to remember that a person at a later stage may understand earlier perspectives, but an adult at an earlier center of gravity is unlikely able to understand later stages except through the relatively simplified perspective of their mental model.

Cook-Greuter (2004) offers the metaphor of climbing a mountain range to illustrate these three attributes of cognitive development over the lifespan. She notes that at each turn one can see more of what has been passed through including the turnarounds, shadows and hidden passageways that made the journey as unpredictable as life itself. Upon reaching the summit, or subsequent action logic, the traveler can recognize and appreciate the richness of the passageway. At the mountaintop the traveler has a fuller view of other mountain ranges yet to be discovered, and has more information and has more tolerance for ambiguity and complexity as well as more flexibility, an increased capacity for reflection, and increased skill in determining wise and timely action. Additionally, persons reaching a summit or new action logic are more likely to experience decreases in defensiveness.

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