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“Vertical Development“ is building our ability to distinguish and let go of our own limited thinking and perceptions. As this occurs we are more able to genuinely relate to and engage with others and the world around us.

We all have defence mechanisms and views about people and situations that keep us stuck in our current ways of “doing things” (automated responses) as it feels safe and comfortable.

When we let go of these fears and anxieties (our degree of self-centeredness), our view of the world changes and we can change the course of how we think and feel and what we do – increasing our range of behavioural freedom.

Emotional Health Levels (Download PDF) offer a way of observing and measuring this developmental state or emotional health within each of us.

The idea of emotional health takes the notions of personal responsibility and ‘above and below the line’ (Download PDF) a few steps further. Emotional health is the real core of the work of Global Leadership Foundation, that is to support leaders in increasing their emotional health levels and understanding the positive impact this has on themselves, those around them, their organisations and the broader community (local and global).

It’s helpful to discuss emotional health in reference to the diagram below, which we’ve adapted from the work of Don Riso and Russ Hudson (1999).

Emotional Health levels


The way we like to explain this is to start in the middle and then describe the differences we see as we move up and down from there.

Let’s take a hypothetical person who is centered at level 5 on this diagram (we would say this person has an emotional health level of 5). This could be the level of the average Western population (in general).

At this level, our person wants to have a ‘good’ life, have friends, a comfortable place to live, go on holidays and have a steady job – all of this is likely to be familiar to you. Our ‘level 5’ person will react thoughtfully to some of the situations that they find themselves in, thinking as much about others as they do about themselves.

But there will be other times when our person will respond to challenging situations in ways that are quite reactive and without thought. Their response or reaction in the moment will be quite automated – below the line – with blaming, denying, defending and justifying appearing in the mix. We know that it is often our person’s loved ones who are likely to trigger these behaviours by pushing their ‘hot buttons’ (you are probably familiar with this also).

What this means in terms of our diagram is that if you draw a line across to the blue triangle, the ‘range of behavioural freedom’ the person had at that time they were challenged is limited (it’s about mid-range), hence their resort to an automated response. And if you draw a line across to the red triangle, their ‘degree of self-centeredness’ is also about mid-range, meaning that the person has a level of concern themselves, rather than others, in this moment. This self-concern also contributes to their automatic, self-focussed response.

It is interesting to note that our ‘level 5’ person will often regret their behaviour afterwards. The will realise that they did think before they acted, and perhaps did not make the choose the best response to their situation. But this realisation it is often too late.

As our diagram illustrates, the top and bottom of the range of emotional health levels represent extremes in self-centeredness and behavioural freedom.

A person with an extremely low level of emotional health (level 9) will display automated, ‘below the line’ responses to virtually every situation they encounter. They have a continual focus on themselves and have almost no behavioural freedom to react other than automatically. They are never ‘present’. People at this level are often fixated, delusional and self-destructive, and are generally under medical and/or psychiatric care (or should be).

The person with high emotional health levels (level 1) is completely open, well balanced and liberated from any degree of self-centredness. With complete behavioural freedom, they are able to make mindful decisions about every situation they encounter and continually take personal responsibility (‘above the line’) for their responses. People like this almost define the term ‘presence’ with their clarity of thought and way of ‘being’ in the world. They access the highest of qualities, showing compassion and deep caring with ease and leading by the highest of examples in all aspects of their lives.

Recognising the health level at which we operate can sometimes be difficult, as our natural tendency is to often see ourselves as our idealised self-image. In other words, our ‘ego’ will tend to make us think we are operating at a higher health level than we actually are.

It is particularly important for an accurate self-assessment to occur in establishing your health level, so that transformational learning can occur.

As we move up these levels of development we shift in how we see and operate in the world around us. For example, our ability to recognise, understand and manage emotions in ourselves and others i.e. Emotional Intelligence (Download PDF) strengthens – however this is just one facet of a multi-dimensional experience we find ourselves in.