Recent interest in horizontal and vertical development has brought attention to the proposition that most management development processes, and learning in general, has been based on the premise that if we equip people with knowledge, new skills, abilities and behaviours, then those will later translate into improved competency and performance.
This paradigm is a technical one where problems can be broken down, analysed and fixed so long as we have acquired the necessary technical knowledge to deal with them.
An analogy frequently used to describe horizontal development is the act of pouring water into a glass. As more knowledge, skills and competencies are acquired, the glass fills up.
When deficits are identified, the answer is to find new or better ones to put into the glass. People who constantly search for new tools and techniques are effectively on the same mission to fill their glass.
From this perspective, excellence in management and leadership, or for that matter, any form of practice, is achieved by filling the glass with the best possible material available.
Given that most education systems and professional development programmes are based on the horizontal paradigm, it is hardly surprising that many people only understand learning and development from this mindset. It would be absurd to dismiss the importance of knowledge acquisition and proper training to perform proficiently.
Business managers need to understand profit and loss accounts, company procedures and good HR practice. Leaders need to understand how to turn around the financial performance of their organisations and enable them to flourish.
Core skills, informational content and technical expertise are all required in any professional discipline. Without it people would flounder or worse still, make disastrous mistakes. So, it goes without saying that horizontal learning is necessary. The real question is whether it’s always enough – especially in the leadership space.