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

People: The Building Blocks of a Developmental Learning Community

Written by: on December 4, 2021

     People are the very building blocks of any organization, yet organizations, and even churches behave as though individuals are merely resources that are to be consumed by the organization in the process of accomplishing the goals. An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey shifts the focus to developing the individuals within the organization. This book takes a practical look at corporate culture, organizational behavior, effectiveness, and change while focusing on developing a culture that is safe for the individuals who make up an organization develop, as they work toward greater productivity of that community.

    Kegan and Lahey’s description of “deliberately developmental organizations (DDOs)” reminded me of Professional Learning Communities PLOs . The ideas and concepts of individual development while enhancing the goals and purposes of the institution or organization resonate with me. Those aspects of DDOs and PLCs that identify individual’s strengths, and empower them, not just for the greater good of the organization but also as a jumping off point for further development of each person intrigue me. While both DDOs and PLCs integrate self-evaluation and observation into their process, DDOs seem to go much deeper into the barriers of change. PLCs seem to focus mostly on educators who self-select to engage in change, as they collaborate through the process of person growth and the improvement of professional skills.

      In contrast, DDOs revamp the entire organization from the top down. There are three dimensions of a DDO. The Home, Edge, and Groove are those dimensions that function as the framework for a DDO culture of growth. It is these elements of community, personal growth, and the implementation of developmental practices that create a flow of shared vulnerability in a within a trustworthy community that is participating in ongoing developmental growth practices.

     The authors establish early in the book vulnerability and its essential role in a growth culture. They refer to Brené Brown’s research, that states that vulnerability is the place where both the barriers to change and our most creative, empowering growth exist . It is clear by the various examples of individual and organizational change outlined in the book that vulnerability is important. Yet, as I think of the organizations, I have been a part of the upper leadership often are the ones who threaten the safety of the group, thus destroying the atmosphere for authenticity and vulnerability.

     Creating a culture that values the individuals as the foundational stones of that institution must be safe enough for them to reveal all aspects of themselves. I wrestle with how to implement the concepts of a DDO in my ministry setting. I can see how there could be immense value in the development of disciples willingly reveal their hidden self while engaging in a personal growth process of spiritual maturity and eternal purpose.

Some questions that this book has raised for me.
If in fact we as God’s people are being transformed more and more into Christ’s glory how is that measured?
Do I/we provide a community that is trustworthy enough for people to be vulnerable?  To willingly reveal weaknesses and pursue change?
Am I looking for volunteers to fill positions or do I see individuals who I can help mine their gifts and challenge their personal and spiritual growth?
Am I willing to release my vision for the good of the development of the people God has called me to serve?
If the church functioned more like a DDO, would people be more inclined to take responsibility for the workings and needs of the church?

About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

13 responses to “People: The Building Blocks of a Developmental Learning Community”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Denise – such good questions that you pose at the end and especially connect with the final two. I feel like vision and calling can be so intertwined that it would take so much intentionality to unwrap one from the other to really delineate what obedience looks like. I know I’d personally love to see churches incorporate more DDO principles and watch the implications of that.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, you ask thought provoking questions about the implications of this book! What a sad statement about people in highest levels of leadership threatening the safety of the group. The very ones who can create the kind of environment described, work against it instead. You mention your experience with that reality. Do you see a common theme in those who threaten safety? Are they just insecure? Do they protect their positions?

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Good questions Roy. I think that these people are focused on the direction of what they are doing and they don’t notice or realize that their behaviors are contributing factors in the lack of unity. There is a tendency to pick people who agree with them to solve issues or the people who think differently are shutdown (politely), just enough that others are fearful to say anything.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Denise: It is about creating a culture; I liked your comments on this subject. I hadn’t thought about how to do it specifically in a ministry setting. The church where I work is trying to create a new culture ever since they hired a new executive pastor. It isn’t easy. Some people get on the same page immediately and others not at all. These type of changes are always tricky but if positive changes can be made, the church is stronger because of it. Nice essay.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Troy, I so agree with you. As I have been contemplating my NPO I have wrestled with the whole idea of culture. Jesus came to show us the culture of the Kingdom and God’s people are to replicate that culture. So when a church is embracing culture, shouldn’t it be reflective of the Kingdom. I think many aspects of a DDO would have been visible in the New Testament church. I wonder if the cost of implementation of these principles would be far less then the benefits. Just part of my musings.

  4. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Denise – in reflecting on your question about what it might be like if the church acted more like a DDO, I cannot help but be drawn to the first few chapters of Genesis where we’re told that Adam and Eve were both naked and were not ashamed. Obviously this calls on us today to be vulnerable and manage others vulnerability with confidentiality, humility and prayer. I think if we were to be more vulnerable/accountable, amongst other things, we will get the wise counsel, prayer, purity and unity needed to move the church into a level of revival we have not yet experienced. Thank you for your question.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Agreed. I think it will require more undefended leaders. The question then is how do we get more undefended leaders? And fewer guarded and defensive leaders?

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Denise, thank you for sharing this thoughtful engagement with Kegan and Lahey’s book. I know Brené Brown is a favorite of your’s as well. How do you imagine Brown might evaluate Kegan and Lahey’s thesis and process of encouraging organizations to increase their practice and posture of vulnerability? What have you learned from Brown that would help an organization or church move into the direction of a DDO?

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Good questions. It’s funny because they also mentioned Carol Dweck, who is also one of my favorites. Kegan and Lahey’s work writes as if they had been collaborators with Brown. They all establish an environment of trust through vulnerability. I think most of Brown’s writings focuses on the individual implementation versus the organization, although she has worked with many businesses. I like that they pulled in Dweck and the concept of a growth mindset. I think that it is essential for real change because the change is owned by the individual.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise, like others, I really appreciate your thoughtful questions. A number of your questions have echoes of Simon Walker and Eve Poole. In what ways do these authors tap into these issues of empowerment and weaknesses? How do they compare and contrast? Do they help flesh out some of your wonderings?

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Nicole, I have a love hate relationship with your comments. 🙂 You often find the holes in my writing that I haven’t figured out what or how to say it. Or I just run out of time or energy. I think the leadership of an organization has to be what Simon Walker would call an Undefended Leader. There would be no way that they would be able to vulnerable and openly evaluate their own position and progress otherwise. I will have to think more about Poole.
      Thanks for the prod.

      • mm Nicole Richardson says:

        You’re welcome??? lol
        I agree with your assessment that leaders must approach from that Undefended mindset/spiritset.

        I am always ready to “prod” 🙂

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