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

Organizations will prosper when they align with their workers’ strongest motive, to grow.

Written by: on December 5, 2021

The chameleon is known to change its skin color to adapt to its immediate environment and camouflage as a survival tactic. Adaptation to survive is a universal inborn or acquired characteristic of all living things and man is no exception. One key adaptive characteristic of human beings is to cover up their weaknesses and to manage other people’s impressions of them; to show themselves to their best advantage; playing politics; hiding their inadequacies; hiding their uncertainties; and hiding their limitations. Unfortunately, this takes energy and this takes toll on their potential as it steals energy and effort from the real work in an organizational setting. There are two sides to this invisible tragedy in many organizations; it’s a big loss of resources to the organization as it pays the employees for a full time job but they spend part of energies in this “second job” of covering up their weaknesses and managing others’ impression of them; on the employees side, when they hide their weaknesses, they have less chance of overcoming them and will therefore never reach their potential. This will prevent both the organization and the employees from reaching their full potential and is very costly to the organization.

Kegan and Lahey in their book An Everyone Culture, provide a new model that they argue can help an organization to develop the potential of their employees.[1] Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey are both Professors of management in Harvard Business school. Robert Kegan is an American developmental psychologist who is licensed as a psychologist, practicing therapist, and lectures to professional and lay audiences and consults in professional development and organization development. Lisa Lahey is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and also world recognized authority on adult learning and development.

According to Kegan and Lahey state that “research shows that the single biggest cause of work burnout is not work overload, but working too long without experiencing your own personal development.”[2] What a tragedy? The authors look at the theories of personal development that are generally applied in organizations and noted that there is rarely any matching between the organization and the individuals in terms of talent. The organization tend to focus only on the “talent”, the individual, and thus need to resort to external sources (trainers, coaches) for its development. Their holistic approach is different in that it focuses on bridging the gap between talent and culture that is existing in many organizations. The concept of a Deliberately Developing Organization (DDO) is developed from this basis. DDOs are those companies that have worked to develop cultures that are safe enough and demanding enough that everyone comes out of hiding. This creates a relationship between realizing human potential and organizational potential that is dialectic, not a trade-off.

Kegan and Lahey do not give a prescriptive way of being a DDO, there is no simple recipe of programs, policies, incentives and perks but there are deep assumptions that are common among the three quoted DDOs that they studied: assumptions about the possibility and value of growing in adulthood, ways of structuring people’s growth directly in their work, ways of making people development and business development all one thing. There is a seamless integration of the pursuit of two goals as if they were a single goal: Business excellence and growth of the people into more capable versions of themselves through the work of the business.

This holistic approach to bridge the gap between the talent and the culture is unique in that it answers many challenges that are faced in sourcing external development resources for the employees. Some of the most powerful ways to develop employees’ capabilities include, executive coaching, high potential programs, mentoring, corporate universities, off-sites, retreats, and leadership development programs. While they may sound varying approaches, they actually share enough common (and problematic) features to be seen as a single, twentieth century answer to the way we might develop human capabilities. The common features in these approaches include; they give people punctuated inputs, delivered from time to time rather than continuously; they constitute something beyond and outside the normal flow of work, an approach that causes the vexing problem of transfer and cost; these types of programs are only offered for a few, generally for the 5 to 10 percent of employees who are designated as “high potential” which labels are known to indirectly write off 90 to 95 percent of the workers; and this makes the individual and not the organization the point of dynamic entry, the organization does not change.

The alternative is valuing the importance of developing people’s capabilities where you design a culture that itself immersively sweeps every member of the organization into an ongoing developmental journey in the course of your working every day. The culture should be safe, trustworthy, that tolerates- even prefers – making your weakness public so that your colleagues can support you in overcoming them. It is an environment in which the full-time energies of the employees are recaptured and joined to the mission of the enterprise, an organization in which, through its culture, is an incubator or accelerator of people’s growth: a deliberately developmental organization.

The book is not an easy read but it’s a great breakthrough in organizational management. As an organizational leader, I will keep the book in my library for regular reference. This approach to dialectic realization of both the employee potential and the organizational potential is one that I would want to adopt in our ministry organization. In my research work, I will want to recommend the use of this approach as part of the holistic approach to ministry, especially in developing employees as the organizational objectives are also achieved.



[1] Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey, et al. An Everyone Culture: Becoming A Deliberately Developing Organization. (Boston, MA, USA. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2016).

[2] Kegan and Lasey, An Everyone Culture, Page 2.

About the Author


Mary Kamau

Christ follower, Mother of 3 Biological children and one Foster daughter, Wife, Pastor, Executive Director of Institutional Development and Strategy in Missions of Hope International, www.mohiafrica.org.

3 responses to “Organizations will prosper when they align with their workers’ strongest motive, to grow.”

  1. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Mary, for this thorough review of Kegan and Lahey’s book. As you look toward utilizing their approach in your ministry, what key implementation idea would you prioritize as a starting point?

  2. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Thank you Mary for this summary. Do you agree with their premise that creating a culture where people trust the system enough to reveal weaknesses is beneficial to the “profitability” of the organization?

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Mary, thank you so much for your impressions of the book. I particularly enjoyed your vision picture of the chameleon. It accurately reflects the problem the DDO was created to address. I’m curious how or what if anything in this book could be valuable for you to apply in your organization?

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