EPISODE 362
Beena Sharma
Beena Sharma: The New Age of Leadership Development

Mark speaks with Beena Sharma, international consultant and president of the Vertical Development Academy. Beena is committed to serving leaders and organizations on their growth and development journeys.

Beena Sharma
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Show Notes

Today, Commander Divine speaks with Beena Sharma, international consultant and president of the Vertical Development Academy. ​​ Beena has worked for more than two decades in the area of whole-system, large-scale change. In this episode, Beena discusses polarity thinking, how language affects our reality, and the difference between horizontal and vertical development.

Key Takeaways:

  • We are entering the age of vertical development. Vertical development fosters essential growth of new perspectives and gives leaders a greater ability to handle the complex problems of our changing world. Fortunately, we can now measure how an individual grows through these stages of maturity thanks to assessments like the ones provided by the Vertical Development Academy.
  • We need both horizontal and vertical development. While horizontal development gives you more knowledge, information, skills, credentials, and certificates, it doesn’t fundamentally change any assumptions you have about yourself. It doesn’t challenge any beliefs you have about how the world works. Vertical development, on the other hand, recognizes that you have certain beliefs, and that you’re invested in and identify with certain assumptions. And then these get challenged over time because of life experiences.
  • How can a MAP assessment help? The MAP (Maturity Profile) assessment analyzes our developmental anatomy. It shows us how language reflects development, how we express our meaning-making, and what we see in the world through language. This then reveals what we are aware of, what we’re not aware of, and the hidden beliefs and assumptions that we hold. By challenging those beliefs and assumptions, we can open up to new perspectives.
  • Our new psychological development models mirror ancient spiritual traditions.
    Traditionally, the Eastern spiritual and wisdom traditions have talked about unitive consciousness. And now, we have a model that mirrors the stages of consciousness for psycho-emotional development, which is a fascinating and valuable parallel.
  • The paradox of polarities. Polarities are tensions or interdependent values that we struggle with. Sometimes, we pick one value over the other thinking one is better than the other. But as we grow, we realize that it’s not this or that; it’s both. It’s like inhaling and exhaling; we have to both inhale and exhale to live and breathe. You would never be able to pick one, because you need both to survive. So, not all problems are problems that can be solved. Sometimes it’s not about solving a problem; it’s just about harmonizing, integrating, and managing both sides of the spectrum.
  • Don’t let labels box you in. In early stages of development, we like to orient ourselves by boxing ourselves in and labeling ourselves as a “type” (i.e. “I’m a thinking type” or “I’m a feeling type”). This is helpful to a point. But as we grow, we continue to define ourselves in more expansive ways, until we eventually arrive at the style of no style. This is where you’re not bound by anything and you can be anything, because you realize that your conditioning has been keeping you in a box. This happens systematically and progressively, and it can sound like a tall order. But it’s the process.
  • We all have the potential for unity consciousness. The idea of seeing others as the enemy is a very early stage idea. Many of us grow through that and recognize that it’s a limited way of viewing the world. And so our circle of embrace expands. While this might never happen for some people due to life circumstances and a lack of inner and outer resources, it has the potential to grow in every human being. In fact, it’s our birthright.

Quotes:

“Finally, it is that you don’t have these boundaries because it’s the mind that creates these boundaries and these divisions and so it’s also called no boundary consciousness, where I can look at you Mark and see you as me. There is no difference, you and I are both an aspect of this larger awareness that is manifested in this particular body with this particular conditioning. Fundamentally, the air we breathe unites us, you know, this whole cosmos unites us and everything is simultaneous. There’s no separation.”

“In the last 20 years, I’ve been focusing more on deep individual development, because changing a system, I felt, required me to understand myself and individuals deeper.”

I see the assessment as it reveals the anatomy of development. It just shows you how language reflects development, how we express our meaning making, how we express what we see in the world through language and how that reveals what we are aware of, what we’re not aware of, what are the hidden beliefs and assumptions that we hold. And then by challenging that, we can open our perspectives up. Now life will challenge us, that’s how we grow anyway. And we can be more aware of that developmental process with an understanding of this framework and the assessment.”

“I knew that this work was going to be central in my life, but I was balking at the idea of starting an enterprise, because I had this fear that I’ll get sucked into it. And then I, you know, I won’t have any time, I won’t have any time for myself or my life. And that changed when one morning after six months, I just woke up, you know, these five words, “this is mine to do.” It just felt like I was doing it anyway, I could trust myself to keep the boundaries. So I went to Suzanne and told her I want to create this academy, the center where this work could grow.”

“We can think ahead and make all the plans we want. But if we don’t pay attention to what is happening to the reality here, we may miss the bus, right?”

“So in some ways, we can say that maturity or this vertical development, is coming closer and closer to what actually is, and tests our ideas about what we think is true and what actually is not true.”

Mark Divine 0:00
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Coming up on the Mark Divine show…

Beena Sharma 1:28
Finally, it is that you don’t have these boundaries because it’s the mind that creates these boundaries and these divisions and so it’s also called no boundary consciousness, where I can look at you Mark and see you as me. There is no difference, you and I are both an aspect of this larger awareness that is manifested in this particular body with this particular conditioning. Fundamentally, the air we breathe unites us, you know, this whole cosmos unites us and everything is simultaneous. There’s no separation.

Mark Divine 2:05
Hi, this is Mark Divine. I’m the host of the Mark Divine show. Thanks for joining us today. On the show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate and resilient leaders. My guests include notables from all walks of life, motivational scientists, nutritional experts, peace crusaders and developmental coaches. Each episode, I distill the remarkable experiences of my guests into actionable insights to help you create your most compassionate and courageous life ever.

Today I’m going to be talking about the importance of vertical development. And contrast that with horizontal development and also talk about polarities. All of this is about lifelong adult development, and leadership development. My guest today is Beena Sharma, a good friend of mine who I admire greatly, who’s dedicated to stimulating and fostering enlightened, humanized, relevant practical and real world vertical development, which has a huge significance for our future. Beena leads the vertical Development Academy, which delivers the maturity assessment profile and maturity profile assessment. Her mission is to catalyze human maturity on this planet, which sounds aligned with my mission. She’s an expert in how leaders grow into greater maturity and complexity, and how to facilitate the development and integration of the mature self, leading to more complex thinking, more complex systemic integration, greater depth, breadth, and also competitive performance.

Mark Divine 3:31
So Beena, thanks so much for joining us today. I mean, I’m excited. Um, you and I have known each other just for about a year I think, and I’m very excited about the work you’re doing in its similarity, or I say alignment, with what we’re doing in our company Unbeatable. Before we get into some of those details about vertical development. Tell us a little bit about Beena, where were you born? And what were some of your childhood influences and some of the things that shaped you in this world?

Beena Sharma
Yeah, but first, I want to say thank you for inviting me. And I’m very excited to meet you and get to know your work and also for potentially collaborating with you because we are serving the same larger purpose, I feel the largest purpose we can imagine for ourselves and for the world.

Mark Divine
And the timing is so important. You know, I want to talk about your view, vision for the future, you know, as we get into this, but it couldn’t be more of an urgent mission, in my opinion.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, about me. I was raised in India, I grew up in the south of India. In some ways, I was always an outsider. I grew up in the South, but my father was from the north, we would go to the north, I was seen as a South Indian. And I am saying this because I think that was an important experience for me to learn what it means to stand on the outside and not be completely absorbed in the homogeneity of the culture that, you know, I was raised in. And I think that’s a deep source of growth for me, you know, a reference point.

Mark Divine
Can I pause? I like to drill into some of these things. I’ll try not to interrupt you. But I do want to press pause a few times here. I have an Indian fellow in my doctoral program and of course, programs these days diversity and inclusion, and bias and race, disparities and equality are like really, really brought to the surface, whereas probably maybe 10 years ago, they weren’t so much. And what was fascinating for me to learn from this Indian guy Venkat, was just how much racial disparity and separatism exists in the Indian culture. Because, you know, I was thinking, well, that really only exists in America, everyone else is kind of more squared away. But apparently that’s not true. Right. So I thought it’s fascinating. I think it’s interesting for people to hear this is a global issue, right? It’s not something related to just Western culture?

Beena Sharma
No, I think it’s related to the human mind. It’s related to our perspective-taking. And in some ways that’s actually very relevant to our topic today. Because our perspectives evolve, as we grow, you know, early on, even if we have these allergies to others, you know, we were raised to not trust others, we were raised to trust only family. Blood is thicker than water. And as we get socialized, and conditioned, we absorb all those, I would say, rules to keep ourselves safe. And there’s value in belonging, you know, we are safer in numbers, etc. But as we develop and mature, we realize that’s a very limited view. And we separate ourselves from that. So this idea about disparities, and seeing others as the enemy is a very early stage idea, I would say, and many of us grow through that, and pass that into recognizing that that’s not actually true. And our circle of embrace expands. For some people because of life circumstances, because of a lack of inner and outer resources, that movement doesn’t happen. But I think it has the potential to grow in every human being.

Mark Divine
I agree with you, and not to go deep into this right now. But just as kind of a harbinger of what’s to come in our conversation, because it’s very relevant in the global stage right now, when you see you know, Russia, which is led by, you know, an either a self centric or certainly a group centric egoic you know, ethnocentric leader like Putin, attacking Ukraine, who, you know, I believe, is being led by a more world centric individual in the younger Zelensky. It wreaks great harm. When you have a structure with structures we have in this bipolarized or multipolar geostrategic type structure that was built in the industrial age, in a post world war two that allows undeveloped leaders to have control of nuclear weapons. I just want to pin that because it’s something that I think has to change in order for us to survive as a species. And I want to come back to that, because it’s not an insignificant number of people in this world who are at that self centric or group centric, it’s significant, right?

Beena Sharma
Yeah, I would say that it can be a catastrophe, when you have somebody who doesn’t have a more mature perspective about inclusion, about seeing the whole world as one, and is more territorial, when that is compounded with power. And when that’s compounded with, you know, weapons that can destroy the Earth, it’s a disastrous catastrophe situation. You know, since you’ve already introduced some terms, we’ll come back to those later. But I would just say that it’s a little more complex than identifying Putin as just at one stage, you know, we are all complex, we all… he may have access to later stages. But it’s a compounding of complex factors than that, maybe evoke one way of holding what needs to be done or just holding the goal or the vision he has.

Mark Divine
Right, when it comes to like a center of gravity for certain types of acting in the world are being triggered, or, you know, like you said, he might be a certain way as a father that’s much more evolved. But on the global stage, he’s acting out of a very early stage model. I would say.

Beena Sharma
Interestingly, I just heard a clip recently of an interview of him maybe 20 years ago, and he was asked by the interviewer, you know, what is his vision for his daughters? How does he want them to grow up, and he said, I want them to grow up as good Russians. So that actually comes from a particular worldview, a particular stage of development, which is the group centric stage is that there is a definition of who we are, who a good Russian is, who Russians are, and he wanted them to grow up as good Russians, not as world citizens. So you can already see this like boundary that defines his identity, if you will,

Mark Divine
right. And then there’s pretty narrow and the Chinese CCP has that kind of a similar kind of energy around this narrow perspective of we are this way, and yet, it’s our right to impose this way on others around the global order. You know, this is kind of what’s leading to this conflict.

Beena Sharma 10:00
But yeah, it’s horrendously complex. In the political stage, it’s just horrendously complex. There’s so many factors. Yeah.

Mark Divine
Right. I would love to, you know, this is something I’d love to come back to when we talk about vision for the future. But, you know, wouldn’t it be nice if we can get to a place in time where there’s a prerequisite to assent to these leadership posts, and that prerequisite is that you have to be at a post conventional, you know, constructor where or even self actualizing stage of development that is inclusive of all but but also inclusive of all perspectives.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, the level of perspective you can take as critical in critical positions of power.

Mark Divine
Right. And I think we’re coming to a place where the global population will demand that as they start to understand its criticality, you know. back to Beena, sorry for taking that little sideshow. Yeah. So your experiences in India helped you understand that it doesn’t feel good to be an outsider, when you’re the outsider. How did that spur you growth?

Beena Sharma
Yeah, it gave me a distance. And it allowed me to choose who I wanted to be not just be determined by what was expected of me. So that was a big step. And then early on, I started learning about thinking skills because my daughter was born and I wanted to take her to school. And I wanted to find the best school and I found that all the schools were just stuffing, you know, children with information. And they were not actually allowing the mind to be open. And I got really interested in how we develop children. So I studied Maria Montessori and Joseph Campbell and Rudolf Steiner, and Jai Krishna Murthy, really got interested in education and then got interested in education of an adult. We started with holding myself as instrument. So I started, you know, learning and teaching thinking skills, how to improve the way I think and question and interpret and, you know, how can I be more creative. So I did that for a few years and realized that those were all skills related to thinking, even with my learning and teaching, I had taken some poor decisions.

So I realized that there was much more to taking good life decisions. So I got more interested in the interiority of emotions and our conditioning and context. So I started studying psychotherapy, but ended up working in an organization doing organizational development, and leadership development. This thing about the cognitive and the emotional, that tension finally got integrated within me. And then I also realized through my work that I was teaching and training, but what I was really looking for was learning. How are people actually learning and applying.

So I got interested in learning, I studied and started designing learning interventions in an organization. And then I realized just that was also not enough because the organization had to learn in order to meet its strategic vision and strategic direction. So then I got interested in learning in the context of strategic change. So I got trained in large scale change management. So I did that for several years.

Mark Divine
That’s a challenging area, by the way, I understand most change initiatives fail, you know, so people are very resistant to change, and they have kind of a immunity to change. And I think that there’s actually a book by that title by a famous change agent at Harvard. I think.

Beena Sharma
That’s Robert Keegan’s work. So even that resistance to change can be interpreted as positive for the whole system, because through that resistance, there’s wisdom. And the whole system can move and learn as well. In the last 20 years, I’ve been focusing more on deep individual development, because changing a system I felt, required me to understand myself and individuals deeper. And I was fascinated by integral theory, I came upon kansal verse work. So he, as you know, has codified or understood, researched, investigated the last 10,000 years of human endeavor and seen these major patterns of how we understand our world, and created a comprehensive theory of everything called integral theory. And among all the dimensions of integral theory I was most interested in what is what we call vertical development, which is this expanding of our mindset, the evolution of every human being, as we grow and understand our world and we make meaning, we come into new ways of storing what we are experiencing. So I got most interested in that, and I was very fortunate to meet Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, whose research at Harvard, you know, has been seminal, built on already 30 years of research by Jane Lovinger, who was another psychometrician.

Susanne built on Jane Lovinger’s work and developed the theory and framework and the measurement of how human beings grow and mature, until I would say 30, 40 years ago, when you just arrived when you’re an adult, you’re 21, and you’re an adult. And that’s it. But we now know, we even knew then, that our growth and learning continues to grow, continues to evolve over time. But now we have scientific measurement, as well as a theory that is empirically based on that research that codifies what that means. So it’s very exciting that we have that accessible today.

Mark Divine
Yeah, I love that. I ran into Ken’s work around 2000 When I was enrolled at USD in a leadership doctorate program. And it was fascinating because I saw the immediate value in the developmental stage model, which you just described, but also how it related to what he calls the four quadrants or collapsing into the big three. And that’s what you just said about why change is difficult, is related to that. Because if you just try to change the it structures, but you don’t try to address the I and the we, the individual interior of the individual and, and the team, then change efforts really tend to fail. Ultimately, it’s all about the individuals executing the change within the structures, you know, that are implemented. So I thought that that was brilliant, but I remember USD literally firing one of the professors who wanted to bring integral theory into the program. And shortly thereafter, I got sent to Iraq. And I had a lot of thought about that. And I decided to end my reign there at USD, and I was like, 50 some odd credits into the program. But I just like, I don’t think I’m aligned with this university. It’s fascinating, you know, but Wilbur had a big influence, we’ve had him on the show a while ago, this whole model, his whole model has really greatly influenced my work as well.

Beena Sharma
That’s wonderful. That’s why I love what you’re doing is bringing the depths of all levels of development and the integral model along with cutting edge technologies to address every dimension.

Mark Divine
So let’s get into Susanne’s work, but then you actually started working with her. Then you started a company called Vertical Development Academy. And she’s now aligned with you to bring her assessment work, what they call them out into your clients. So tell us about that kind of relationship and how that evolved. And then where it’s going.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, it’s been a blessing and a privilege, you know, to work with Susanne. So I asked her to be my mentor, and she agreed, which was amazing. And so we started working in 2005. So she trained me in the framework and teaching the framework, and I began to integrate everything that I had learned. Because this is a comprehensive meta framework that can be used to interpret any school of thought, you know, any perspective. So my work, I had already been working with polarity thinking, we talked a little bit about that, I’d already been working with that lens, if you will. So having worked with Susanne, I was able to integrate more explicitly how polarity shows up in this framework of vertical development. I found it endlessly fascinating, just the work of the framework. And I think it was hugely impactful from my own growth and development. So I was more clearly able to see how I was growing. And that informed the work.

And I realized that the assessment is this core scientific mirror that can tell me and can tell us, you know, where we are in our ability to make sense of the world, at what stage of development we are. And so I realized that, in order to understand it even deeper, I would have to learn how to actually score the assessment. So I got trained by Susanne, and how to score the assessment. I see the assessment as it reveals the anatomy of development, you know, it just shows you how language reflects development, how we express our meaning making, how we express what we see in the world through language and how that reveals what we are aware of, what we’re not aware of, what are the hidden beliefs and assumptions that we hold. And then by challenging that we can open our perspectives up. Now life will challenge us, that’s how we grow anyway. And we can be more aware of that developmental process with an understanding of this framework and the assessment. So I got trained as a scorer, and then I learned from her how to train other scorers. Then in 2013, Susanne said, Look, you know, now you can just do this on your own. You know, I see you as a peer you can teach and you can deliver the assessments. I took six months to think about what I wanted to do. I knew that this work was going to be central in my life, but I was balking at the idea of starting an enterprise, because I had this fear that I’ll get sucked into it. And then I, you know, I won’t have any time, I won’t have any time for myself or my life.

And that changed when one morning after six months, I just woke up, you know, these five words, “this is mine to do.” It just felt like I was doing it anyway, I could trust myself to keep the boundaries. So I went to Susanne and told her I want to create this academy, the center where this work could grow. And we would train more coaches, certify them, make a network and really hold an anchor, the integrity and the ethic of this work and maintain the scientific rigor. And so Susanne listened to me, didn’t say anything. And in the end, she said, Yeah, I’d like to be a part of that, which was the best thing, you know, that I could have heard, because we were better together, we are better together. And so Susanne and I then started collaborating in this partnership in this company. And she’s been very intimately involved with my development, with the development of the work. And then in the last three years, she’s more in her writing mode and retirement mode.

So in the last three years, I have taken on full leadership of the enterprise, if you will, as she continues to be a research director, continues to be a guide. And it’s very exciting to see the interest in this work. And personally, I feel that even my own understanding is deepening. And I’m able to expand both the theory and the application, in terms of the assessment as well as the coaching considerably because we’re learning so much. We’re learning so much about the framework. We’re learning so much about how people are impacted by the assessment. We’re learning so much about how individuals grow by, you know, in the last four years, we’ve done 2000 assessments, which means 2000 debriefs, you know, it’s a privilege to get that kind of deep window into the interior of a person and begin to see the universal application as well.

Mark Divine 22:17
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Mark Divine 24:08
Before we get into what is vertical development and what are the… what’s the stage model that Susanne, you know, kind of evolved in that you were working with and probably will continue to evolve because it’s a living model, right? It’s not just like I say with mine, it’s not stuck in brick and mortar or else, you know, it would live itself, right? It’s a living model. And also as consciousness evolves, so must our understanding of it and the language you use.

So that kind of my first question. I was listening to Brene Brown’s new book and she literally just said the same thing, that language, the language we use will either limit us or you know, help us expand and I said that, just like you understand that people who get into the work of self evolution, they have to radically examine and deconstruct the language that they used, because language is how we make meaning and sense making. So new language can lead to new perspectives and new sense making. I think this is great, great. And I really want to come back to language again and talking about polarities. Because I think that just the discussion alone can be psychoactive and people be like, Oh, wow, interesting. Right, polarities exist in our lives because we live in this duality world and so to be able to be aware of them and understand the language of the range of polarities that exist, or the range that exists within polarities, can really help meaning making and problem solving and conflict resolution and those types of things. Well, why don’t we start there before we get into vertical development itself? Because I know polarities are part of it, but how do language and polarities fit together and take us through kind of the general philosophy of polarities? You were working with that before you started the stage development model?

Beena SHarma
Yeah. So polarities are basically tensions, you know, we all face them, polarities are interdependent values or strengths that we tend to navigate struggle with. And sometimes we pick one over the other thinking one is better than the other. And as we grow, we realize, well, it’s not this or that it’s both. So we all know that. I mean, just a work life balance. There was no such thing 30, 40 years ago, but then, as the workforce started over focusing on work, then you know, organizations began to see the downside of that people were exhausted, that was burnout. And then it became a thing to say, hey, work is not everything, you also need to pay attention to your life. So work life balance became an organizational imperative for more functionally integrated human beings. Now, it seems so obvious, but this is just the core. It’s like inhaling and exhaling, you know, we have to inhale to live and breathe and be breathed, inhaling, and we have to exhale to live. To pick one or the other as better is like saying, Oh, the inhalers are better than the exhale. Or inhaling is better than exhaling, there is no such thing you need both to live. So there is a class of tensions that are actually polarities, there are many, many tensions that may be in opposition, that may not actually be a polarity, where you pick one over the other and you’re good to go, it solves the problem.

But not all problems are problems that can be solved. Like this problem of inhaling and exhaling, which is better, we can solve that, right? It’s not about solving it, it’s just about kind of moving along. It’s about harmonizing, integrate, managing it and doing both. And you have to do both over time. So this can show up in individuals, it can show up in organizations. So just for an example, it could be you and I are working in a team. And I like to plan ahead and make the plan and work the plan. And that’s the way I feel, I will be an effective leader. And you, on the other hand, may actually like to really wait to see what’s actually happening before you know making a big plan, you’re more relying on let’s adapt to what’s emerging, let’s pay attention to what is real, instead of thinking ahead, because we can think ahead and make all the plans we want. But if we don’t pay attention to what is happening to the reality here, we may miss the bus, right?

So we have both different orientations. So I’m focusing on planning, thinking ahead, and you’re focusing on adapting to what is emergent, right. And with an either or mindset, we can see each other as a problem, or each other’s approach as problematic. So you might say, Beena is all the time planning and thinking ahead, and she’s forgetting what is actually happening, and before long, none of her plans are actually, you know, achieved or achievable. Because she’s just not paying attention to what is happening currently, or adapting, however, you want to say that. Whereas I am adaptive, I can be more successful as a leader by paying attention to the details, to the signals on the ground today, not what I can do, you know, six months later.

Beena, on the other hand, will look at Mark and say, Mark is just not thinking ahead. He’s just being reactive. He’s just responding to what is now and he’s shifting and changing. And he’s all over the place and it’s chaotic.

Mark Divine
How did you know me so well?

Beena Sharma
And he doesn’t know, he doesn’t bring the structure that is needed. He’s not going to be an effective leader. Right. So we see each other’s pole, which is a polarity. So this is a polarity where one pole is planning and the other pole is, let’s say, flowing, emergent, adapting, however you want to say. So when I privilege my poll, I see your pole in its negative. And when you focus on your pole and say, that’s the better way, then you see my poll in the negative. And so we are both the worst. In some ways we can collaborate very well.

Mark Divine
Yeah, this is fascinating to me, because most people listening have been exposed to type ologies like the Myers Briggs or disc, but I’ve never seen them taught in the context of polarities, and that would be extremely valuable to merge a typology assessment that says okay, here’s these different ways of being and usually they’re, like five factors or either five or four different kind of major ways that people behave or their personality types are. But then, you know, so you say, Okay, I am this way. Great, that’s helpful. And Beema is that way. And so you know, just understand, but understand that these things can be seen in polarities, and to have a team bring out the best of the team is to, to understand how these polarities work and how each typology might have a distinct polarity in another typology.

Beena Sharma
Absolutely, absolutely. And the thing is, all typologies are resting on underlying polarities, it’s just that some are called up, and then they are fixed. What typologies don’t teach you is how to manage polarities, they teach you how to work with that typology. So it actually can be a limiting framework. So you could do the MBTI, you can know that I’m an intf, and you are an ES TJ, and we can work with that. But when we’re actually working, I don’t see that you’re emphasizing emergence, I’m emphasizing planning, this is a polarity, I can’t see that. Because I’m only trained to see those four polarities in the MBTI, which have 16 versions, and some people will take it to 84. But it’s still a constraining framework, it should be a liberating structure, so that it allows you to see polarities, but it doesn’t. So even if you look at the Enneagram, if you look at type a, type seven, they all preference and privilege some poles.

Mark Divine
Well, the other thing, since we’re talking about these, and I’d love to hear your perspective on this, as I’ve never seen them taught where the facilitator buys into the idea that the type will change as an individual evolves, what they usually will say is the type may change based upon the situation evolving. But when I look at, you know who I am, as a self actualized, or, or becoming as a constructive aware human, I’m very different. My type is very, very different. I am way more spontaneous and adaptable than I was when I was a CPA, and a different type back in my 20s, where I was much more of a planner and thinker because I was stuck in my head.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, so this is the other thing. As we mature, we are freer from our patterns and the way we define ourselves. So in early stages of development, we like to say, Oh, I’m this type, I’m the thinking type, you’re the feeling type. It’s orienting. So it’s actually helpful up to a point. But as we grow, we continue to define ourselves in more and more expansive ways. And that shifts. So we actually say that as you grow through maturity, you arrive at the style of no style, you’re not bound by any, you can be anything, because you realize that you’re fixing yourself. And it was a story you said, and it was also a conditioning. So at later stages, we become aware of our conditioning, and we loosen our own conditioning systematically, progressively. Until we are free of that we can be free of that. Now that’s a tall order. But it’s the process.

Mark Divine
It’s the process. And that’s what we mean by when you become construct aware, you get to deconstruct the conditioning, and the personality, typology and all that and then reconstruct, like you said, whatever is necessary for you to thrive in a situation or in the life that you want to live.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, that’s why I don’t like to teach typologies. And I support anybody who learns that typology. And I say, just add this layer. See the typology as a certain set of polarities and understand how polarities work, understand how you would name a polarity? How would you identify it? How would you see your own preferences? And how will you include what you exclude? Because you don’t think that that’s a good way of being a leader? So how can I Beena, include your adaptability? How can I include your being emergent along with planning so that I am way better than if I were to just plan and then reject this other part?

So what polarity does is helps us see what we exclude, it helps us see what we privilege and then it helps us be more powerful because integration is powerful.

Mark Divine
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of people out there who love the idea of being growth mindset, because they want to be included in that idea. But then they fully believe that I am an ENFJ. Or I am a dominant driver in the DISC profile. And so what they’re really saying is, I am a fixed mindset person who believes they are growth mindset, but they’re not. You’re not growth in all areas.

Beena Sharma
And I might make a distinction between fixed mindset and fixing identity.

Mark Divine
Yes. Okay, please. I think you’re right. So built upon this idea that polarities can help us open up to be more inclusive and growing and deconstructing and reconstructing our worldview and our identities and etc. That leads us to this idea of vertical development versus horizontal development. And most of training, leadership development in the past has been horizontal, which is accrual of new skills that help you be more effective or efficient, you know, like communication strategies, strategic planning, values mapping, etc. And we’ve all done that, every listener has been through that. It didn’t change who you are as a person. So how would you describe vertical development in opposition to what, you know, the traditional horizontal development looks like?

Beena Sharma
Yeah. And so I want to even start by noticing that this is a polarity, vertical and horizontal, it’s a polarity.

Mark Divine
It’s almost like an intersection, it’s not so much of a polarity.

Beena Sharma
But I guess the thing is, you need both. Just doing horizontal development is not enough. So what is horizontal development, like, you know, more knowledge, more information, more skills, more credentials, more certificates, and you know, more and more and more, but it doesn’t fundamentally change any assumptions you have about yourself, it doesn’t fundamentally change any beliefs you have about how the world works. Vertical development, on the other hand, involves recognizing that you have certain beliefs, and you’re invested and identified by certain assumptions. And then these get challenged over time because of life experiences. And you realized, Oh, heck, I thought I had it, but I was all wrong.

So let’s say you start a new partnership, you hire somebody, you have an idea about how they’re going to work, you’re trusting, you see their skill set, and you hire them. And then three months later, it’s not working. So what is this telling you? So now you begin to question, what did I miss? What did I not see? What does this person bring? Does he or she fit into my context? Are our visions aligned, you begin to question all these assumptions. And that’s huge learning, that’s very different from horizontal development. You learn about your own assumptions, and then you’re the wiser. So next time, when you’re hiring somebody, now you do a deeper investigation, you have a more qualified process, you don’t say, Yeah, I’m going to hire you, pay you this much, then now you’ll say, well, let’s test this for six months and see how it’s going. That’s a big leap in development, because now you recognize that you can’t predict everything, you don’t know, you can’t see everything. And you want to wait to see how it’s actually going to work out.

A more personal example would be all of us have been in relationships, you get into a relationship, you love this other person, you have an imagination of who you are in this relationship, you get married, you have an idea about who you’re going to be as a husband, as a wife, or what marriage is. And then 10 years later, your 10th anniversary, you catch yourself reflecting, oh, my god, now I had no clue 10 years ago. Now I understand what marriage is all about. Because now there’s reality, your real experience has shown you that you had some ideas and ideals about marriage. But reality is actually different.

So in some ways, we can say that maturity or this vertical development, is coming closer and closer to what actually is, and tests our ideas about what we think is true and what actually is not true. It sounds a little abstract. But I think those examples, it helps you see that we have some idea that gets challenged, and we come up with a new idea, oh, that’s not marriage. This is what marriage is like. You’re living in that marriage in a new way, with new perspectives. The things that bothered you 10 years ago, don’t bother you anymore. That is vertical development.

Mark Divine
That makes a lot of sense to me. But to help frame it even further, based upon Kirkrider’s work and Ken Wilber and Claire Degraves and Lunger, they’ve shown that there’s kind of the center of gravity is that stabilize, or that you can kind of point to, in this developmental or maturation process, and so we call those developmental stages. And that’s very helpful because it creates a map. And when you’re doing developmental work, it’s very helpful to have a map. So you kind of know, if you veer off that terrain, if you’re going sideways, or you’re going backwards, you can be like, oh, you know, maybe I need to do something different, or there’s something holding me back. I’m doing good in these areas.

But let’s say like your, your point, my relationship is really stuck, then, then the map can really help us. So let’s talk about the most, you know, the kind of like the three most dominant stages, which are the, you know, I would say egoic and ethnocentric and world centric, those are Wilbers terms or pre conventional, conventional post conventional, let’s characterize those three. And then as we have time, maybe get into some of the more nuances that exist within those three.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, so when you mentioned stages, so vertical development involves people growing through the stages of development that are recognizable, that can actually also be assessed. So if you’re okay, I can actually quickly go through the stages instead of the bands because that brings greater clarity.

So the first stage of development is when we are centered on the self which is called self centric. All we have capacity for is surviving and protecting ourselves. That is the earliest stage of development where we are not yet even socialized. We have no concept of the impact on the other person. So if somebody needs something, they go steal it, I don’t care whether it’s yours or it’s not supposed to be mine, I’ll just take what I want, because I need it. Because my need is immediate. And this involves me surviving, there is no concept of rules or norms. And there’s no concept of impact on the other person. And that’s such a stage, if you give me any feedback, hey, you’re not supposed to steal, I see that as an attack. And I will only retaliate. At the next stage of development. For the first time, I realize that I couldn’t just do something because I want it, you know, there are rules or norms. And I realized that, how long am I going to just be running and trying to survive on my own, I actually want to be part of society, I want to be included, because there are benefits, and I will be liked. And I can be protected by my group, whoever that group is my faith, my country, my, my race, whatever that is.

So that’s the next stage, is the group centric stage when we are socialized into a group identity. And when you give me feedback at that stage, I see that as I get embarrassed, because I want approval, I want to be included. And I feel shame. If you give me feedback, I’m relating this also too since you’re talking about coaching and leadership as related to what happens in the context of feedback. So that’s the group centric stage, when you know, the world is divided into us and them.

And at the group centric stage, if you sort of attack my group, you attack me, there’s no difference. So there’s really no separate identity. These stages of development are also stages of identity in a certain way, how we see ourselves.

Mark Divine
I mean, they can exist at a cultural level as well

Beena Sharma
Yes, yeah, the focus, my study has been only at the individual level. So I’m not that, I mean, I can see how it applies how the individual identity then manifests and how culture is created, and where the central gravity for culture might be. I just haven’t, I mean, it’s more complex. So this is something that I’m sort of clearer about because of the research.

So at the next stage, for the first time, I have the sense of a separate self, it’s called the birth of the psychological self. Now my identity comes not from my group, from what I do. So whatever I do, I can be, if I’m a carpenter, or a doctor or a lawyer, I want to do it better. Because the better I am as that professional, or as that doer, the more sense of self I have, the better I feel about myself. So that stage is called skill centric.

So at this stage, if you give me feedback, if you criticize, like my work, you’re criticizing me, there’s no separation between what I do, my role, my action, my craft, there’s no separation between that. So that’s the skill centric stage.

Then the next stage, which is the highest in the band that we call conventional, is the self determining stage, which is a huge leap. Here, I’m no longer defined by what I do. But my choices, who am I independently? What do I think, what do I want? How do I want to reinvent myself? What do I want to achieve? How can I change the world? So there’s a much greater objectivity, there’s more reliance on a scientific sort of an approach. And I apply that to myself, also, I can be objective with myself. So at this stage, if you give me some feedback or criticism, for the first time, I can actually listen, observe myself and say, You know what, you’re right. I could have done that differently. That is a huge level of maturity. And I would say 50% of the general population isn’t there. But this is the center of gravity of what society supports, the self determining stage. We all you know, those of us who are educated entrepreneurs, educated individuals, educated people, we have our natural resources, we want to grow, we want to learn, we want to change, we see problems and we want to do the best. So we do that.

Mark Divine 43:57
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Mark Divine 45:20
So far you’ve described what I understand is to be the pre conventional, conventional, which is the majority of the global population.

Beena Sharma
Yes, about 75% of the general population all fall within these four stages. So the next stage is the entry into what is called the post conventional realm. And this is where for the first time, I realize that I can question what I think and believe like, in the previous stage, I am very clear about what I want, what I choose, my criteria. And if you have a different opinion, I’m willing to listen, I can be objective, but in my mind, I’m gonna do what I feel is right, we can agree to disagree. But I don’t actually see the truth in your perspective.

Mark Divine
But I’m not I’m not going to demonize you for your perspective.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, we can agree I can be logical about it, I can say that’s your view. And I’ll continue to do what I want to do. I’m not really impacted by that. I want to change things, but I’m not changed by things as much. So that first post conventional level for the first time, I realize that, who I am, what I choose, what I believe is a result of my conditioning, you know, because I was raised this way, I was in India, these were my parents, I was in the north in the south, I realized that this is my makeup. And I was conditioned by my context. And for the first time, I can look at you and realize that you hold your views because you were conditioned by your context. You grew up in America, you did yoga, you were in the Navy SEALs, and this is why you have this sort of worldview.

So who am I to say that I am right, and you are wrong. We are both right. You also bring truth, I also bring truth, and everybody brings truth. So now there are multiple perspectives that I recognize the truth of. So that is a huge leap in development, which is at least necessary for us to understand different perspectives. At that stage, if you give me any feedback, I actually welcome it because you’re showing me things I don’t know about myself. And that’s welcome. I realized there are parts of me I don’t know, there are hidden parts of me that I don’t know, because I’m just discovering them. And so when you give me feedback, I welcome it.

At the next stage, which is a self actualizing stage… I’m realizing now that yes, all views are equal, because everybody’s truth is a truth. But there are some principles. There are some absolutes, there are some truths that are higher truths. So now for the first time, I’m able to hold that position, even if it means excluding some truths, in the context of a higher truth, in the context of the larger system for the greater good, the idea of the greater good, I can take some decisions. So that is also an integrative mindset, if you will, where you can see multiple perspectives, and you can integrate them for the good of the larger system. And that’s, again, another big milestone in development. And at that stage, if you give me feedback, I not only welcome it, I will actually go invite feedback because I realize that feedback is necessary between the individual and the environment; conflict is a part of a viable system. So I will actually invite feedback. Sometimes I may not even invite feedback, but the way I interpret the situations around me, that is feedback to me about who I am, about how I’m seeing the situation.

So that’s the self actualizing stage. And you know, between, as I already said, the post conventional stages are about just 20 to 25% of the general population will be in the last four stages. And these first two stages of the post conventional, you know, you might have about 18 to 20%.

The next stage is a big milestone, which is called the construct aware, and you have about five to 6% at that stage, at the construct of a stage after having discovered these higher principles and the deep desire to know one’s own depth and one’s own psyche, one’s own blind spots, one begins to realize that these higher principles are also constructs, their ideas. They’re just stories that we tell. So then you come into this understanding that through language, we’re making stories about everything and all stories are constructed. And I have a story about myself. And that’s also constructed, myself is also constructed, which is like, literally where in the earliest stage you have the rug that seems to have been pulled out from under your feet because your fundamental assumptions are challenged. At this stage. It’s like you know, the Earth is is gone from under you, it’s like there’s really nothing to hold on to it can be, it is disorienting it can cause despair. And the freedom, the freedom from the mind is a huge leap in consciousness.

Mark Divine
This is like in a spiritual practice, The Dark Night of the Soul kind of happens in this construct aware phase.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, I would say in some fashion that the dark night of the soul happens in each of these transitions. So I become aware of my mind, I’m standing outside my mind, I recognize that the mind has all these habits, and I am identified with the mind. And then there’s this big realization that until now, I always thought that my awareness arises in my mind, because I’m identified by my mind. And at this stage of the construct of our stage, I realize it’s the mind that is arising in my awareness, my awareness is much bigger, and I can watch my mind function, which then automatically sort of gets us to the last stage, which is the unit of stage where, finally it is that you don’t have these boundaries, because it’s mind that creates these boundaries and these divisions. And so it’s also called no boundary consciousness, where I can look at you Mark and see you as me, there is no difference. You and I are both an aspect of this larger awareness that is manifested in this particular body with this particular conditioning. Fundamentally, the air we breathe that unites us, you know, this whole cosmos unites us, and everything is simultaneous, there’s no separation.

So there’s so many things one could say about this. But what I want to call out is the unit of stage describes, in psychological development, what the wisdom traditions describe.

Mark Divine
I was just going to say that that’s the beauty of this, right? It’s traditionally been the realm of the Eastern spiritual and wisdom traditions, to talk about unitive consciousness. And now, we have a model that can map it for psycho emotional development, to go beyond the psycho emotional stage of development, which is fascinating. And it’s very valuable.

Beena Sharma
And I feel what this model also teaches us is that there is a systematic progression of expanding perspectives that if we can commit to, and we, we stay with this, this lens, continue to absorb us, it should get us there, because it’s a systematic deconstruction that happens through learning and growth. And life evolves us. But what happens because we brought, we talked a little bit about the spiritual traditions, can you imagine a spiritual tradition that has these insights, but it’s teaching somebody at the group centric stage, that this is what it means to be free of the mind, where they don’t have the capacity to even see their mind, they don’t even have the capacity to separate from the mind.

So it’s not that helpful in some situations where the seeker doesn’t yet have the capacity to absorb what the spiritual traditions are teaching us. And therefore, I feel that this ego development process, this vertical development process is preparing us, you know, to better able to absorb.

And I mentioned the word ego. So I want to be very clear about that. Because this model of vertical development is based on ego development theory. And ego is a very big word, you know, we use it loosely, we complain about others having egos, we talk about, I don’t have an ego, or I check my ego out at the door

Mark Divine
I prefer the term identity or personality.

Beena Sharma
Right, because the theory is based on the concept of the ego, I want to describe what it means in this theory. And what it means is that the ego is just that part of ourselves that is trying to explain what is happening, and then it tells a story. So it’s the meaning-making part of ourselves. And then that takes away the problem of the connotations of the word ego that are very loose, that come from popular psychology. And even from spirituality, you know, you have to kill the ego. In this framework, you can’t kill the ego, it’s the ego that’s evolving and trying to make sense. And it’s making more and more expanded sense of self until it dissolves, because it doesn’t have that boundary. So that’s an important piece, I feel conceptually to keep in mind

Mark Divine
Going back to language, I think the more evolved an individual becomes, the more their language becomes much looser, much simpler, much more use of silence, you know, to contrast the sound, until ultimately at the unitive stage, you hear language, like there’s no words that can really describe this. And that kind of lines up with a spiritual tradition is like, yeah, everything that’s here as a description is a construct of the mind. It’s not the reality of pure awareness or pure consciousness, or God or whatever you want to call that. It’s just a description or a pointer to that and my description is equally valid as your description as long as we’re at the same stage.

Beena Sharma
Exactly. And ultimately, that reality is mysterious and unknowable.

Mark Divine
And even that’s a descriptor.

Unknown Speaker 54:57
I love it. I wish we had more time. Maybe we’ll have to go do this again sometime and talk more about some of the development in how do we actually, you know, develop some of these stages or move beyond a stage and understand where we’re at. And I know, that’s really the work of the assessment. But I think, you know, just talking about it can also be helpful, right?

Beena Sharma
Yeah, it’s also the work of coaching. So you, if you are familiar with the stages, then you don’t, if you really explore this and begin to observe yourself as an instrument, then even without the assessment, you can begin to work with yourself, you can facilitate your own development,

Mark Divine
You become your own self coach, and I think that’s very powerful.

Beena Sharma
Absolutely. And you can coach other people as well.

Mark Divine
We’re teaching coaching now as one of the most valuable leadership skills not just for coaching your team, but for coaching yourself. Yeah, very cool. There’s so much more we could talk about, but we probably should pin it there.

Beena Sharma
Now, this is a pleasure, Mark

Mark Divine
this has been great. I love talking to you Beena, I really appreciate the work that you’re doing, I think that you are on the leading edge of some very important work. So keep it up. Where can people learn more about your work and the Vertical Development Academy, and if they want to take the maturity assessment in those types of things

Beena Sharma
Our website is vertical development.com. So you can just write to me Beena at vertical development.com, you can take the assessment, we have some resources on our website. And I think through our partnership, Mark, you know, people who are following your work and even coaches you’re working with, through our collaboration, you can access our work. So more more on that account as we develop more and more to come.

Mark Divine
So we’re going to explore that and how right I think there’s a perfect synergy between what we’re doing and what we’re getting to the point where assessing an individual center of gravity and helping them with a map for growth. And then you know, what our work is what I mentioned earlier, our work is basically a integrated development model of the five mountains that can really help accelerate growth. And I know that’s an assertion that Wilbur makes, and even I make, and I want to validate it someday that becoming cycle aware and doing coaching, but actually becoming a developmental machine. And then having an organization which is the whole ddo concept of Keegan’s – deliberately developmental organization – where you when you go to work, you’re actually developing yourself, it can greatly accelerate your journey toward higher stages of awareness.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. And the one thing I would add that if we look at that as a polarity, then we would also have the other piece is that the forces of life are conspiring with us to grow. It’s not just us doing what we’re doing, you know, we are not just the doers.

Mark Divine
That’s a good point. And Nizdargadatta Maharaj talks about how even the striving is an obstacle. Yes. Right. And so ultimately, awareness is seeking itself. And that’s what my beloved Zajin teacher just passed away, Dan Brown from Harvard, who was one who interpreted or translated a lot of the Tibetan texts and brought them around the pointing out way. Yeah, beautiful tradition. He passed away just last week. But anyways, he used to say that awareness is seeking itself through itself. And, ultimately, nother thing that I read from Maharaj, which, thank you, by the way for referring that to me, I Am That. But the mind is centered in the body, consciousness is centered in the mind. And most people believe in the West, you know, back to that conventionality, that the mind essentially is created by the complexity and the construct of the brain. And nothing there’s nothing beyond that, because it can’t be measured today with today’s technology. But the spiritual traditions say no, there is something beyond that. It’s just pure awareness. It exists independent of mind, but mind can find it. And once it finds it, and then you let go of the structures of the mind, it doesn’t turn you into a zombie, it actually allows you to have that spontaneity of pure awareness. And that’s what I’m trying to teach in exponential mindset, that the speed of pure awareness is infinite fast, versus the speed of thinking with your brain is like, moving like a snail in comparison.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, I agree with that. And I might even say, it’s not even that you need your mind to find that awareness. Because we are that awareness. You know, we are a manifestation of that largest reality.

Mark Divine
True, but without the mind and body, you’d be experiencing it in a different way.

Beena Sharma
Of course, you’re the vehicle, right, yeah.

Mark Divine 59:15
Fascinating stuff. Beena. Wow, I want to come back. I want to talk more about that unitive stage when we come back because I think a lot of people are intrigued with it. They don’t know how to get there, you know, it’s the one to 3% and they all use different language and so I kind of want to democratize that idea of enlightenment and let people know that hey, this is your birthright if you want it.

Beena Sharma
Oh, I could not agree more. Thank you for saying that.

Mark Divine
Right, and when we have you know a center of gravity of people or a tipping point of individuals who are at that unitive or even construct aware stage probably more construct aware to be fair, then suddenly the earth will just radically change, just because you’re gonna have millions of people acting and leading with that inclusiveness, which includes Mother Earth and our actions, and we’re starting to see it at the leading edge of social entrepreneurism and, and some of our younger leaders who are naturally the seems like they, for whatever reason, have come in with this kind of higher stage of awareness.

Beena Sharma
Yeah, I am so inspired by that. Yeah, let’s join forces.

Mark Divine I agree. It’s important work. So thank you for doing what you’re doing. And for this, very interesting and educational episode of the Mark Divine show, you rock.

Beena Sharma
Thank you for doing what you’re doing.

Mark Divine
Yeah, thanks, Beena. All right, take care. We’ll talk soon.

Mark Divine 1:00:34
Well, that was an incredible episode with Beena Sharma, founder of the Vertical Development Academy, and an expert on adult maturity development, adult leadership, or leadership development in the stage model of consciousness. We had an incredible discussion. Beena’s work is very, very aligned with what we do at my company Unbeatable, which leverages vertical development and integral theory as well as stage development theory from transpersonal psychology and experts like Susanne Cook-Greuter, Claire Degraves, Jane Lovinger, Ken Wilber, and more.

We talked about polarities how language affects our reality, and how language can limit or expand us. We talked about the difference between horizontal development and vertical development, how they’re both important but how you can get stuck with horizontal development alone, which includes most of leadership development for the past 50 years or so. Gaining new skills and communication, new strategy, values, alignment, those types of things. They don’t change who you are as a human being. They just give you better capacity, where you’re at or as vertical development changes, who you are, and how you see the world.

Show notes and transcripts are up on our website Markdivine.com, video will be on our YouTube channel at Markdivine.com/youtube. You can find us on Twitter at Mark Divine and at real Mark Divine and Instagram and Facebook. Hit me up on LinkedIn.

Plug for our newsletter Divine Inspiration, which quickly disseminates my most top of mind information, news habits, products, books, I’m reading etc. To help you lead with more compassion and courage. Exclusive content just for subscribers, comes out every week I post it on my LinkedIn page but also if you want to subscribe and get other information and stay up to date with what’s going on in my life. Go to Markdivine.com to subscribe

I’d like to express some great gratitude to my team Jason Sanderson, Geoff Haskell, Jeff Torres, Melinda Hershey and Amy Jurkowitz, who help produce this incredible podcast and bring guests to you like Beena every week. If you liked the show, then please consider reviewing it and reading it wherever you listen. Particularly Apple, it helps us with our credibility and helps somebody find the show and will help us grow.

The world is changing fast. We seem divided and in conflict because we are… and this episode will help you understand why. But it’s up to us individually and then as a group, to be the change we want to see in the world. It’s very crucial to start with ourselves to develop compassion, courage, and inclusiveness internally. And then to live that through our language and through our actions. So it’s up to us, to help you and then you to help yourself and then you to help your teams and your families to evolve these qualities so that we can be the change we want to see in the world. I appreciate you very much for being on this journey with us. It’s very important. Our mission is 100 million world centric leaders exhibiting this inclusive care and compassion in the world. And when we get there, hopefully soon the world will be a better place. Until next time, Divine out.

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