Episode 30: Success Mindsets
with Dr. Ryan Gottfredson

You've no doubt asked the question (or at least thought about it!) - what do leaders need to do to be effective?

 The thing is, leadership isn't just about doing the right thing, it's also being someone people want to follow.  So how do we successfully tap into the 'being' side of leadership?  

About our guest

Ryan Gottfredson, Ph.D. is a cutting-edge leadership development author, researcher, and consultant. He helps organizations vertically develop their leaders primarily through a focus on mindsets.

Ryan is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author of “Success Mindsets: The Key to Unlocking Greater Success in Your Life, Work, & Leadership” (Morgan James Publishers).  

He is also a leadership professor at the College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources from Indiana University, and a B.A. from Brigham Young University. As a consultant, he works with organizations to develop their leaders and improve their culture (collective mindsets).  

He has worked with top leadership teams at CVS Health (top 130 leaders), Deutsche Telekom (500+ of their top 2,000 leaders), and dozens of other organizations. As a respected authority and researcher on topics related to leadership, management, and organizational behavior, Ryan has published over 19 articles across a variety of journals including: Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Business Horizons, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, and Journal of Leadership Studies. His research has been cited over 2,500 times since 2015.  

Episode transcript

Sara: Ryan Gottfredson, welcome to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast, I'm so excited to meet you and have you on our podcast to share your story with our listeners, so welcome!  

Ryan: Yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate you reaching out. I've been looking forward to chatting.  

Sara: Yeah, it's always fun when we get to find colleagues in this industry who share our same passions and beliefs and foundations and, as you know, and we'll probably talk about the leadership development space covers so many different approaches to leadership, so many different beliefs and so when I first came across your work and found another vertical development person, I got really excited. So we will definitely get into that. That's why I wanted to have you on because I feel like vertical development is something that sometimes is hard to explain to people. I'm guessing you have found that out, and Keith and I have done our part to explain it to our audience, but I thought having another voice put it in different words might really help seal the deal. So before we get to that, tell me and our listeners just a little bit about kind of who you are and how you even got into the space of leadership development and particularly with this vertical development framework.  

Ryan: Yeah, no, and I'm excited to geek out here on vertical development. So, I guess let me start -- I did my PhD at Indiana University in organizational behavior and human resources. So there's a reason why I went into that and that's another back story, but I did my dissertation on leadership and it was great because it allowed me to review the last 70 years of leadership research and what I observed is there's really one primary question that leadership researchers have been trying to answer over the last 70 years and that question is: "What do leaders need to do to be effective?" and this has produced some really good answers. We've got some really good information, but to me, it just didn't sit well because it feels shortsighted to me because -- I imagine you're the same with me, Sara, that you think that leadership isn't just about doing the right things, it's about being a certain type of person, being somebody that others want to follow, and so since my dissertation, I've been on this journey to try to figure out how do we tap into the being side of leadership, and at the time, I didn't know anything about vertical development. I first started to focus on motives -- What are the motives of leaders? -- and that led me into focusing on mindsets. So mindsets being mental lenses that we wear that shape how we view the world around us, and there's quite a bit of academic research across management, marketing, psychology, and education that dive into mindsets and what I've done is I've created what I think is the most comprehensive and research-backed mindset framework to date, and I've written a book on it called Success Mindsets, and I did all of this also still without knowing about vertical development and at the time, I'm doing this research, I'm consulting with companies, and I'm saying, "I want to come in and help your leaders work on their mindsets," and they're like, "Come again? What are mindsets and why are they important?" And what I, I don't know, a year and a half ago I guess, I stumbled across vertical development and I'm, "Oh my goodness, like everything that I've been doing about mindsets has really been a vertical development approach to developing leaders," and so now when I work with organizations I don't lead with, "I can help your leaders with their mindsets," I say, "I could help your leaders vertically develop," and then they say -- immediately their ears kind of point up and like, "Oh, that sounds great, but what is that?" and then we have to jump into a little bit what it is, but it's an excited jumping in to get into it and so my focus on vertical development is helping people vertically develop and I do that primarily through a focus on mindsets and I'm sure we'll get into all of that as we go along.  

Sara: So tell us in your words then, what is vertical development?  

Ryan: Yeah. So I'm going to give -- I'm going to answer in couple of different levels, really simple. So of course, there's a difference between horizontal development and there's vertical development. To me, horizontal development is tooling up, vertical development is leveling up and the way -- more formal definition of horizontal development would be "adding new knowledge, skills, and competences to what we have" and the focus of horizontal development is to help us to be able to do more, right? That's the focus of most leadership research is on doing and this is it's like adding an app onto an iPad. What that does is it broadens the iPad's functionality. The iPad can now do more things than what it could do previously, and that's good -- so horizontal development's good -- but it's got a limitation, and the limitation is that it doesn't necessarily improve how effectively that iPad operates. It doesn't speed up, it isn't able to -- it doesn't improve its memory so it can navigate and do more complex things, and that's really where vertical development comes in. So I define vertical development as "elevating our ability to make meaning of our world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways". So the focus isn't on doing more, it's on being better and it's upgrading our iPad's operating system. So let me pause there. The definition is a mouthful and I do want to unpack it. We can do it with a quick example, but let me pause and see if you want to add anything to any of that.  
Sara: No, I love it, and it's really in line -- the only thing I would say for our listeners who have heard us talking about this, we use the word "lateral" instead of "horizontal", but they're the same thing, right? They come out of the same word just in case our people were like, Wait, I haven't heard about that one yet. Same thing and I think, Ryan, I'm not going to accuse you of this, but I think maybe you stumbled across a blog post that I wrote back in like 2013 that explained the difference of lateral and vertical is updating an operating system, but because that's the only way I've been able to explain it.  

Ryan: Sorry if I didn't give you credit if I did! Yeah.  

Sara: Listen, our blog was like, so hidden and nobody read it but maybe we were both inspired by the same thing, but I think that's such a great picture because I always talk about there's leadership development training programs that teach things like conflict management, right? Which I can teach somebody the five steps of having difficult conversations and resolving conflicts, but if your motive is still to win, you're not going to be able to handle that conflict well, but if we can update that operating system to be looking out for the greater good, then those five steps are going to be meaningful and so, I just think that's a great, a great way to explain it.  

Ryan: Yeah. Let me even just build on that. To play off of that iPad analogy is sometimes, particularly when we're at organizations, they'll have us go to development programs and the way they see it is, like, I want to help you deliver feedback more effectively. So we're going to take you to the feedback delivery workshop. We've got our flash drive of information. We just want to download it in you and then you should be good to go. You're going to be able to get feedback more effectively moving forward, but that's not the case, right? Because for some people, that will be the case provided that their internal operating system is compatible with that app that they're trying to download. Yeah. But the problem is, is oftentimes the apps that we're trying to download, we're trying to download it on out-of-date iPads, where their operating system is not up to date enough to even use those apps, and so that's part of what's going on there.  

Sara: Yep, and then it's clunky and ineffective and inauthentic and all those things.  

Ryan: Yeah.  

Sara: So tell me from your perspective, then, kind of this idea of cognitively and -- cognitively and emotionally sophisticated, are those the two categories? We talk about it in terms of maturity, but I love the specificity of those two kind of categories. There's a better word for it than that, but what is it about the emotion and the cognitive sophistication that you think plays into the ability to have this more mature, more sophisticated, more effective view of the world?  
Ryan: Yeah. A really good question. Let me maybe give you an example that we could run with a little bit. So let's take the example of receiving constructive criticism. How would you say most people respond to constructive criticism?  

Sara: Very defensively, very afraid of it.  

Ryan: Yeah. So they get defensive and why is that? It's because -- and I'm going to go back to our definition of vertical development: making meaning of our world in cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways. So the way that they are making meaning of constructive criticism is that this is an attack and if I make meaning of this as an attack, of course, I'm going to get defensive. That is incredibly justifiable. That makes logical sense, but then we could ask ourselves the question, "Is it cognitively and emotionally sophisticated?" While it makes sense, I'm not sure it's very sophisticated, right?  

Sara: Yeah.  

Ryan: So the next level up might be, well, it depends on who delivers it and how they deliver. Well, that feels a little bit more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated, but somebody who's really vertically developed, they'll make meaning of it as, "This is a great opportunity for me to learn and grow and I'm going to embrace it." In fact, we get to the cognitive and emotional state in our mind where we can be good with being told that we are bad. It's just not easy to get there and really what we're talking about, and to me this is the beautiful aspect of vertical development, is because what we are doing is when we vertically develop is we are healing our mind at a neurological level, because we've got different regions of the brain -- we've got our reptilian and our mammalian and our human brains -- and when we are not vertically developed, these regions don't work very well together.    The reptilian and the mammalian brains operate on overdrive. They're really sensitive to threats into danger, and our human brain can't step in and regulate them and the human brain is the cognitive, the reptilian and the mammalian brains are the emotional. And so what we need to do is we need to allow them to work effectively together and that gets us to this cognitive and emotional sophistication, where we can properly sit in a conversation where people are telling us that we are bad without the knee-jerk reaction of getting defensive. That we could actually sit with this and ask ourselves, "Is there something about this that can allow me to become a better person?" and that's just a really vertically developed place to get to, and it's pretty rare to see but when we can get there, that's where magic happens.  

Sara: Man, I love the way that you've kind of separated the different elements of the brain almost kind of this neuroscience approach to it, that it's bringing these different functions of our brain to work together in more sophisticated ways and I think it makes a lot of sense. An activity that we do with our clients a lot and one of the resources we have on our website, the Growth Gap tool, part of what we look at in terms of what is holding us back from our growth are these kind of subconscious fears that we have.  

Ryan: Yeah.  

Sara: And we do things without even recognizing that we're doing them to protect ourselves and so at different levels of your development, those fears change, right? Sometimes it's fears of not being liked or fears of not winning and then sometimes it's fear of not making the contribution or not making the difference that I want to make and they grow, but connecting that to kind of the reptilian kind of animal side of our brain, I think is a really interesting way to look at that. So that's really cool.  

Ryan: Yeah, it's been -- Honestly, it's been so fascinating to dive into. It's really been the focus of my research over the last year is to get into the neuroscience behind it and really, in fact, let me show you one of the books that I've really enjoyed. I've got it right next to me because I reference it so often. Tt's called The Body Keeps the Score. It's by Bessel van der Kolk.  

Sara: I've heard of this!  

Ryan: And it's unreal and because you can ask the question, "What leads to people being not very cognitively and emotionally sophisticated or overly self-protective that's preventing them from being more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated?" and at the end of the day, it really comes back to trauma and traumas impact on our neurological or our stress-response system that when trauma occurs to us, there's actually a breakdown in these neural connections in our mind, between our mind and our body, and also between these three major brain regions and so when we see -- when our reptilian and our mammalian brains are operating on overdrive and our human brain isn't able to step in and regulate it effectively, that's what psychologists call "disintegration" and if you were to work with a therapist who knew what they were doing, the job of every therapist is to help people integrate their mind, to get these different brain regions to work more effectively so that they have a broader window of tolerance so they aren't mis-encoding the situations that they're in. They're not seeing somebody saying something about me wearing a green shirt -- or now I guess I'm wearing a gray shirt -- and interpreting that as though that's an attack and we probably all know people who are like that. It's like, no matter what you say to them, they're getting triggered, right? And it all comes back to past trauma and that's where, for me, this is so beautiful is vertical development is helping people heal at a very foundational level. So for some people, some very big things, and we're helping them to be able to navigate the complex world around them, right? The healthier our mind is, the more effectively we can navigate the complexity around us.  

Sara: Wow, that's beautiful. That's a really -- that puts a whole new motivation behind the work that we do, that it's healing their brain and helping them be able to process that stuff. So you mentioned earlier your book for those watching it is over your shoulder right there, which is awesome. Good product placement. So I would love for you to walk us through the four mindsets that you have kind of identified and pulled out as these are the things that are connected to vertical development and if we want to work on growing our vertical development, enhancing our sophistication so that we can make meaning of the world in more complex ways, you've pinpointed four different mindsets that we can look at. So I know you've got a whole book that covers this topic, but if you could give us kind of the highlight version of it and some of the big takeaways that you think are important from that, I'd love to introduce that framework to our listeners.  

Ryan: Yeah, thank you. That'd be great and even let -- I'll back up just slightly and bridge into mindsets here. So, when we define vertical development as our ability to make meaning of our world in more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated ways, the key phrase is this definition is "make meaning", right? We've got to elevate how we make meaning. Well, what our meaning makers? Our meaning makers are our mindsets and so that's one perspective. But if we go back to this trauma perspective and healing the mind is that there's two general approaches that therapists will take to help people heal their minds. There are bottom-up approaches where you start in your body, you move up into the reptilian or mammalian or the subconscious parts of your mind, and then you make these things conscious. So you're moving from the bottom up. You're re-establishing a healthy connection between your mind and body. So that's one approach that therapists will take. Another approach that therapists take, and this is the approach that I take, you don't need to be a therapist to take this approach, but -- is a top-down approach where we start with our technicians, our human brain, we jump down into our subconscious brains and then if we need to down into our bodies and what we're doing here is we're creating that integration that's occurring. And so when it comes to mindsets, what we're doing is we're starting with our cognition and we're diving into ourselves and we're introspecting at a level most people haven't introspected before because our mindsets, we all have mindsets, but most people don't know what mindsets they have. They operate in a non-conscious level and so with my framework, what I do is I help people to become conscious of their previously unconscious mindsets and when we become conscious of them, then we could do something about it, right? We can gauge, "Oh, do I have a negative mindset or more of a positive mindset? Or am I somewhere in the middle? And regardless, where do I need to go to move forward? Where do I need to go to vertically develop?" and so it gives us with the four sets of mindsets, for different angles that we could take to figure out how they can improve or elevate vertically and I've got a mindset assessment. If anybody wants to take it on my website,, and they'll give you a sense of where you stand relative to 20,000 people who have taken the assessment. So I usually use that as part of the process, but that's kind of the backing and the connection between vertical development and mindsets. Does that make sense?  

Sara: Yeah, it's great and I did take your assessment and I'm like, "Ooh, maybe I should just use my time with Ryan to get a little coaching on how to improve some of my mindsets."  

Ryan: Well, if you've got some work to do on your mindsets, welcome to the club. I have a lot of work myself still working on it. So it's all good. In fact, I found only 2.5% of all people who have taken my mindset assessment are in the top quartile for all four sets of mindsets. So if you've got some mindset work to do --  

Sara: Oh good. I'm in the top in only one.  

Ryan: All right. So to introduce the framework, I think one of the ways that I like to do this quickly is what I'm going to do is I'm going to put you on the spot here a little bit, Sara. Not too bad, but --.  

Sara: Okay.  

Ryan: I'm going to give you four desires and I want you to tell me whether or not society says these are good or bad desires. Is that OK?  

Sara: Society says...OK, ready.  

Ryan: Yeah. Okay, the desires are a desire to look good, be right, avoid problems, and get ahead.  

Sara: Yeah. Feel like that's all we're supposed to be working on.  

Ryan: Society says these -- and are you, I should have asked you this before we started, are you a parent?  

Sara: I'm a step-parent.

Ryan: A step-parent. Ok, with your step-kids -- I've got a couple of kids -- is there's this idea also that do you want them to look good, be right, avoid problems and get ahead, right? There's --  

Sara: I do, I do. I want them to be kind. Does that fit in one of the categories? That's what we're working on right now.  

Ryan: Yeah. So I think that there are some social pressure here for us to look good and be right, avoid problems, and get ahead, and it's justifiable because who likes to look bad, be wrong, have problems and get passed up, right? Nobody likes to look bad, be wrong sometimes and get passed up, right?  

Sara: That doesn't sound fun.  

Ryan: But when -- so when we have these desires, looking good, being right, avoiding problems, and getting ahead, where is our focus?  

Sara: On ourselves.  

Ryan: On ourselves. And these desires are fueled by the four negative mindsets. They're fixed, closed, prevention, and inward, and they're completely justifiable mindsets because, of course, we don't like to look bad, be wrong, have problems, and get passed up but when we are driven by these negative mindsets, we're really driven by fears as you were kind of talking earlier and we are in self-protection mode and I think for most of my adult life, I've found myself here and I think I was here partly because of past trauma, but also partly because I didn't know that there was better desires to have. So let me walk you through the more positive desire, so the more positive desires are to learn and grow, to find truth and think optimally, to reach goals, and to lift others. And these are fueled --  

Sara: That sounds like a better world to live in.  

Ryan: Yeah, so, and these are fueled by the positive mindsets: growth, open promotion, and outward. But it's not easy to get here because let's just take the difference between fixed and growth, right? So fixed mindset is we're focused on looking good and avoiding failure because to us, failure means that we are a failure and so if we want to have a growth mindset, what we've got -- we've got to be in the mental place, the cognitively and emotionally sophisticated place where we are OK with failing and we are OK with looking bad because we recognize that failure may be the best opportunity for us to learn and grow. So we've just got to be OK with failing. If we go with closed and open, if we want to be able to find truth and think optimally, we've got to be OK admitting that we're wrong at times. We go with prevention and promotion, if we want to be able to reach goals, we've got to be OK wading through problems because in our journey of getting where we are to wherever our goals are, we've never been there before. We're surely going to have problems; we've got to be OK with that. And if we want to lift others, we've got to be OK with, at times, putting ourselves on the back burner and it's just not easy to get there, because we have some self-protective desires which are usually rooted in some form of past trauma that causes our reptilian and our mammalian brains to work on overdrive and our human brain can't step in and regulate it the way that we would like to and so really, vertical development is helping people shift from these negative mindsets and their associated desires to the positive mindsets and the associated desires, and it just takes cognitive and emotional sophistication.  

Sara: There's so many things. I'm with you, I'm like, I want to geek out on this and my listeners are like, "Wait, we got two psychologists, like, going deep on this stuff." But two things come to mind, and one of them is a blog post that you wrote that I read recently, and I don't remember the title of it. I'll find it and link it on our website, but it was something about how vertical development is necessary to help heal the world. That sound familiar to you.  

Ryan: Yep, yep.  

Sara: And it's something I've just become so much more aware of and passionate in the last year, even, with how divided our country is, right? With politics and racial tensions and views on the pandemic and everything, it's like we are so fractured, and the only way for us to come together is to have, I mean, if nothing else, the open mind of "let me just see what I can--" How did you say it? "Find the truth and think optimally." Is that--?  

Ryan: Yeah.  

Sara: Like if I'm more concerned about finding the truth, I want to hear your perspective and I'm not threatened that your truth might be different than what I think is the truth. But, it's like the only thing people feel like they get to control right now is what I believe and so it's one more thing that could feel disorienting to people. So I love that you kind of put that out there and, gosh, we've just got to do something different if we want this world to be kinder, right?  

Ryan: Yeah. So can I give you a personal example?  

Sara: Yeah, please.  

Ryan: For me, this understanding, I'm going to call it a "trauma-informed" mindset. So being trauma-informed has literally changed my life for the exact reason that you just said and let me share just what the difference has been. So for most of my adult life, I have lived in Southern California. Half of the United States homeless population is in California. So what that means for me is it's pretty rare for me to drive somewhere and not see somebody standing on the street corner asking for assistance and I'm ashamed to admit this, but I'm also I think I'm grown-up enough to admit this, that for most of my life, I would see them as not doing the best that they could, right? And when we see people is not doing the best that they can, it's really easy to become critical of them, right? So when I would see people asking for assistance, I would think, "What the hell are you doing standing on the street corner asking me for my hard-earned money and you're just standing there? Maybe doing something more productive with your life or your time, like, go get a job." Right? That was my mentality, and I don't think I'm too unique in that way.  

Sara: No.  

Ryan: But then I read a book. Are you Brené Brown fan Sara?  

Sara: Yeah, love her.  Ryan: All right. So I read her book Daring Greatly -- No, Rising Strong. It was Rising Strong, which I actually, out of her books is the one I like the least, but there's one chapter in there that I like the most out of all of her chapters because it was so life-changing for me. Because she invited me to ask to kind of see others as doing the best that they can and so the next time I pulled up to the street corner and there's this homeless person standing there, I was inclined to see them, right, this is my mindset as though they're not doing the best they can but then I forced myself to say, "OK, they're doing their best I can," and then that led me to ask another question, which was, "Ok, if they're doing the best that they can, what in the world is happened in their life that has led them to believe that this is the best way to live?" and I had never felt the feelings that I felt then. Like, honestly, like, my heart dropped because normally I, as you can tell, I wasn't the most empathetic person and by asking this question, I shifted from being critical to being empathetic and compassionate.     That -- and it made me -- I sat there and I wondered if I have lived through what they have lived through, I would probably be in that exact same spot and it's led so I've tried my best to see others now as doing the best that they can and now knowing more fully about this connection between trauma and how we operate in our world, is now when people do dumb stuff, rather than get critical of them, I always have to sit back and wonder, "What in the world has happened in their life?"  

Sara: Yeah.  

Ryan: Right, and it makes me want to step closer to them as opposed to step away from them and I think that that's to me, you used the word "kindness" right? And for me, it's that word and compassion and empathy and by understanding this, it's changed my mindset on how I see others and how I value others and that's really this outward mindset in my framework but that's the power that I think vertical development has on -- and we need that, I think, in order to heal the world. We need everybody to see others through this lens of compassion and empathy as opposed to criticism.  

Sara: So you inadvertently just touched on my other big passion in my work, which is curiosity and empathy and how curiosity is what fuels empathy and compassion and when we can pause and ask the question, "I wonder what, I wonder why, I wonder how this person ended up here?" all of a sudden, it can change everything, right? And so, I love that. Let me ask you --  

Ryan: Yeah. I would say on the homelessness issue, because it's an issue here. Like, it's a political issue here in Southern California, and I think it should be a requirement for anybody who is making any sort of political stance that they need to go and talk to homeless people like it should be a requirement that they spend 10 hours interviewing homeless people and learning about them. I don't think we should make -- anybody should be making any decisions that affects them without talking to them first, and it's just  the unfortunate case that many people are making decisions about homeless people that have never talked to a homeless person in a meaningful way.  

Sara: Well, that, I mean, Ryan, you're just opening a whole 'nother door that it's like, OK, this could be another podcast, but this goes back to which you don't know about me because we just met, I've gotten into design, thinking and innovation, which maybe you're familiar with from being out in California, but because of this idea of getting, it's a follower-centered design, which I have then said, "Well, that is the same kind of mental mindset of follower -- user-centered design and follower-centered leadership." It's like, I need to take the time to sit with the people. I'm leading to understand them before I make decisions or try to move them in the direction. Same with -- applies then to politicians or anybody that's like, take the time to understand the people who are being impacted by the work that you're doing, so that you are informed and have this more grounded understanding instead of working from your own perspective, so. You just connected some dots. There is one thing I want to make sure to ask you about before you run out of time, and you've talked about trauma a couple of times and how that plays a big role in your work and when I hear trauma, I think of big, nasty things that have happened in someone's past. So then, you know, if I and I know that that's not the way you're defining it, just because of the way you're using it, but with that it could be like, "Well, since I was never abused or I never saw a tragedy or anything like that, then I don't have any barrier in my vertical development, so I should be great," right? But then I look at my life and you know, some of the things I scored low on your assessment, I -- my audience knows this -- I tend to have a perfectionistic bend of always wanting to kind of have things together, which I'm sure is from, like some micro-traumas that went through my childhood. So all that said, how is it that you define trauma in the role that it plays? Or how do people without the big, obvious traumas look back and identify or do we need to identify the things that maybe are getting in our way?  

Ryan: Yeah, I think it's helpful. So, to define trauma, we need to understand that our body has a stress response system, right? And it's built-in, it's designed to protect us, and it usually does in a rather healthy way, but our stress response system has a capacity. It can only take on so much stress and absorb it in a healthy way. So trauma is not anything that occurs to us, it is our body's response to the situations that we encounter. So when our -- when we experience situations where the stress of those situations exceeds our body's capacity to deal with them, then our body has to go through rather drastic measures to protect ourselves and these drastic measures are neurological and they are predictable. Our mind will disconnect from our body -- it's called dissociation -- as a way -- numbing is the classic way that we talk about this, and while that occurs in the moment to protect us, that disconnection lingers after the trauma until it's healed.    Another one we've already talked about is disintegration. There's a breaking down in the mind that makes us more sensitive to threats, and we're not able to regulate it. This makes us -- causes us to mis-encode situations and it shrinks our window of tolerance. So this is -- that's what trauma -- that's the effects of trauma. Now, like, for example, if a house burns down, that could be really traumatic for a child who has lived in that house but it is probably not traumatic for a firefighter, right? They don't have the emotional connections, they've also developed the skills and abilities to be able to handle that rather well. So it's not what occurs to us. It's simply our body's reaction to the things that occur to us, particularly when the stress exceeds our body's capacity. So that's the definition of trauma that I like best. Does that make sense?  

Sara: It does. It makes a lot of sense and I mentioned this to you before we hit record, but also our listeners hopefully are familiar with this. We use this formula for growth and I don't have a printed copy of it here, but if you think about a fraction -- challenge and contradiction over time -- so essentially the challenge and contradiction are things that I think you would put in that stress category, something that triggers us that is stressful. Challenge and contradiction, over time, times perseverance, and I think what you're saying is when the challenge and contradiction are so big that no matter how much time we have to process it, we can't, that zeroes out our perseverance because our body just either disassociates or disintegrates and says, "I can't, I'm done."  

Ryan: Yep.  

Sara: We're not going to grow unless we come back and figure out how to push through it and so, you know, I think about as a child like little things that today would be no big deal would have stressed me out. I mean, I ended up in the hospital in third grade because I was so stressed out about school because I had this perfectionistic mindset, right? My body couldn't handle it, and it shut down in third grade. But now today I have better coping mechanisms, I have ways to to make sense of it, right? To make meaning of it and to persevere, that that's why we really work with our clients and our audience to figure out how to take smaller stressors, smaller challenges and use those to develop so that when the big things hit, we have those resources and those mindsets to make sense of it in a new way. Does that seem to fit with the way you think about it?  

Ryan: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I'm not saying this is you, but if I was to play the role of trying to connect the dots as a therapist is, if I'm a perfectionist, probably where that comes from is maybe I had a parental figure or somebody that I respected that showed me love when I did well and didn't show me love when I didn't do well and so what that means for me as a child this is not a big "T" Trauma, right? It's not a big event like our house burning down or some form of abuse, but it's a small "T" trauma in that we may never know what parent we are getting, right? It is uncontrollable and unpredictable, the love that I'm receiving from a caregiver and that -- when we are exposed to that, that is stressful.     When we are exposed to that over time, it has the same effects on our neurological system and so if that happens to be the case and it would make sense, "Why am I a perfectionist? Because I have learned that I get love when I do well and I don't get love when I don't do well," and so this type of stuff can be ingrained in us at a very young age, and that's where it's so cool that we get to help people heal from this and what we what we hold on to, because what has happened at some point in time, if this is -- you know, whether it's you or other people that can relate to this -- is we start to hold on so tightly to the idea that "if I fail, I am unlovable". Like, that's an assumption that we are carrying. But is it true?  

Sara: No, I hope not.  

Ryan: No. Everybody is lovable!  

Sara: Right, right.  

Ryan: And so we've just got to loosen our grip on that assumption and how we do that is to your point, is we've got to test it out and we don't do it with a big grand test, right, and a big failure. We do with a small failure. "Did that matter? No. Ok, now let me try a little bit bigger, a little bit bigger," and what we're doing is we're expanding our window of tolerance in that space and that's where the healing, that's evidence of healing, that's where vertical development lies and, of course, when I work with organizations, I don't come in and say, "I'm going to help your leaders with all their trauma," but that's how I know what's going on, because they've all got their --  

Sara: Right, we don't always tell people what we're doing.  

Ryan: Yeah, they've got they've got their shit, I've got my shit and we're going to get our shit together, so.  

Sara: So there you go. Well, I love it and I assume, you know, going back to kind of the issues that relate to the negative mindsets, right? Looking good, being right, avoiding problems and getting ahead, all of those things could have developed in people early on. It reminds me a lot of the work that comes from the Enneagram, if you're familiar with that and kind of the coping mechanisms and the things that we've attached to early on, and I love the connectedness of all of this, right? It's just this idea of growth is growth and us being on this journey of becoming mature, healthy, healed versions of ourselves and that's when we get to offer our best to the world and so I love that you are another player in this field that you are doing good work with your clients. Is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you think would be important for our listeners in terms of what to understand or some actionable things they can do? You know, your book is obviously a great resource, so we'll link to that. Anything else you want to share before we wrap up?  

Ryan: Well, I think if any of you -- if somebody is listening to this and they're thinking, "This is absolutely crazy, we're connecting trauma to, effectively, leadership ineffectiveness," right? Honestly, if I would have been listening to this podcast three years ago, I would have been like, "Oh man, this is such a stretch. Holy cow," and so I understand that and what I would invite somebody to do is just not to run from it, but to sit with it and if I was to give, I mentioned the body keeps the score, but I would -- I'm not sure that's where I would start if these ideas around trauma are new. I think what I'll recommend is maybe another book. It's this one here. It's called What Happened to You. It's by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey, it just recently came out, and I think it's the most approachable book on trauma that I've read, and they actually do a really fantastic job with it. There's some really moving examples in there, and I think that's the place that I would start. So I think that that's hopefully that's helpful to folks. I think other than that, I mean, we could talk all day long about it, but I think we've covered the basics. I just again love the idea that. When we're focusing on vertical development, we're really helping people to heal and that is really deep, that is meaningful, and that's really what our world needs. We don't need people. Well, maybe we do need people, but we are primarily focused on tooling-up people, and I think we need more focus on leveling-up. Now, both of them are important, I just think the ratio isn't right and so I think -- so I appreciate you, Sara, and kind of being a leader in the space of helping others to understand that we can level up and there are methodologies to do so and when we do so, we become the better version of ourselves.  

Sara: Yeah, and to go back to something you said at the very beginning that the emphasis can't just be on what we do, right, we need to pay attention to what we do, but we need to spend time also on the being, right? We are human beings, not human doings and that leadership development needs to find a balance to include some level of greater focus on that. So Ryan, we've got all the links. We're going to kind of post those on how people get in touch with you. You've mentioned your website, which has the great mindset assessment and a Whitepaper that you wrote that I love on vertical development, links to your blog, a bunch of other great resources. So we'll put all that out there for our listeners. But then, you know, just the question I like to ask: What's going on in your world that you're excited about? What can people cheer you on for? Tell me what's happening over in your world?  

Ryan: Yeah, I am -- so if you can't tell, I'm writing a book on all of this. So I'm almost done with the first draft. As soon as I get done with the first draft, we'll set a publication date. So it's probably going to be next summer, but it's a book about vertical development. The first half of the book is all about what it is, what are the different levels of vertical development, and I use the language "line 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0", help people understand "Where am I at in my altitude journey and how can I elevate from wherever I'm at?", and then the whole second part of the book is how you do that. We bring in the concepts of trauma and the bottom-up processes and then also top-down processes in order to make that happen, and so that people feel really empowered so that they can elevate or level-up. However, we want to talk about it. So that's what I'm really excited about.  

Sara: Ryan, that's super exciting. Yeah, make sure to let us know when that's coming out and we will we will promote your book for you, too, because that sounds like a great resource.  

Ryan: Awesome. Thank you.  

Sara: Well, Ryan, it was great to have you. Thank you for giving of your time and your expertise, and we will hopefully stay in touch with you in the future.  

Ryan: That'd be great. Thanks for having me, Sara.  

Sara: Take care. !