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Thoughts on Generative Leadership


See also Leadership and Co-Intelligence



The dictionary says generativity means "the ability to give birth, to bring into being, or to evoke," which makes it pretty synonymous with creativity. However, some of us also use it to connote not just creativity, but something like "the abililty to evoke creativity (in people or in situations)" or "providing contexts or conditions in which good things can come into being."

[Interestingly, the word "generate" derives from the Indo-European root "gene-" meaning "to give birth", whose derivatives include not only the obvious gene, genetic and generate, but also many other thought-provoking words, including engine, kin, kind, gentle, general, genius, genuine, nation, native, and nature! What amazing ground to stand on...]

So "generative leadership" seems to suggest a significant role in bringing things into being, one way or another (perhaps contrasted with the more usual leadership connotation of "getting somewhere"?). So let's look at what's going on with "leadership":


2) TO LEAD (inspired by a dictionary study and arranged in my own approximate spectrum of how much control is involved in each definition)

to tend towards a certain goal or result
to be ahead of
to play a principle role in
to inspire, evoke
to provide a passage, channel or conduit for
to show the way
to show the way by going in advance
to guide or conduct (on a path)
to exercise authority
to cause to move towards a goal
to induce, influence, persuade
to take charge
to command

What else? Which of these definitions fit with your idea of "generative" leadership? If you reject a definition, is there a way to reframe the definition so that it WOULD fit with "generative"? (e.g., "authority" can mean "the power to enforce" or "the power to influence or persuade resulting from knowledge or experience") Do concepts like "facilitate," "participate" and "provoke" belong on this list? If so, how and why? If not, why not?


3) WHAT PROVIDES LEADERSHIP? My own brainstormy response to this (below) has lots of overlaps and is probably missing many important items. What does it bring up for you? What influences our direction and shapes our affairs?

Exceptional people ("leaders")
Maps, guidelines, worldviews, mental models
Technology, resources, available/useful means
Cultural assumptions, norms, expectations
Biological/cognitive capacities, tendencies, instincts
Evolutionary/developmental stage and trajectory
History (past events and conclusions)
The Future (future-pull; strange attractors)
Consciousness, awareness, understanding
Unconscious dynamics (personal, interpersonal, social)
Needs, desires, passions, visions, purposes, goals
Agreements, shared understandings/goals
Institutionalized methods, habits and enforcements
Freedom from (or presence of) obstacles or threats
Imagination, creativity
Authority (both earned and institutional)
Examples, models, stories
Context, circumstances
What else?

Many people think leadership just has to do with the first item, the exceptional people who lead us. What are the advantages and disadvantages of believing in one source of generative leadership? What would be good to understand about the potential of each of these factors to shape the others? For example, exceptional people, called by Spirit and influenced by their culture, unconscious dynamics, passions and awareness, can make agreements that shape their collective work to generate new opportunities and institutions which then shape the lives of others. OR: The limits of our biological cognitive capacities can shape our awareness and desires such that we notice only certain dangers and opportunities and not others. OR: Our developmental stage may guide our choice of goals, as well as of the maps and technologies we use to move towards those goals.

What are the implications of such insights for our work towards greater generative leadership?