Two feet in yellow heels in front of an arrow on the sidewalk in chalk.

Leadership is a Journey – Not a Destination

Leadership is a journey, not a destination – and the journey isn’t a simple, one-way road. Over time, leaders develop both horizontally and vertically.

Horizontal leadership development is when we increase our capacity and competence in our current role—increasing our ability to manage the externalities of our environment. Vertical leadership development is when we grow internally as individuals—increasing in our complexity, our emotional maturity and our ability to inspire others through personal growth.

Both forms of leadership development are necessary to be a great leader. One relates to subject matter expertise, while the other involves becoming a person of greater influence. The ability to change others—to inspire others to be their best and to align with the goals of the organization—is the most important capability that a leader can develop. It is how you scale your vision. (Check out “Changing Others Is the Most Important Capability a Leader Can Develop” for more on this.)

A lot of research has been done around vertical leadership development, and with good reason, as it is the “secret sauce” of inspirational leadership. The Leadership Maturity Framework describes the evolution of a leader in five stages:

  1. Group-Centric Leadership, which is about conforming to rules and belonging in the crowd;
  2. Skill-Centric Leadership, where one perfects skills and becomes a subject matter expert;
  3. Self-Determining Leadership, where one becomes a creator, not just executer, of long-term goals and objectives;
  4. Self-Questioning Leadership, where one begins to focus less on tasks and more on self, understanding that ones actions have an impact on outcomes; and
  5. Self-Actualized Leadership, where the leader integrates and transforms themselves and systems, seeing where the puck in going, and how she/he/they move it there.

The Leadership Maturity Continuum (LMC) also focuses on leadership development, but the driving action here is leadership energy—the power of purpose in values—in growing one’s leadership capabilities.

The LMC speaks to three types of leaders: bosses, leaders and steward leaders.

  • Bosses find their strength from their position of authority, and move their organizations forward through directing, coaching and encouraging their teams. Position power and work ethic fuel their actions, and success is measured by winning.
  • Leaders, on the other hand, have a desire to create a better future and focus on achieving it, where possible, through win-win solutions. Personal values and a clear sense of purpose animate the leader, and success is measured by living a life in alignment with one’s purpose.
  • Finally, steward leaders desire to create a collective better future where all stakeholders succeed, very similar to pragmatic altruism, my personal philosophy which I discuss in my book, “Lifecircle Leadership.” Here, everyone can win as one pursues interdependent, long term, high-value relationships with the people and organizations around them. The goal is to achieve the greater good, a purpose beyond oneself and even one’s organization. Happiness is measured in improved lives, organizations, communities, and the world. The energy around steward leadership is unlimited, striving toward a purpose higher than oneself—to create a better future for humanity at large.

Where are you today in your leadership journey? Wherever you are, be present in the moment, with a growing awareness of yourself and all you bring to the world. In a world that feels fragmented, polarized, or in disarray, great leaders are always in demand. Now is your leadership moment.