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  • Brian Tohana

The Future of Business is Deliberately Developmental

This is my summary and extrapolation of Harvard Business Review's Making Business Personal and The Key to Adaptable Companies is Relentlessly Developing People. It uses the lens of Robert Kegan's Adult Development Theory to examine the benefits of deliberately developmental organizations that weave personal growth into daily work.




What would it be like to feel calm and confident to approach a colleague regarding a triggering disagreement? What if your colleague actually approached you first to engage in an open and constructive dialogue to identify patterns and blindspots from each of your pasts that were at the heart of rubbing each other the wrong way?


What would it be like to feel completely comfortable going to your boss and admitting you've been seriously slacking off and disengaged for the last 4 months? Your boss responds not with criticism or even concern but curiosity, "Thanks for bring that up, I'd love to support you. Do you have a sense why that is?" From there, they actively become involved in getting to the root of your procrastination and disengagement because their primary focus is your happiness and fulfillment as an individual; to support your development in life and within their organization.


"Ordinarily, in an effort to protect ourselves, we allow gaps to form—between plans and actions, between ourselves and others, between who we are at work and our “real selves,” between what we say at the coffee machine and what we say in the meeting room. These gaps are most often created by the conversations we are not having, the synchronicities with others we’re not achieving, and the work that, out of self-protection, we’re avoiding." - Kegan, Lahey, Fleming & Miller

What if rather than feeling like you had to defend your opinion, hide your vulnerabilities and overcompensate for your weaknesses, your workplace culture actually logged errors and problems, celebrating and rewarding them?


What if sharing negative emotions, especially those that raised your defences, were used as learning opportunities and viewed as healthy and insightful sharing exercises rather than perceived as threatening?


Those are not idealistic fantasies but real workplace cultures of Bridgewater Associates, and Decurion Corporation who have met Kegan's the definition of a deliberately developmental organization for more than 10 years.


When the primary focus of business shifts from profit and getting work done, to adult development, the byproduct is profit and getting work done. The blocks and inefficiencies that were at the root of poor business performance existed at the level of the individual and their interpersonal relationships at home and at work.

I see business as a microcosm of society that has the ability to lead its members in a way that allows them to develop. In more ways than we realize, we unconsciously act out patterns of behaviour from our past. When those patterns interact with others', they set off our fight, flight, freeze, fawn responses; we shut down and go into survival mode.


If we want to get the most out of working together, if we want to leverage the power of our difference, then we have to be willing to eliminate judgment and replace it with curiosity and humility. We need to focus on individual inner work and practice shifting from unconscious to conscious relationships at home and at work.


"Many fine organizations that are not deliberately developmental and may have no interest in becoming so are nonetheless able to create cultures that foster a sense of family fellowship. They demonstrate that a deep sense of human connectedness at work can be unleashed in many ways. But a deliberately developmental organization may create a special kind of community. Experiencing yourself as incomplete or inadequate but still included, accepted, and valued—and recognizing the very capable people around you as also incomplete but likewise valuable—seems to give rise to qualities of compassion and appreciation that can benefit all relationships." - Kegan, Lahey, Fleming & Miller

Perhaps most importantly, if we want to create agile organizations that can adapt quickly to an increasingly uncertain and volatile future, I believe we need to focus on adult development within organizations. In my personal life and in the lives of those I've coached, I've seen self-development - the evolution and expansion of our individual and collective consciousness:


1) Build Emotional Intelligence

a) Make us more open, present and available

b) Make us more self-aware; empower us to choose new behaviour instead of

repeating unconscious conditioned patterns.

c) Make us less reactive and more proactive.


2) Reduce Judgment and Triggers by resolving the past and integrating rejected aspects of our whole being.

a) Make us more connected to ourselves; motivated to act with purpose.


3) Broaden Perspective from which to view problems and solutions more holistically. Create

the opportunity to transcend problems and/or address them at their root.


4) Create a Culture of True Belonging and Psychological Safety

Generative dialogue leverages the power of our difference to create something new. We are all social environments so, with practice, we can promote authenticity and self-expression that is necessary for creativity and innovation. Brene Brown says,"True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness."


"The quest for business excellence and the search for personal realization need not be mutually exclusive—and can, in fact, be essential to each other....This kind of “everyone culture” is as much about realizing organizational potential as it is about realizing human potential. It describes a new model for the way each can contribute to the other – how organizations and their people can become dramatically greater resources to support each other’s flourishing." - Kegan, Lahey, Fleming & Miller

I believe it's in the best interest of organizations to act as champions for human potential, for every leader to be a masterful coach who can meet its members where they're at in their developmental process and consciously facilitate their growth from there.


The depth of each leader's inner work (embodiment and expression of their essence) sets the foundation for their ability and capacity to hold space to facilitate this kind of growth for their team members.


I believe this is kind of empowered and agile organization stands the best chance of adapting to, and surviving, the rapidly changing future ahead.


Pause for Reflection

  • What do you believe are some of the most important domains for organizations to focus on in preparation for the future?

  • What pros and cons do you see about becoming a deliberately developmental organization?

  • How has your inner work / self-development translated into business results?

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