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June 2014


Making Business Personal


by Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Andy Fleming and Matthew Miller (Harvard Business Review, April 2014).


What are the big take-aways?


The authors posit that a great deal of time and energy is wasted in organizations when employees do “a second job that no one has hired them to do: preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves.”  The research team looked for and found about 20 companies whose cultures are so focused on supporting each employee’s personal growth that everyone’s defenses go down, they stop doing their “second job,” and all the released energy gets redirected to organizational performance improvement, instead.  The researchers call these companies “deliberately developmental organizations.”


Why do I like it?


Kegan, et al. write: “These companies operate on the foundational assumptions that adults can grow; that not only is attention to the bottom line and the personal growth of all employees desirable, but the two are interdependent; that both profitability and individual development rely on structures that are built into every aspect of how the company operates; and that people grow through the proper combination of challenge and support, which includes recognizing their blind spots, limitations, and internal resistance to change.”


If you follow my blog, you already know that I am heavily influenced by the theories of adult development (primarily Kegan’s and Suzanne Cook-Greuter/Bill Torbert’s), authentic leadership (Bill George, among others), positive psychology (a la Martin Seligman) and transformative learning (Jack Mezirow, et al.).  What I love about the concept of deliberately developmental organizations is that it honors, embraces and demonstrates exactly how all of these ideas can come together in practical ways to deepen the leadership capacity in everyone who works for these companies.  The implications are extremely exciting for larger cultures of people beyond business entities.  (For example, I’m involved in a local volunteer effort that dreams of a day when our home – Vermont – may essentially become something akin to the first “deliberately developmental state.”)


As the world continues to confront its increasingly “VUCA” (originally a military acronym for “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”) future, indeed we will need as many people as possible deepening their leadership capacities.


In what situations would this be useful?


The principles of this article will probably be most useful to you as a leader if you are personally focused on your own adult development and are: (1) starting a new organization, or (2) taking an existing one in a substantially new direction, or (3) already working for an organization that is developmentally mature enough and sufficiently dedicated to growth to fully transform into a deliberately-developmental culture.  Creating a deliberately developmental organization is difficult, very time-consuming and demands significant and public growth on the part of the leader(s) of the effort.  The kind of vulnerability required to champion this idea, and to demonstrate continuous learning to others as you go, takes profound courage and is not for everyone.  That said, if creating a deliberately developmental organization is something you’re ready to consider, “Making Business Personal” provides two model examples (Bridgewater Associates, and Decurion Corporation), and a blueprint of attitudes, practices and initiatives to follow.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


In addition to Bob Kegan’s other work (especially Immunity to Change, previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), a great resource for how to make the workplace a developmental space would be his protégé Jennifer Garvey Berger’s wonderful book, Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).


If it’s your own individual development that is your focus, I’d refer you to two other Leadership Library favorites: Rooke & Torbert’s Harvard Business Review article, “Seven Transformations of Leadership,” and Joiner and Joseph’s excellent book, Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change.


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