Earlier this month, I challenged you to see your organization in a new light with vertical coaching. And then I made the case for how vertical coaching can foster understanding, build trust, and inspire contributions — for an organization everyone is proud of. 

You might now be wondering how vertical coaching works, practically speaking. And honestly, that’s the most challenging part of the whole thing — where the rubber meets the road.

And just to be sure no one gets the wrong impression about this, let’s talk about what vertical coaching is not.

Vertical coaching is not an “all-hands-on-deck” kind of thing. It’s not a “leading by committee” either. It also is not something done as a last step in making a decision “just to see if it will fly.”

As a practice, a vertical coaching group has no real authority in their organization which, ironically, is what gives it its power. The value is that the group meets regularly to build vulnerable trust, demonstrate the courage to take on meaty and thorny topics, and elevate the discussion that gets at the real problem. Consequently, leadership is able to make well-informed decisions before sides are formed and rifts appear among the ranks. 

Vertical coaching is not a big stick to wield, nor is it a silver bullet. But it does equip thoughtful, responsible leaders to develop the sort of trust, transparency, and buy-in that their organization needs to thrive long-term.

What’s hard about vertical coaching is that its objective is multi-fold:

  1. Thoughtfully examine an issue from multiple levels with input from folks up and down the ranks
  2. Achieve a deep, nuanced understanding about how decisions are made at each level
  3. Propagate the results of vertical coaching outside of the vertical coaching sessions

As amazing as it would be to magically be able to do vertical coaching with 600+ in a given organization, we can’t do that. It’s just not realistic (nor is it really as effective and efficient as propagating it internally — but more on that in a bit).

Ideally, we get 10 to 15 folks in a room together. They get the benefit of direct vertical coaching with me. They roll up their sleeves, speak truth, hear truth, and keep an open mind — and have the conversations typically avoided. 

What I’ve found in the midst of this, though, is that evangelism creates a real dichotomy and a conundrum. 

On one hand, because we’re leaving rank at the door, we have to be courageous enough, ourselves, to say the things that need to be said. We have to take the risk of saying it wrong until we figure out — or learn from one another — how to say it right.

On the other hand, others have to be courageous enough to give us grace and accept less-than-elegant discussions until we learn how to communicate things the best way possible.  

There’s hard but important work to be done in discerning what needs to leave the room and what needs to “stay in Vegas,” as they say, because let’s be honest — not everyone needs to know how the sausage is made.

Then, once we all come to an agreement about what needs to be said, how it should be said, and to whom, that’s when the evangelism starts. We’ve reached the propagation stage.

In order for vertical coaching to be effective, the result of all that work has to leave that room. 

But we don’t go into this blindly. Vertical coaching teaches us how to facilitate a conversation with vulnerability, honesty, and courage. It’s like learning how to drive a car, become a public speaker, or play an instrument — we all have to experience doing something poorly in order to learn to do it well. 

We can’t be resistant or fearful because through vertical coaching, we have the capacity to become an invaluable conduit for understanding, growth, and health in our organization.

As we learn and do and decide in vertical coaching sessions, each level of the organization that’s participating needs to go back out to their peers and help them understand what they’re learning. 

But the information exchange is not one-way. Remember, you’re a conduit.

Tune into and rely on the conversations that happen outside of the coaching. Those conversations become a conduit for bringing new issues back to vertical coaching, where we’ll work through them, resolve conflict, and make strides the entire organization can be proud of. 

What might this look like for your own organization?

What would it look like to have a culture informed by vertical coaching where, most of the time, you’d have the trust of the people that report to you? How would it feel to be able to solicit honest, genuine, applicable insights that bubble up in the ranks and show up in vertical coaching? 

Vertical coaching isn’t just a slick theory or interesting exercise. We’re talking about real life stuff. It’s messy, but it’s powerful.

Are you ready?


Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash