Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

From D3EO to DDO: An Important Journey for Every Leader

Written by: on January 11, 2021

A successful organization is not the one that consumes its employees in order to propel its mission. Rather, according to authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, a successful organization is one that is proactive in providing meaning for its employees. The authors assert that the most significant cause of work burnout “is not work overload but working too long without experiencing your own personal development.”[1] Thus, Kegan and Laskow Lahey argue for becoming deliberately developmental organizations (DDO). In their view, DDOs succeed because they are aligned with people’s strongest motive: to grow.

The authors are quick to define “development” not as a personal development program for a select group of leaders nor an increase in the size of the employee’s responsibilities and position. Instead, the term is applied to the commitment of the organization to the ongoing formation of every employee who inhabits their careers. Accordingly, an ‘everyone culture’ treats all of its employees as high-value, high-potential works-in-progress that are in the process of formation every moment of every day.

According to their research, the authors reveal that in ordinary organizations, “people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.”[2] Naturally, this “second job” exposes lack of trust, reduces innovation, and ultimately diminishes the impact of the organization. Further, it generates a perception that decision-making power and perceived value are located within an upper-echelon of leadership. Likening their experience of being cogs in a machine, these employees see an internal promotion or company change as their only chance for personal development.

According to Kegan and Laskow Lahey, it doesn’t have to be this way.

In conversation with three companies that the authors have identified as Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDO), they surface three core characteristics of the DDO: Edge, Home, and Groove. They define Edge as the development aspirations of the individual and organization; Home as the community of safe vulnerability in which the development occurs; and Groove as the set of developmental practices that individuals and organizations are committed to. With four practices attached to each of the three characteristics, the authors intend to communicate that business growth and human growth enable each other.

I and the organization that I serve are beginning the new year in a moment of staff transition that is both surprising and unwanted. We were poised to enter 2021 with refined vision, renewed strategy, and a unified team only to discover that one of our cherished and most integral teammates would be transitioning away from Global Immersion and into her next season. As I’ve placed some of the key learnings from this recent transition into conversation with An Everyone Culture, I’ve recognized that while we prioritize evolution, evaluation, and empowerment, we fall short of a deliberately developmental culture.

This is most notable in two categories: accountability and assumptions.

With regard to accountability, the individuals and the organization both set lofty and specific, time-sensitive goals. We empower the individuals on the team to work, delegate, and collaborate in order to achieve those goals, and they/we often do. In the aftermath of achieving (or not) the goal, we’re tenaciously evaluative with regard to how it went and how we did as a team. We explore the ways in which the success or failure of the goal invites us to evolve as an organization. We utilize the learnings from what just occurred in order to inform new hunches and pivot our future goals. We work to understand what personal and organizational assets and deficiencies contributed to the success or not of the goal. What we don’t do is create an environment of mutual accountability the permeates the entire process such that we can, in real-time, harvest the learnings that take place in the individuals and the organization. In our approach to evolution, evaluation, and empowerment the scale that holds mission and the employees in tension is perceived as tipping toward mission.

With regard to assumptions, our genesis nearly a decade ago emerged out of the primordial soup of challenged assumptions. The ‘challenge’ was a portion of the high-octane fuel for the innovation that marked our message and work. As I reflect on this process of staff transition in conversation with An Everyone Culture, I recognize and am grateful for the ways in which our teammate was challenging assumptions about herself, us, and the organization. I recognize that challenging assumptions about ourselves, one another, and our work is essential to the sustainability and impact of our team and our work. This practice has diminished as the organization has aged.

So, while I’m proud to be a part of a deliberately evolving, evaluative, empowering organization (D3EO), I can see the gap between being a D3EO and becoming a DDO and am inspired to take this journey. Remaining agile, teachable, and innovative in this era of perpetual uncertainty demands that we do.


[1] Kegan & Laskow Lahey, 2.

[2] Ibid., 2.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

14 responses to “From D3EO to DDO: An Important Journey for Every Leader”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    I’ve been reflecting on my experience teaching in Hong Kong throughout the last two years while reading this book. Having worked in the same environment doing the same thing for six years, the burnout Kegan and Laskow mention is a real thing. After my first two years, I always found that around November, I would hit a wall. There was nothing uniquely challenging about the work I do in my school and at this point, there is very little preparation needed (we teach the same curriculum every year, so it just needs a little tweaking here and there). When I first started teaching, it felt like there was a purpose behind it; but as the years passed, that purpose became more and more diminished. There have been challenging moments scattered throughout to be sure, but as a whole, it’s an environment that’s been very steady and flat lined.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      So how do you get up day-after-day and keep doing this? Is there an antidote to burnout that enables you to stay in the game?

      • Dylan Branson says:

        For the longest time, the organization I was originally part of continued to run English camps at my school, so I would lead the team that came. For me, even though it was a busy time, it was also a time to reset and remember the mission of being a Christian teacher at my school.

        But honestly, my constant studying through my Masters and now with the DMin has kept a lifeline in me. Those continue to challenge me and develop me in ways outside of work. But it also doesn’t really fix the problem of doing the same thing day in and day out. COVID helped to switch this up in that it forced everyone to make adjustments to how we teach. So the initial challenge and learning curve of online teaching brought some new zing to it haha.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I appreciate how you were able to tease out 2 distinct areas of growth needed in your organization. It would seem after 10 years of work, a shift is needed. The constant innovation that comes with growth settles a bit as you find a place of sustainability. So what does it look like to examine/push back on assumptions and tip the scales toward accountability in a way that develops people over mission? Would that be a top down decision or does everyone get a say in how that plays out?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I think it starts with taking feedback very seriously and then working together as a team to usher in the practices that generate the culture that we want to create. As to top-down vs. all-inclusive process, I think it’s a both-and. We’re not a flat-leadership organization but we do seek to be one that is ever-expanding the table of influence. We, together, shape the culture. That said, I do think it starts with the courageous decisions that the leader(s) make.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    Great application to the book. As you make your transition what things need to be put in place to assure a smooth transition? What stabilizing factors do you need in order to assure that all involved are safe and secure in the transparency needed to be a DDO? How do you see you leadership style changing through this process?

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    Jer, I’m refreshed by your humble assessment. I have been thinking a lot about the normal life cycle of a movement or organization. (William Bridges) 1. Dreaming the Dream, 2. Launching the Venture, 3. Getting Organized, 4. Making It, 5. Becoming an Institution, 6. Closing In, 7. Dying. He’ll go on to paint a path of renewal after step 5, but I’m thinking from your post, a sign of dying is an assumption of arrival or the waning of earlier commitments to certain forming principles. I applaud your efforts to recapture some earlier priorities.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thx Shawn. If the pandemic has offered an opportunity, it is has been that of evolution. I imagine that orgs that will survive and lead in a post-pandemic world will be those that treated the pandemic like a crucible. Will be interesting to see the shape the Global Immersion will take in the months to come.

  5. John McLarty says:

    This is good stuff. It sounds like your organization’s culture is already adaptive, and therefore probably more open to tweaks in terminology and techniques. Have you found that to be the case? And how would you “coach” a more traditional organization both with regard to staff who are set in their ways and lay membership that has never really explored the hows or whys of a DDO approach?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Whew. That’s the question. I imagine that before any significant tweaks would be made, I’d recommend a culture/conflict/currency of trust analysis. Alongside the pastoral team, I’d love to gain an understanding of where we’re at, how we’ve gotten here, and how deep the currency of trust is. Those analyses would then inform the what, how, and pacing of shifting from a traditional “hold the status-quo” organization to a DDO. My sense is that so much would ride on the healthy trust between elders and lead pastor as well as lead pastor and pastoral staff. If the currency is high in those two relationships, much is possible. If not, my sense is that the journey toward DDO may be perilous…especially for the lead pastor.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Meaning is so vital. Losing track of meaning sucks life. Thank you for mentioning this. Often, I have to remind myself and be in conversation with the team regarding the ‘greater reason’ and ‘purpose’ for the ministry we are involved in. When we lose track and get sucked into the ‘STUFF’ (which can be life-giving as well, when addressing the ‘STUFF’ with a peppering of love and Jesus vision) of organisation, heart depletes and soul can depress a tad.

    Jer, you are deliberate. Thankful for your care and precision, your informed and detailed approach…most importantly, your interest to listen and learn. This stands out in your post.

    “I recognize that challenging assumptions about ourselves, one another, and our work is essential to the sustainability and impact of our team and our work. This practice has diminished as the organisation has aged.”

    Here is a key a learning. Thank you for being vulnerable, such an offering is ‘pearl’. I’m listening closely to your interpretation of the story you’re in because I can see how much it matters to you. The deeper, the closer. The quieter, the more defined and resonant the Voice of God breaks through.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thx Chris. You use the word deliberate in your reflections. It’s fitting as it is also located in the title of this week’s book, but the way you draw it out in your post focuses me on the verb. Deliberate…on purpose…this is a verb that probably describes healthy and successful organizations. I certainly want to grow in my and our ability to practice this verb.

      • Chris Pollock says:

        Thanks Jer. Will think on that! Apologies for missing this. Not too sure what you’re seeking to clarify?

        “You use the word deliberate in your reflections. It’s fitting as it is also located in the title of this week’s book…”

        Deliberate as a verb? Or, as included in the title of this week’s book? I’m confused.

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