Welcome to today’s leadership podcast episode, which marks the beginning of our exciting leadership interview series. In this series, we will be diving deep into the world of leadership by talking to leaders and specialists to shed light on the multifaceted concept of leadership.

Our first guest is none other than Dr. Alis Anagnostakis. Alis and I crossed paths in Spain and have collaborated on various projects throughout the years. Her expertise lies in the realm of Vertical Development, which essentially delves into how adults continue to “grow up” personally and professionally.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Dr. Alis Anagnostakis:

  1. Embracing Difficult Emotions: We discuss the power of embracing difficult emotions rather than suppressing them. Discover how curiosity can be the key to personal and professional growth.
  2. “Growing Pains” in Adulthood: Alis shares a fascinating analogy involving her daughter’s piano learning journey to explain the challenges and transformations that adults go through.
  3. The Vertical Development Framework: Both Alis and I are certified in the Global Leadership Profile, and we explore how this framework can be a valuable tool in understanding and enhancing leadership capabilities.
  4. Challenges for Expert-Level Leaders: We uncover the challenges that leaders at the Expert level may encounter when they personally do the work of their team (instead of leading the team).
  5. A Personal Journey: I share a personal story of a life-altering event, my stroke, which became a defining moment in my leadership journey. We also delve into the science behind the emotional growth I experienced.
  6. Overcoming Emotional Stuckness: how emotions can cloud our perspective, trapping us in a state of “stuckness,” and discover strategies to navigate through such moments.

I hope you enjoy this enlightening and insightful first episode with Dr. Alis Anagnostakis. Stay tuned for more interviews with remarkable leaders and experts in the field of leadership.

If you’d like to explore your own level of Vertical Development, contact Alis or myself directly for leadership coaching and profile debriefs.

What’s Vertical Development (and what’s Horizontal Development)?

Horizontal development is about learning new skills, while Vertical Development is about evolving your mindset, consciousness, and ability to handle increasingly complex challenges. It’s not just about what you know or do but also about how you think and who you are as a leader.

Vertical development is valuable because it enables leaders to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of leadership challenges and make more effective decisions in complex and uncertain environments. It’s about personal and professional growth that goes beyond the surface and helps leaders become more adaptable, empathetic, and effective in their roles.

Show Links

Episode Transcript

Kate Peardon: [00:00:00] Today’s podcast marks the beginning of the leadership interview series, where I’ll be interviewing leaders and specialists who work in the leadership field, all to shine a light on this behavior we call leadership.

My listeners have told me that they best connect with stories they can see themselves or their colleagues and team members in. So my podcast will be sharing these stories and the science behind these behaviours. Now my first guest is Dr. Alis Anagnostakis. Alis and I met in Spain and I’ve worked together on a variety of projects over the years.

Her specialty area is Vertical Development, how grownups essentially grow up. Some of my favourite gems from this podcast episode include:

how to be curious about the difficult emotions that arise instead of pushing them down.

A lesson from her daughter’s frustrations in playing the piano, which helped her to explain the growing pains we have as adults.

She goes through the Vertical Development Framework that both Alis and I use in our work and we’re both certified in the Global Leadership Profile, which helps [00:01:00] leaders understand what stage or what octave they are sitting at.

We also look at when leaders are at the Expert level, how they can get caught doing the work of their whole team.

We talk a bit about my stroke and how it was a redefining moment and the science that explains the emotional growth that I also experienced.

And why sometimes our emotions fog our perspective and we can’t see beyond the stuckness because we get so caught up in the unpleasantness of it all.

I hope you enjoy this first interview episode with Dr. Alis Anagnostakis.


I’m excited, Alis, because you are my very first guest on the Level Up Leadership Podcast, which seems really fitting considering our history, which we’ll get into. Firstly, I’d like to share a little bit about how we met and then to talk about your background and your specialty area and your PhD in Vertical Development.

Alis Anagnostakis: I’m honoured to be your first guest.

Kate Peardon: I had to count on my hands how many years we’ve known each other, and I think it’s six. We [00:02:00] met in Madrid. We were studying at university, doing our Masters of Positive Leadership and Strategy.

And both have taken this on in our work in similar and different ways. Could you just give a little bit of background Alis of how we got to that point and then what made you move forward into Vertical Development?

Alis Anagnostakis: Hmm. Yes. Thank you. I’ve just, uh, you only said six years. This moment, it feels like so many lifetimes we’ve lived over the past six years.

Kate Peardon: Mm hmm. Yeah.

Alis Anagnostakis: So, um. I actually, I remember that moment when we met and connected in Madrid and I thought this amazing woman, she’s actually doing in organizations, the kind of work that I’m hoping to support leaders doing, and I don’t see enough of them doing it. So it felt like you, you were the kind of leader I was hoping through my work as an outsider, as an external, um, [00:03:00] consultant or facilitator to support, and you’ve only served to reinforce my belief that a lot of the real transformation happens from the inside out.

Um, so yeah, that was, it was a thought that was present to me then and it’s still now. And how I got to Madrid. Um, I was, uh, running a leadership development coaching business, I had been for a few, good for you years, focusing on self awareness as a vehicle for leadership growth and, uh, through leadership growth, hopefully creating a vehicle for change.

Kate Peardon: Uh huh

Alis Anagnostakis: That was the intention. Um, and I was focusing specifically on training, uh, leaders as coaches. I had, um, an accredited coaching school where the main, the main audience were leaders who did not intend to become professional coaches. necessarily right away, but they actually wanted to learn coaching for the sake of their own growth, but then for the sake of supporting [00:04:00] their teams or creating a different type of culture within the organizations that they were working for.

And I was looking for learning and growth for myself. And that program, I think, was a really amazing vehicle for that.

Kate Peardon: Agreed.

Alis Anagnostakis: Do you wanna briefly share what you were thinking when you chose to come there? Because I remember thinking, oh my goodness, Kate’s working the hardest of us all.

I know you were the only Australian in the program uh, who had taken all of this effort doing the transatlantic, transpacific commute multiple times.

Kate Peardon: Yes. So as some context, the program was in Madrid in Spain, it was over 18 months and we traveled five times for a week intensive split.

And most of the people were there. There were 25, 23 of us mostly from Europe and yes, I traveled from Australia each time. I just, when I read the outline of the program, I thought this is the type of work I want to do. I want to work with Positive Psychology and Leadership. [00:05:00] And I’m so fascinated by people all over the world.

And when I make my mind about something like I can make this work, I can make this work. I can travel to Madrid every three months and it became such a pivotal point in my life. In what I learned, but the people that I met and my understanding of culture and business and leaders that I would not change it for anything.

And I clearly remember the first day that you and I met and the story that you told. And then, I was going to say morning tea break because that’s an Australian thing. We say morning tea, which

Alis Anagnostakis: You told me what that means.

Kate Peardon: It’s not actually tea that you drink in the morning. It’s food. That’s yeah, very Australian. Um, it was breakfast. That’s had it like 10 o’clock in Spain. And our conversation then, and that’s six years later. So obviously it had an impact.

Alis Anagnostakis: It did. And I ended up moving to Australia, which is a very interesting kind of events.

Kate Peardon: So as a bit of context, Alis is from Romania, so very different from Australia, but yes, we’re both in Australia [00:06:00] and we live a few kilometers away from each other now.

Yeah. Then Alis and I worked together in Australia and then you went to study your PhD. Can you share a little bit about that?

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah. I think at the time of our meeting, I was starting to see a bit of that, the glimpse of this developmental work as something that potentially can, um, compliment the positive psychology work, but it wasn’t clear.

And then in those intervening years, I got deeper and deeper into it. Um, and essentially what vertical development is, is developmental psychology applied to adults. It is challenging a bit the idea that has been, um, the norm for many years. Human beings develop through childhood and they go through these transformative shifts in consciousness, in maturity, uh, alongside the transformative shifts in their physical growth.

And then once the physical growth is done, so is the psychological growth. And we do know now [00:07:00] that, uh, and we have known for a while. That’s not true. Yeah. But, um, to me, when I came across this idea, it felt like a big light bulb was turned on because I had sat with this question around, why do some people just change through a coaching process?

They do change profoundly. They literally transform. They’re not the same person they were anymore. They become brave. They attempt new things. And you really see that behavioral change with some clients in coaching, and you don’t see it with others. And. Why? Why?

Kate Peardon: It’s fascinating to you and I.

Alis Anagnostakis: Why do some people change and why don’t others change as easily? And, uh, what I found in, uh, what is called very broadly in the research, adult development theories, is essentially this idea that our psychological growth continues way after our physical growth has stopped, and it unfolds in predictable phases or stages.

So there’s almost a map that unfolds [00:08:00] naturally in human beings, a map of inner growth that if we know it’s there, we can look for it and hopefully we can also create environments that help people grow through subsequent stages on that map. And essentially what, what these stages describe is how mature a person is in the way they make sense of the world, how flexible their thinking is, how many ideas they can hold in their head simultaneously, how self aware they are.

We might get into the nitty gritty, but there are different threads, different aspects of development, all of them converging towards more maturity, if that might be a good word to use to describe the outcome of this process.

Kate Peardon: Yeah. And I think it’s really important for us as individuals to know how we think and how we develop and make sense of the world, but also for the people that we work with.

So thinking about yourself as a leader, the people that you work with in your team, how to understand them, but also [00:09:00] helped them with their development.

Alis Anagnostakis: Right.

Kate Peardon: And what Alis and I were talking about before is that leaders are humans. And whether you have a small business or you’re in a corporate business, whether you’re a new leader, whether it’s something that you’re looking to move towards, or you’re very experienced, at the end of the day, we’re all humans, at least for the moment, we’re still humans.

We’re not all AI. That’s not too far away. Um, but we’re all humans working with other humans. And the work that Alis has been doing is a way that people can work together easier and understand themselves easier. Or I mean, sometimes it’s harder, but it helps you make sense of the hard stuff.

Alis Anagnostakis: Right.

Kate Peardon: Could you explain a little bit about the levels? Because I think people might understand more what Vertical Development is when they start to see, often we don’t see ourselves, we can see our partners or we can see our boss on a certain level. And it takes a little bit more to see where we might be at at what stage of development.

Would you say the same?

Alis Anagnostakis: Definitely. Maybe I’ll start with something that, uh, has [00:10:00] come out a bit of my research and it’s become a metaphor that I use to make sense of this myself and, and hopefully make it easier for other people to make sense of it. I think of human development as piano playing, and I know you’re an awesome piano player and I know that’s a, that’s a metaphor that, um,

Kate Peardon: Good metaphor for me.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, but there is always, um, the technical skill of piano playing. And actually remember when, when I saw you playing the piano the first time and you’re a great improviser, I thought how many years has it taken Kate to get to the level of technique to be able to just, you know, have your fingers like almost glide over the keyboard in that way and just make music without really thinking about it.

That is what in, um, um, developmental terms might be called Horizontal Development, because there would be a lot of literal techniques, expertise, practice, um, tips and tricks on how to, um, you know, your posture and a lot of the things, you know, much more about [00:11:00] when it comes to piano player playing that I do, but it’s something that you can technically learn.

It’s something that somebody can teach you and with enough practice, it becomes second nature. And, um, uh, a lot of Uh, horizontal development is something that is, it is actually what we mean by development when we think of school or traditional education. There’s a lot of boring content into people’s minds.

Kate Peardon: These are your math equations. This is how you, yeah, this is the data. This is the information you need to learn the information.

Alis Anagnostakis: And then we might test you by asking you to, um, I wanted to avoid that word, but that’s the word I think. Um, well now AI is here and that is just not going to work anymore. So in a sense, I find it really interesting that our knowledge acquisition and the value that we used to place on it is being severely challenged.

Kate Peardon: Mm hmm.

Alis Anagnostakis: But then knowing what to do is not enough. And if we come back to the piano playing metaphor, [00:12:00] how many octaves you play matters a lot. Because if you have amazing technique, and you’re only playing seven notes, one octave on your piano, there’s only so much music you can make. And again, because I’m really, I know where we were, and I’m holding that image in mind.

You are not only just playing beautifully, but you are playing your whole keyboard. And I thought that makes the beauty of the music you’re able to make because you’re actually playing with your whole keyboard. So if we come back to development, that idea of subsequent octaves of multiple notes that you can hit on your metaphorical keyboard, that is what we call Vertical Development.

And it has to do more with HOW you think, rather than WHAT you think is the structure of your thinking. It’s your capacity to see things in a certain way, it’s your worldview, your perspective, your mindset. People often use that word mindset a lot. So if we revert this back to leadership [00:13:00] development, we both have facilitated many, many soft skills courses over the years, and we’ve all seen how that lands. Sometimes people know what to do. They know the steps for delegation or the right steps to give constructive feedback, which is their Horizontal Development. And it’s very important to know what those things look like. But then if you don’t have the right maturity to be able to acknowledge when you’re being triggered or when your emotions get the best of you or reframe your state in a certain moment, you might just blurt out the most unconstructive feedback all while knowing exactly what you should have done in that situation. So, Vertical Development is that capacity to apply the knowledge that we have in the right way, at the right time, for the right purpose.

And it’s not something we can really learn from books, unfortunately. Um, there are different models, different labels for them. In some models more octaves than others, but, um, [00:14:00] is one of the models we use a lot in our work.

And I say we, because I know you use it too, looks at Opportunist as a first octave that you might expect an adult to operate from and that’s a mindset that is very self centered. We know that about 5% of leaders get stuck at this developmental stage. It’s all about me, me, me. We might even, um, think of a few, um, case studies in the global arena and the consequences of opportunist leaders operating in spaces where they have a lot of power and what the consequences are of that, because it’s a mindset where you people don’t really are not developmentally able to consider other perspectives, other needs other than their own. And then thankfully, most of us outgrow that into the next octave or stage, which is called the Diplomat. It’s a bit of a pendulum swing, focus on Self and then focus on Others and Community.

And this is a stage that many people, when you ask them, they can go back to [00:15:00] the time in their lives when they were primarily operating in the world from that worldview where what others think of me is important. Pleasing people is important. Fitting in is important. Um, and you don’t really know who you are as much as you know what the group expects of you and you’re really striving very hard to play by the rules of the group

Kate Peardon: and to be accepted.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yes. Yeah. Or to not be rejected.

Kate Peardon: Yeah. Probably more so not to be rejected than to be accepted. I can think clearly of teenage years of feeling this a lot and also starting out in a career, going into a new workplace and experiencing this and just wanting to fit in and do like be the people pleaser and not rock the boat, even if it went against my own ethics.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah, and you would have, and I remember the two of us have talked about this over the years, we would have avoided conflict as part of that.

Kate Peardon: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Alis Anagnostakis: Conflict is not something that from a diplomat octave you really want to engage. [00:16:00] Um, and you, you mentioned teenagers, I was thinking how often parents are baffled by how conforming their kids are with their peer group because they do play the diplomat octave with their peers and they really want to fit in for better or worse.

And then they might play the Opportunist octave with their parents. Being rebellious and self centered and not really being able to take the parents point of view. And then, um, there’s this, um, struggle that you. I imagine, uh, my, mine is still a few years away, but I’m getting ready. Uh, if you feel like a parent going, what’s this, what is happening?

Like, and because we like the piano, we wouldn’t, we will not just play one octave at one time. So we behaviorally shift in between the octaves that are available to us at any given point in our life. Um, now in leadership contexts, we do know that, um, um, leaders who operate from Diplomat, that becomes a setback.

So it’s, it’s an octave that works when you’re an individual contributor, but when you get into a [00:17:00] leadership position, you start to need the, feel the pressure to have an opinion, to own the topic, to make decisions, some of them unpopular. So if your focus is on being liked and not rocking the boat, that becomes quite challenging.

Kate Peardon: Very challenging to be a leader in that. And I find leaders that I have met that are in this Diplomat stage struggle because their team really wants them to stand up for them. They don’t, I want them to make a stand, even if it’s unpopular, but they’re too busy pleasing everybody.

It’s really hard to move forward.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah, it’s so it might stifle our capacity to make decisions. Yes. Um, and when it goes hand in hand, which it normally does with the lack of self reflection because we are not there yet in our growth, um, it’s just hard to see yourself in that pattern, um, so once we outgrow that, and usually this outgrowing happens as a result of external pressure of, uh, you know, what got me here won’t get me there.

Those moments, some of them really painful when [00:18:00] we, life shakes us up and forces us to grow.

Kate Peardon: This is when the uncomfortable things in life can be good for you. This is a good example because it’s often those edges that then help us grow into a new stage. Thank you. Or a different level.

Alis Anagnostakis: And referring back to my previous comment, which you said in context would make much more sense when we think of coaching or supporting leaders or a leader supporting their team.

When you say ‘edge’, you can almost think, what’s the edge of that? Um, this, this current stage for this person, what could be a stretch that would help them access the notes of the next octave. And quite often, um, being, uh, forced to master a topic or being put in a context where you have to be the expert helps people grow into that next Octave, which is actually

Kate Peardon: and have their own opinion. Have their own opinion pleasing everybody else. Yes. Which takes you to the next level of expert.

Alis Anagnostakis: Expert. Yeah. Which is very, where it focuses [00:19:00] on Self again, but much more mature than two octaves ago. Mm-hmm. , um, at Opportunist, where at Expert, it’s all about what I know, what I can do, how I can contribute, and it can get very black or white.

Mm-hmm. , because there’s this need for certainty that people have. Um, and it makes sense, right? If you’ve just discovered who you are, you become very attached to that. And you become very attached to being in a certain way that feels right for you. So there’s not much capacity to let go of my opinion and listen to a contrary opinion.

Um, there’s still that need to, for things to be very clearly cut. Um, and the Expert level, and I’m doing a lot of work in, in organizations at the moment where we’re seeing a lot of people who are extremely successful, um, operating from an Expert mindset in junior leadership positions or highly, um, expert driven, uh, still individual contributor positions.

Kate Peardon: Like engineering. Yes. There’s a lot of [00:20:00] expert levels in engineering where you’re technically great at what you’re doing. And what happens is because you’re the best person technically at engineering, you then get to lead a group of technical engineers, and leading from this expert mindset of you lead them because you have the right answer and they want a leader who technically knows the answer so they can give them the answer.

Yes. What could be the challenges with that?

Alis Anagnostakis: Well, I’ve had a leader recently say, I realized that I am doing the work for my whole team because I feel like I need to solve everybody’s problems because that’s why they promoted me. I’m the Expert, uh, and people expect me to be the Expert. So there’s this vicious cycle where it’s answer question and answer, um, and, and also when the people in your team are very different from you and they might challenge your thinking uh, it often throws leaders at expert in a bit of an existential crisis. How come these people are not seeing what I’m seeing and they’re not abiding by what I think is true and they’re not [00:21:00] doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Um, and that interestingly also seems to trigger the growth into the next phase, which is called Achiever.

Kate Peardon: What sort of percentage of leaders are in the Expert level?

Alis Anagnostakis: Um, I believe in the last numbers that I’ve seen, it’s around 30% thereabouts. It’s a bit of a bell curve. With, with Expert and Achiever being the bulk, um, with about 30% each.

Kate Peardon: Um, so after Expert and you have all the answers, the next developmental stage

Alis Anagnostakis: is when you realize you can’t have all the answers

Kate Peardon: and you’re marginally okay with that.

Alis Anagnostakis: You are probably completely discombobulated at first and then you have to figure it out. Um, and, and also there’s another aspect, something that’s coming up a lot in my work and I believe it might, and I’m sure it will come up, it would come up in yours as well. This idea that the problems that leaders have to [00:22:00] solve are growing in complexity exponentially.

Absolutely. There’s just not one right answer anymore, which for the Expert mindset is just, um, 404 error. It doesn’t really make sense.

Kate Peardon: I think they’re growing in complexity and growing in pace. Everything is so much faster now.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah. Um, and those types of gnarly problems or adaptive problems as they’re often called, they require collaboration, they require co creation, they require dialogue, they require a different form of leadership, which is what starts to become accessible at that achiever octave, which follows the expert on the developmental continuum.

Um, which is all about, it’s almost like we carry the strengths of the previous, um, phases of our growth into our next, but there’s more, more that unlocks in us that makes it possible to do more, be more, see more.

Kate Peardon: And I remember when I was learning all about this, uh, you can’t skip the levels, you’ve got to go through them.

And [00:23:00] so it’s only once you go through it, can you get to the next one. So only once you’ve been the Expert, can you then become the Achiever? Yeah. So yeah, it does add on each time.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah, it does. And it’s sometimes, um, what I’m learning more and more is sometimes if we have repressed a level. So for example, women in leadership, I’ve noticed quite often women, uh, when they’re stressed, they tend to “fallback” we call that when we, when we go back to earlier octaves out of, out of a reaction to stress into Diplomat. It’s a regression, but it’s temporary. It’s, it’s almost, we become smaller because we are just reacting to things that are triggering us and, um, you know, going into that Diplomat, into that appeasing, into that conflict avoiding mindset.

Kate Peardon: Very interesting. So Achiever.

Alis Anagnostakis: Achiever. Yes. Um, that’s where, uh, it has been said for a long time that, um, uh, [00:24:00] capitalism was built on the Achiever. Achiever. Yeah. It’s all about goals and results and outcomes and collaboration for an outcome. So there’s a shift in mindset from task orientation, which is more of the Expert, more short term kind of thinking to a goal orientation, more long term, “what are we trying to achieve with this?”

Kate Peardon: Yeah. So from “I have the answer” to “we can reach the goal” or “we have the answer”, would there be a slogan that fits for Achiever?

Alis Anagnostakis: I think it is. Yeah. “We can reach the goal working together”.

Quite often Achiever, uh, leaders who operate from Achiever tend to get better and better at managing a team and collaboration.

Yes. Collaboration. For a goal.

Kate Peardon: Yeah. Versus the expert that’s about me. I have the answer. It’s black and white.

Alis Anagnostakis: And there’s more of that capacity to kind of reflect on “why we’re doing this task in the first place?” “What is the purpose for which we need to do this” versus “I just need to do [00:25:00] it and do it right”.

Which is more the focus of the earlier octave. And. It’s really interesting and rewarding and a lot of people spend their whole careers and maybe their whole lives operating from this octave.

Kate Peardon: Yes.

Alis Anagnostakis: Nothing wrong with that at all.

Kate Peardon: A lot of leaders that I meet sit in this achievement bracket and often they would reach out to an executive coach because they want to achieve more.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yes. Yes. Or, um, because they’ve reached the limits of Achiever and they’re burning out. Mm hmm. It seems to be a very interesting sign that somebody’s about to outgrow their Achiever um, orientation when you just can’t, cannot do. Everything you want to do, it’s almost this, uh, busyness is very often a characteristic of people who, uh, play a lot of this octave in their careers and their lives.

There’s never enough time, 24 hours are not enough, we’re always out [00:26:00] for achieving more. What’s the next goal? You’ve ticked this box, what’s the next box? And interestingly, I’ve recently had a conversation with Nick Petrie, who’s a developmental researcher doing a lot of work in this space, who more recently has started to study burnout as a catalyst of Vertical Development.

And he’s finding out some very interesting things about how people burn out doing what they love, because they are so driven by their Achiever drive to create, to do the most that they can do, that they just don’t realize, um, that they’ve lost a sense of balance.. Hmm. And it’s often when the body makes the decision for you that there’s no going forward from this point.

Um, it’s a wake up call for the Achiever mindset.

Kate Peardon: I think about a lot of conversations I have with people that are very competent and they have done what they thought was successful in life. They’ve got the job or the salary, the title, the house, the holiday, the kids, whatever it was that they thought success was.

And they’ve reached what they [00:27:00] thought should make them happy and they’re not happy. And the existential crisis that comes with that, I feel that that is the edge of this Achievement stage and the opportunity to then move to the next stage or just get stuck

Alis Anagnostakis: trying to do even more, run even faster in the hope that if you do run faster, that hole you are perceiving will be filled.

Yes. Yeah. I think this might be a topic for a different podcast because it is a huge one. But I’m wondering, you know, even at societal level, um, in a sense, sometimes it seems that COVID was a wake up call, a collective wake up call around where are you running to? What are you running towards? Making people, you know, question the way they were working and so forth, which is very much in line with, uh, the transition from achiever into the next octave, which is Redefining, uh, which is a, um, a mindset or a worldview whose main characteristic [00:28:00] is inquiry and uncertainty and having no idea who you are anymore. It’s almost, you spend all of this time through these previous octaves, figuring out who you are, getting really good at being who you are. And then you reach a point where you realize, Oh, is there more to this? And then you don’t know who you are anymore.

So there’s a building and destruction. If that makes sense, it’s a very discombobulating space to be in for a lot of people.

Kate Peardon: People that know a little bit about my story. I definitely know that the point for me to move from Achiever to Redefining was the minor stroke because that took away every sense of what I was or who I thought I was and really challenged me because I couldn’t do anything anymore. Okay. Physically could not do anything anymore and it actually started me onto this point of, well, if I can’t do more, who am I, how am I attached my identity to all [00:29:00] these different parts? If I don’t have my job, if I don’t have my music, if I don’t have, um, exercise, if I can’t write, if I can’t do anything that I think of the things that make me up, who am I? Do I still exist? And getting to know who that person is without anything else. That was the Redefining moment for me. Um, not everybody has moments like this and you don’t have to have a moment like this. To, to shift, uh, but just to give a little bit of context on how, what, what that might look like for someone, um, because that was my experience and just going into the unknown, but feeling comfortable with the unknown I think was the key part for me.

And it was a process.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yes. I was going to ask if it was a process of getting to that space of being comfortable with having no idea and figuring it out. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And I think Alis you got to meet me a year prior and you got to meet me during and you’ve met me after.

[00:30:00] Yeah. And I’ve, I’ve, I thought I deeply admired and will always do the conscious way in which you’ve navigated that transition.

And I remember you, you were calling it, and I think you still are calling it the gift, “the gift without a bow”. Yes. Um, and, and for a lot of people who are shifting into Redefining in hindsight. Uh, whatever it was that they went through, perhaps feels like that, but it, um, as you well said, doesn’t feel like that when you’re in it.

It feels like a loss of self. It feels like a loss of identity. And actually, identity shifts are a big, big component of this shift. When, uh, So, which is why perhaps for some people it can be triggered by things like illness or a divorce or losing someone we love or losing a job that we’ve loved, losing something that we had, um, tied as you said, before our identity too, and [00:31:00] then having to figure out who else, what else is there?

Who am I? If I’m not this.

Kate Peardon: I know sometimes, having recently become a parent, some people might experience it through that when you don’t have the job that you might have identified yourself with, or the social things you used to do, it might challenge who you are. So it’s not necessarily. All negative things, it could be an amazingly positive thing that challenges that thought as well.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah. A hundred percent. Having a baby should, we should have said, could be a high on that list. In the research they call these moments or triggers disorienting dilemmas because there’s something that life presents you with that is such a baffling dilemma that your mind just can’t make sense of it with your current, um, system of thinking.

Um, and we’re seeing a lot and I think it’s a bit of a pattern in coaching a lot of leaders who are in the midst of this transition seeking support mirrors, coaches, therapists, [00:32:00] mentors, people who can help. Accompany them through that no man’s land of I’m not who I was and I don’t know who I’m becoming and this feels terrifying.

Kate Peardon: Mm-hmm. Actually in those conversations people will reach out to me and say, I don’t know what it is that I’m looking for, but I, I feel that you can help me on this path. Mm-hmm. That is a big indicator that that’s the stage they’re at between Achiever and Redefining.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yes. Um, and it’s something very humbling, right, in our Profession to even have that trust extended towards us, to accompany somebody in the unknown, which is developmental for you as a coach too, because it forces you to kind of do that work yourself.

Yeah. Being comfortable not knowing. Yes. Um, maybe something else worth mentioning about Redefining and it’s a, it’s a stage worth looking at a bit more closely because we’re seeing more and more leaders growing into this stage in organizations. I’ve seen some more recent numbers where in some organizations, um, [00:33:00] up to 40% of leaders who have been tested have scored at Redefining.

However, a small percentage of these people are actually showing up as Redefining in their behaviors, because Redefining behavior means challenging the status quo, asking questions, wanting to understand why we’re doing things in this way. Um, almost as this awareness, uh, in the workplace, there’s this system we’re in, we’re embedded in, and I want to make it better. And I’m starting to see everything that’s wrong with the system. But in practice, few Redefiners or people who have that cognitive emotional capacity are actually turning that into behavior. So they will show up as Achievers, as Experts in their day to day work. So they’ve even coined a name for them and they call them “Redefiners in Hiding”.

So you, if you’re a leader, you might have, you might be a Redefiner in Hiding yourself or you might have people who are Redefiners in Hiding in your team. [00:34:00] Yeah.

Kate Peardon: The way you think and the way you act is different.

Alis Anagnostakis: Exactly. Because redefining when it’s embodied, it really shakes up workplaces, lives, because you’re in this process of challenging everything and that is deeply uncomfortable.

So quite often leaders would say, Oh, I want an honest conversation where we really examine this thing. And then when the honest conversation ensues and those challenging, uncomfortable questions start popping up from the team, the leader pushes back and goes, no, no, no, no, no. This is your, you need to grow.

I’m okay as I am. Which, yeah, we’ve seen that play out, I think. Many times. So it might be an interesting question from a leader’s perspective. “How do we nurture the redefiners around us?” How do we, um, invite that contrasting, different, challenging opinion and harness the potential of that contrary view in a way that helps us grow, evolve the business, [00:35:00] make things in a better, in a different way versus shutting it down because you know, it’s uncomfortable to hear.

Um, yes. And, and then the, there are a few more stages after this, but the one more that is, I think, relevant to our conversation, uh, because beyond this one, we don’t really see that many people in actual, uh, business context playing those very, very late octaves. But the post, uh, post Redefining one is Transforming, which is.

Integrating the inquiry, the curiosity at Redefining with some of the action driver Achiever. So you come to this place after you’ve walked that no man’s land, where you hopefully have this broader view of what’s possible. You’re no longer attached to one truth, one identity, one way of. thinking of being.

So then you become more able to really hold space for differing opinions, really sense what is the right time to act, [00:36:00] reflect on what you’re going to do, and then action what you’re reflected on. So there’s this integrated capacity to balance action and curiosity in the service of whatever it is that you would like to create.

Um, and again, a small proportion, uh, under 9, 8% of leaders will regularly operate from that worldview.

Kate Peardon: So there’s a bit of context on the work. So Alis is actually Dr. Alis

Alis Anagnostakis: try not to make it feel odd when I hear that.

Kate Peardon: This is what you did your PhD study in, and I know you got to work with some amazing people and businesses to see how this works in reality in companies and with people. Wondering if there might be an example or a story that could help color the examples that we’ve given.

Alis Anagnostakis: One thing that I, so I did my [00:37:00] research studying a group of leaders, uh, from across industries and sectors going through this six month long, really intense leadership program that was challenging a lot of their thinking.

And the big research question I had was, we do know a lot about what these stages are and the behaviors that we see from people who operate from these different stages. But we don’t know enough about how we transition, how we support people to transition between stages to your point before, and we don’t really know enough about the lived experience of people actually undertaking that transformation.

So one big thing that I discovered in the research was that the people who developed post that program, which was a 30% of, of those leaders, 30% stagnated and 30% went backwards when we remeasured them, they regressed or they fell back. The 30% that developed the one differentiator was how they dealt with the difficult emotions that arise when you’re taken out of your comfort zone for [00:38:00] whatever reason.

So be it, you have to speak in public and you’re just an introvert and you just, you know, it terrifies you. It’s just a very small example. You have a really hard time having the hard conversations around conflict with your team. Yeah. Um, whatever it is that really challenges you, um, these people, unlike the other 70%, they acknowledge the emotions that arise like fear, anxiety, uh, confusion, anxiousness, whatever it was.

And they believed, genuinely believed these emotions, although unpleasant and painful, they are an indicator some growth is happening. So they were curious about these emotions instead of rejecting them, trying to cover them up, blaming the outside world for, you know, feeling, making me feel like that. So everyone else had a, uh, rejection [00:39:00] defensive kind of way of dealing with these emotions.

“What you said in that meeting made me very deeply uncomfortable and that is your fault”. Versus “what you said in that meeting made me deeply uncomfortable. There might be something for you to learn from that. But I’m actually very curious about why was I so triggered by that comment? What is going on? What annoyed me so much about what you said?” So there was this reflective capacity to turn inwards and own their feelings and own and then be curious about them. And that seemed to, I’ve come to call it the Contrasting Emotion Space. I even imagine it’s like a space in your heart where you’ve got these, all these difficult emotions.

You put curiosity on top and that space expands and with that space in the heart, some space in the mind is created to think through your assumptions, to look at things from a different perspective. It’s like reflection, cognitive reflection seems to be enabled by this [00:40:00] process of owning our heart feelings and tolerating them.

Meeting them with curiosity, so that for me was just such a mind blowing small thing, but still mind blowing thing to come across because I wondered how, what, what a difference it would make in organizations and teams if we actually teach leaders this skill. Meet your heart emotions with curiosity. It’s absolutely okay to feel fearful.

It’s absolutely okay to feel grief over a way of doing business that is no longer working. Um, your business transforming as a founder, your business becoming something that you can’t hold alone anymore and you have to let go. And there’s grief that comes with that. Whatever it is that we’re feeling to be able to see them, um, as an Edge Emotion and emotion showing you that you’re actually at the edge of growth. It’s not dangerous. It’s only painful and unpleasant. Um, yeah, I think there’s a lot of value in that. So that’s a lot of what [00:41:00] I’m experimenting with and bringing into my coaching.

Kate Peardon: I love that. Cause it’s like, what’s that 1%, what is 1% going to think about compounding interest and then leadership. It’s not about changing everything. It’s about what’s 1% that could make your leadership better, easier, more engaging your team, happier. And what you shared is backed by great science because you’ve done the work, but it is something that you can capture in a sentence.

So you have to be curious about the difficult emotions that arise. Nonjudgmental. And just to notice, and it’s amazing what then happens afterwards, people will take what they like from this podcast, but that for me, that little nugget right there is a great encapsulation of how you actually apply this science and the Vertical Development into something that’s really tangible that you can look at straight away. Which might not [00:42:00] be pretty. It might be a gift without a bow.

Alis Anagnostakis: It might be. I often call them Growth Pains. Um, it’s a term that arose from a conversation because you can use this with kids actually to don’t have, it doesn’t have to be only in a leadership context. My daughter was interestingly enough playing the piano.

The piano seems to be a theme in this conversation. But she was playing the piano and getting very, very frustrated to the point where she burst out crying and just threw the book away and just did not want to practice anymore. And this was happening right about the time that I was writing my, uh, results for my dissertation.

So I had this, this thought one night and thought, can you explain this stuff so a seven year old can understand? And she’s got growth pains in her legs, like a lot of kids her age have. And it occurred to me to say “Look I think, may I offer a different perspective? What are you feeling?” “I’m just upset and I’m angry and I’m frustrated and I’m just [00:43:00] stupid. I can’t do this thing.” And I said, “look, this is frustration. And where do you feel it in your body?” And she’s pretty good with describing that. And I said, “look, I’m finding something out in my research and I’ll just share it with you just in case it’s useful. But, you know, it looks like frustration is exactly the same thing as your growth pains in your limbs, but it’s growth pains in the heart and the mind. Because it’s what you feel when your mind is stretching in a painful way because it’s growing and you’re learning this thing and it’s hard and you’re making mistakes and that is frustrating because your mind is actually growing.

So if you’re able to hold and allow that frustration to be instead of fighting it, just like you allow your pain in your legs to be, there’s nothing to be done about it. You just know it’s growth pains and that helps you tolerate it. What if you try doing that with your frustration?” It was so touching and amazing for me to see how much of a difference that reframing made for her.

She’s still getting frustrated because this is not a recipe to get rid of.

Kate Peardon: We don’t get rid of frustration. [00:44:00] Frustration still exists.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah. But it’s just allowed her to go, Oh, I’m learning something here. Okay. I’m feeling this thing that is annoying, but this means that I’m learning. So her practice stretches are longer. She no longer throws the book. Um, so it’s just, yes. I think there’s something to be said about this small little practice embedded in our lives, like how we’re meant to work.

Kate Peardon: I love a good everyday story. When we talk about leadership, but as I said before, we’re just humans. It happens everywhere. You can’t put on your leadership pants. And now I am a leader, a team where humans are in every part of our life and not just what we do, but how we do it is in every element, not just at work. And so a development of who we are actually has a positive impact on our personal lives as well as our work lives. What would be something that [00:45:00] people could gain by being curious about uncomfortable emotions?

Alis Anagnostakis: Hmm.

It’s so hard to even explain this because I would almost invite people to do an experiment. Um, instead maybe, you know, reflect on something that is a very, very painful dilemma that you’re struggling with at the moment. It could be a hard decision that you’re postponing because it’s just, you feel torn between two options or it’s something that is a tension and unresolved, painful tension.

Mm hmm. Um… And just allowing yourself for some people, just journaling about it might work for others, just sitting with it and noticing when you bring that dilemma into your mind, what, where, what emotion, what sensations firstly, do you feel in your body? And then if you’re able to bring your attention in a body, just, are you able to describe those sensations?

Where [00:46:00] are they feeling? And Are you perhaps able to identify one or two or more emotions that are associated with those sensations? And then just sitting with those emotions, allowing them to be, instead of trying to get rid of them or trying to rush your mind through solving that dilemma, allowing yourself to just be very curious if you possibly can about those emotions, those sensations.

Why is that sensation there? What flavor does it have? What does that mean? What, you know, what does it feel like? All those questions that seem to have nothing to do or no practical immediate outcome. What I found doing this exercise is there’s something shifting almost in the body when you’re able to bring that calming energy of curiosity, which for many people seems to unlock a different perspective on the dilemma that they started with.

Um, it’s an exercise to try, experiment, see if, [00:47:00] you know, it works. I think everything has to be taken with a grain of salt, and try it. Don’t, don’t take my word for it. The benefit for people who do say they feel something is shifting seems to be that sometimes your emotions are just fogging your perspective.

You just can’t see beyond your stuckness because you’re so caught up in the unpleasantness of it all. So dealing, it’s a bit counterintuitive, but dealing with the emotion first by allowing it to be seems to create more space in the mind for a different perspective that might, you have no idea what it is now.

You can’t see it yet.

Kate Peardon: Instead of pushing it down, which I think a lot of us can do.

Alis Anagnostakis: Yeah. That would be the main benefit. I think creating more space for a different perspective. Mm-hmm. , by creating more space in your heart for all the emotions that you are feeling instead of Yeah. Pushing them down.

[00:48:00] They’ll still be there. You just aren’t gonna go, the only way out is through as uh, the wise people say . So . Yeah. I know there’s people that have experienced this. You also interview on your podcast. Yes. Can you share a little bit about that? Hmm. Um, I’m, I’m trying to invite people who are either leaders doing some of this work in their own organizations or researchers or coaches, um, or parents.

I’ve had recently, I had an episode with, um, a leader who is also a parent and has gone through a very transformative experience, uh, with, uh, her child that has actually been impacted enormously the way she leads. Thanks. Um, just to make the, not to make the point, but to invite people to reflect on how this stuff actually is the stuff of everyday life.

And as you were saying before, these planes of life, they are not separate. [00:49:00] Um, so, um, it’s called “The Developmental” and what about your work, your website? Yes. The Vertical Development Institute is the project that I created to bring more of this work into organizations.

Doing a lot of supporting coaches in their own work to integrate some of these tools in the way they support their clients in turn.

So being turned from theory, from interesting concepts into practical applications, like how do you support your kid to live through the frustration of practicing piano, how do you support your team to, um, go through the frustration of figuring out a complicated solution to a problem that nobody’s solved before?

Kate Peardon: You know, it’s the same skillset. So learning the skills and learning to sit with discomfort and curiosity. Benefits every area of life. Indeed. It does. [00:50:00] It’s just one of the things I love about development and particularly vertical development, because it’s not just being a better technical engineer.

It’s about how we can understand ourselves as humans.

Alis Anagnostakis: It is. And I feel like you, you are one of the people who are doing so much of that practical work in your own work with clients. Um, and yeah, I’m just so grateful for you in the world and, and for this, this synergy that occurs when more of us are actually in our own way, in our own professions, you do it as a coach.

I do it as a coach, a leader will do it as a team leader, or they will do it as a business owner. But as you say, it’s exactly the same work. Can you turn the mirror towards yourself? See what, what your edge is. Can you be curious about other people’s edges? What kind of nudge do they need in order to keep on growing and how can you support them to do that?

Kate Peardon: Thank you, Alis. Thank you for being the very first guest on the Level up Leadership podcast. [00:51:00] As I said, very fitting seeing as I work together. I will put all the information in the show notes for people who can follow your journey as well. So I think there’s some fascinating work. And sometimes just hearing somebody else’s story can help give a reflection on yourself and how it can be applied.

So thank you for sharing.

Alis Anagnostakis: Deeply grateful for the invitation.

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