My attention has been diverted from blogging lately by the new book I’m writing—a draft of which is now finished, and the proposal for which is now with my agent. I’ll be blogging about that book and those ideas too, but first a few ideas that have been simmering for me over these past months.
Many more people these days are talking about the Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO). Bob Kegan, Lisa Lahey and their colleagues have done a really interesting piece of research in their new book, An Everyone Culture, and have pointed to organizations where there is no separation between doing the work and growing the people. This is a radical idea and one I was playing around with in a theoretical way when I wrote Changing on the Job six years ago. Kegan and Lahey and their colleagues have found places where this actually happens and have been able to talk a bit about why and how it happens, too. It is an invigorating idea for me, the idea that the massive divide between what we do and how we grow can be closed for organisations in the future to be successful.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am very close to this work myself—Bob was my dissertation advisor and continues to be a mentor and friend, and I have a little case study of my own client work in the book. And, before this DDO term was coined, we were both doing this work with clients (although I didn’t have a particular word for it) and also weaving it in to the work we do here at Cultivating Leadership. In both of those contexts, I’d like to talk about what seems to me to be a vital and perhaps underemphasized ingredient in the DDO conversation so far: love and connection.
At the last Growth Edge Network gathering, we had a session about Cultivating Leadership as a DDO, and we talked about the various features of our own organization—the deep and honest feedback we attempt to give to each other and encourage from our clients, our emphasis on safe-to-fail experimentation (with willing clients) so that we are always trying new things to push out the boundaries of our practice, the internal workings that mean that our work is as transparent to one another as possible in its triumphs and failures. Afterwards, people in the audience described our culture as “brutal,” a word I’d heard used sometimes about the other organisations that Kegan and Lahey describe, as well as the little DDO team I wrote about in the book itself (they came and had a session at the Growth Edge Network the year before). As leader of this merry band at Cultivating Leadership, I wanted to see whether “brutal” was a feeling people experienced on the inside or whether it was just imagined from the outside.
What I heard from my colleagues in our company is that sometimes the way we were together was grueling, but that it never felt “brutal” to any of them. The reason seemed to be twofold. First, there was always a purpose to the pushing we did—everyone could see the ways our own growth connects to the Cultivating Leadership organizational purpose: To help our clients navigate their most complex challenges by enabling people to bring their biggest selves to make a difference in the world. After all, we need to be bringing our biggest (and growing) selves to our clients to support them. So the challenges and difficulties of growing were anchored in something that brought each of us meaning and purpose.
The second thing I heard from my colleagues—and perhaps this is the most important of all—was that the connections and affection between us were so deep and enduring that it held us in the right balance between challenge and support. We try to live our values of kindness, generosity, and compassion with one another and we try to create spaces for us to know each other well. This got me thinking about the role of heart in the DDO—connecting to purpose and to one another seem to be vital ways to mitigate the more difficult consequences of this deliberately developmental work. As I scanned my clients who also believed in the deep connection between development and the work we were doing, I discovered that each of them was also working hard to create these heart connections as well—to purpose, to one another.
Creating a workplace that demands development might be the wave of the future (because it is true that the demand for more and more sophisticated capacities is growing), but we have to remember that development can be painful and difficult. In order to create the conditions for this to be a healthy and helpful demand rather than a brutal one, I think we need to add a third color to the braid that makes up the DDO. One strand is the work we do. The next is the development that the work creates and demands. And the third is the connection to purpose and to one another.
In my mind and in my experience, a really healthy DDO is a place where our work, our development, and our connections are intertwined in a helpful and life-giving way to support the purpose of our organisation and of ourselves as individuals. We need to work to develop all three strands and not leave any of them out as optional. Only then will we create those workplaces that really support us to do our best work and our best growing.
PS: The picture today is from the side porch and is the unexpected consequence of working at home and designing on the windows—all of which is part of loving the DDO…