Today I’m very happy to have this great article by Allan Shelton, the author of a new book called, “Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery” which I am currently reading and hope to review soon.  Since I had not finished it before its release date, Allan offered this article for readers to learn from based on Allan life long journey of learning, humility and leadership studies.  I hope you enjoy and please add any comments below.

Often when we speak of leadership we get the sense that our topic is very distant from us and possibly located in some ivory tower. This is because we’re attempting to learn about a lived experience through spoken concept. Leadership just doesn’t happen this way. It is possible to point toward the experience of leadership, but ultimately leadership is on the ground action. Let’s talk a minute about learning and its relationship to leadership:

All of us who attended an elementary school know about our principal style of learning. I call this style horizontal learning. The main hallmark of this style is the on-boarding of content through reading, lectures and even written examinations. Like many of you, I embarked on my career after a lifetime of this style of learning. In fact, I continued for years after my college graduation to acquire specific knowledge about the topical areas of my profession. In my case, I was hired by Price Waterhouse, and as a merger/acquisition specialist I was expected to understand economic, transactional and tax theory. This is a fine style of learning but it is only a first step.

As we mature, in both our personal and professional life, a new style of learning becomes important. I call this style vertical learning. This is when the concepts and detail that we have learned, transform themselves into a behavioral outcome. Let me give you an example. Most athletes will immediately relate to this one.

In most sports, team members are given books of plays, video material and even instruction on a practice field as to how to play their game. However, this knowledge and instruction does not create a good performer. You might have heard the comment that players excel when “the game slows down for them”. What does this mean? The game has slowed down when the learning that you have done becomes part of how you perform. Vertical learning follows the horizontal intake of concepts in your mind. However, performance and leadership take place on their specific playing field and are not conceptual in nature. That means that you must internally transform your horizontal learning into vertical action.

Let’s talk about humility for a moment. Most of the time when we do so, we speak of it as an attribute that an individual can possess. In fact, the horizontal version looks like that from the outside. But what does the vertical feel like from the inside? When we think for a moment that we live on earth with 7 billion people, all of whom transact some 100,000 internal transactions per second, a new perspective arises.

Learning horizontally places us at the center of the universe of knowledge. But holding how we are really situated within the universe shows us that our conceptual learning is out of focus. We are actually part of a whole humanity – not the center of it.

How does that change things? If we understand this difference we no longer need to seek to be humble because in that one observation we can see that we are not as important as we might have assumed. If we touch and feel that experiential arising then we will see that humility simply is. No need to acquire anything, just simply seeing things as they truly are.

Here’s an exercise that I often do with the executives I coach: Find 30 minutes at the end of your day and isolate an action from the day for which you were specifically responsible. Then, spend the entirety of that session listing all of the things that were necessary to be in place for the outcome that you authored to happen. What things outside of your control had to be in place for that to occur?

When you’re done with your session ask yourself if you see your importance in the same way as you did before. I guarantee you won’t.

Why is this important? Because this vertical type of learning will drive your leadership behavior, and your ‘on the ground’ leadership behavior must be geared to allow the rest of your team to follow you. In order to do that you must provide them the room to play on the same field that you do. That is to say – you need to see yourself as occupying the proper amount of space to be an authentic leader. By understanding your position you will not only be able to lead, but you will do so humbly. How could it be any other way?

ALAN E. SHELTON is a leadership coach, speaker, blogger, and author. His groundbreaking book, Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery, integrates the corporate leadership and spiritual worlds through his message that awakening is the felt sense that your actions seamlessly reside in who you really are and move in a perfect flow. You can follow Alan on Twitter, like his Facebook page, and learn more about him at his website,

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