Advancing Capacities to Contribute

Today’s guest post is by Paul L. Duffy of Personal Learning and Development.

In The Turnaround, authors Bill and Billy Moyer describe and demonstrate the powerful concept they call the “Development Culture”. It is an organizational culture that achieves organizational success by promoting the growth of the people (employees) of the organization. Employees who are willing to participate productively in the vision and mission of the organization successfully engage the Development Culture by: 1) committing to their own growth, 2) committing to the growth of others in their sphere of influence within the organization and 3) committing to the building and sustaining of a Development Culture as central to helping the organization realize its vision and achieve its mission.

In The Turnaround, the temporary CEO and turnaround specialist starts by helping all employees recognize their capacity to contribute to the success of the company and invites them to commit to advance their capacity to contribute further and continuously and assures them the organization will continuously support them in the process. This really grabbed my attention because throughout my own professional career in higher education and human development counseling, the notion of “advancing capacities to contribute” has been my mission mantra.

I have had a great privilege in my life. It is the privilege of helping people to discover and advance their capacities to contribute in life-fulfilling ways. It started on September 17, 1973 when my community college alma mater Austin Community College, in Austin, Texas, opened for its first classes and I was among the first students. It has continued ever since.

Austin Community College (ACC) started from very humble beginnings with very limited material resources. Despite those material limitations, in that first year of classes in 1973 and 1974, there was a contagious SPIRIT of possibility and destiny. You knew whether you were a student, a faculty member, a staff member or otherwise involved, that something historically momentous in higher education was underway at ACC. And you knew it wasn’t just local. It was part of something much bigger in both the state and the nation and it was exciting, even inspirational, to be a part of it.

As a community college student I too was starting from humble beginnings with very limited material resources. While my father had attended some college classes there were no college graduates in my family. I was the oldest of six children going to college on loans and grants. I’d already completed my freshman credits, mostly through Concordia Lutheran College, then a junior college, but I hadn’t yet fully made the shift from indifferent high school student to committed college student. Consequently, my GPA added to the humbleness of my beginnings as a community college student.

My GPA, my academic skill set, and my mindset were all going to need to improve if I was going to achieve my one and only clear career goal at the time – to be admitted to and graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology.

When it opened as a lower cost alternative for completing my sophomore credits, ACC was merely a stepping stone – or so I thought initially. But ACC turned out to be much more than that. Prior to ACC, I did not possess the capacity to accomplish my goal. My experience at ACC changed that.

Because in those early days everyone at ACC was doing so much — with what often seemed to be too little, I wanted to help. I was offered and accepted work-study work in the Admissions office first, and then the library.

I began to recognize in myself a capacity to contribute that I had not seen before. Admirable others – faculty, administrators, seemed to be recognizing it as well. Looking back it seems their recognition opened my own eyes to it. Recognizing my capacity to contribute advanced my capacity to accomplish.

The seed was sown. I began to recognize higher education was not just about earning the highest GPA, developing intellectual finesse, achieving career success as measured by higher and higher salaries, or dare I say out loud here in Austin, Texas – “football championships”. Higher education for me, starting with ACC, came to be about advancing capacities to contribute to well being.

That recognition was the key to my educational and career advancement. I did go on to get my BA in Sociology from UT-Austin, and then my Master’s from Texas State and eventually I spent my professional career counseling and teaching college students how to advance their own capacities to contribute while truly loving my work.

As a developing student of Sociology at UT-Austin, I began to see that society has a clear interest, through its institutions of higher education, to advance the capacities of individuals to contribute to society. And, individuals, as they become aware of their capacities to contribute, particularly through society’s institutions of higher education, become increasingly committed to advancing their own capacities to contribute to well being for themselves, for their loved-ones, for their communities and for society as a whole.

As I read The Moyers description of the Development Culture and how it operates at the organizational level, I could see how the concept of the Development Culture operates on a societal level through institutions of higher education. What is common to the success of the Development Culture at both levels is the “personal development mindset” of the individual who hopes to engage the Development Culture successfully.


Paul L. Duffy is a retired Counselor-Professor and is licensed by the state of Texas as a Professional Counselor.  Though retired, he is continuing to advance his capacity to contribute, and to help others advance theirs, by volunteering as President of the Austin Community College Alumni Network Advisory Council, as an At-Large Member of the Board of Directors of the Texas State University Alumni Association, and as Executive and Clinical Director of Personal Learning and Development – a nonprofit counseling initiative registered in the state of Texas.

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