In a March, 2022 article published by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), the authors (Jean-Michel Caye, Jim Hemerling, Deborah Lovich, Marie Humblot-Ferrero, Fanny Potier, and Robert Werner) outline the characteristics and traits of what they call “Generative Leadership” and make the claim (which I agree with!) that our world and our organizations are definitely in need of more generative leaders.
(Note: the first time I ever heard the term Generative Leadership was through the work of Bob Dunham and his organization, the Institute for Generative Leadership. The distinctions he shares and the emphasis he brings to this are different than those the authors of the BCG article are using, AND I strongly encourage you to explore Bob’s excellent and insightful writings and programs. For more information, see www.generativeleadership.com.
In this newsletter, I share with you the “Big 3” dimensions highlighted by the BCG article, and include ways that certain specific distinctions, tools and “ways of seeing things” from my work can be used to support you in more effectively bringing forth your own version of Generative Leadership.
What is meant by Generative Leadership, or by a Generative Leadership approach? A few items from the article:
o “Generative leaders strive leave the world a better place than they found it… not just for their shareholders, but for their customers, for their teams, for society, and for the planet as well.”
o The article cites research and case studies involving Microsoft, L’Occitane Group, Enel (Italian utility) and Cisco to demonstrate real-world examples of organizations achieving and sustaining superb financial performance while at the same time widening their circle of care and involvement, bringing a deepened sense of purpose and meaning and contribution to the work, widening and expanding the groups considered to be valid, important and worthy stakeholders.
o From the article, we read: “The generative approach comprises three interconnected elements:
- First, generative leaders look to reimagine and reinvent their businesses. They think expansively about the future they want to create and focus on the right strategic priorities to reach it.
- Second, generative leaders create an inspiring and enriching human experience for their people—including outside of work. They lead with purpose, and they work to inspire and empower people at all levels of the organization.
- Third, generative leaders find ways to execute and innovate through supercharged teams that work with agility across boundaries. They align their people effectively around the work to be done.”
In other words, generative leaders lead equally with their head, their heart, and their hands. While these are distinct elements of leadership, they are complementary and come together to reinforce one another. I invite you to review below the chart from the article that shows some of the key aspects of each of these 3 dimensions:
Below, I’ve compiled a summary of how some of the key distinctions, tools and “ways of seeing things” included in my books and programs – many of which may be familiar to you, if you’ve been in sessions with me – may be employed in support of your efforts within each of the Big 3 aspects provided above. I hope they are helpful and beneficial to you as you move forward in strengthening your own leadership influence and impact!
o Are there “missing conversations” related to articulating and building shared commitment and a shared vision? And while not every organization is global in size, all organizations can benefit from conversations that clearly articulate who we serve and the types of problems we solve for them. Once these are clearly articulated, new conversations to integrate this vision into the fabric of organizational life begin.
o The goals are in the “roof” of our house metaphor, part of the organizational “go to.” As declarations, they orient the organization in a certain direction and are the guideposts and milestones used to assess effectiveness and productivity.
o Three fundamental conversations related to vision, goals and intentional workplace culture are:
- Initial declaring of the “roof” and “foundation” into being; the establishment of the organizational “go to” and “come from” to begin with; (a key leadership responsibility)
- On-Boarding (a conversational process or processes) based on the roof and foundation
- On-Going (conversational processes) based on the roof and foundation
o Being transparent involves authenticity and vulnerability; as we say, we all have a good BS detector and a good authenticity detector. Leadership has gone from command and control to inspire and enroll… and authenticity is enrolling.
o Being fact-based includes being rigorous in remembering that Events are not = Explanations! It involves separating Assertions (objective facts) from Assessments (subjective judgments)… and being able to consistently “ground” our Assessments with conscious standards, evidence that supports the assessment as well as considering evidence to the contrary.
o Regarding “listening across the organization”: Listening is not passive receipt of objective information; rather, “modes” of listening exist and all listening is not created equal! Understanding this and intentionally listening with the intent to understand is quite different from listening with the intent to reply. Focus on being interested more than attempting to be interesting… especially in situations in which we are actively seeking to learn.
o Stakeholder inclusion means the purposeful design and facilitating of certain conversations. Remember, leaders are “conversational architects” and “conversational engines.” These conversations are not passive and descriptive events; instead, they create and generate shared understanding, new ideas and new possibilities… as well as serve to build and strengthen important relationships.
o Reflection includes what we’ve called “The Big Eye” – that is, self-awareness. You taking a look at you, me taking a look at me. Becoming more aware of our own pre-dispositions and assumptions and explanations and interpretations and often-unspoken standards… as a first step in genuinely open dialogue with others.
o The ability to entertain opposing views before taking action can be strengthened by starting with the claim that we are each Unique Observers… each of us, by definition, necessarily “seeing things” and interpreting in our own partial and unique ways. Having this understanding as a foundational starting point for these conversations provides a much different – and I say a much healthier and productive – context out of which the content of the conversation will unfold.
o Fostering creativity includes how we treat people in our spheres of influence who say “I don’t know”. Think about it: if one of your desired results is a sustainable culture of creativity and innovation, then it’s clear that slapping people’s hands or embarrassing them every time they say “I don’t know” will not yield this result. “I don’t know” is not the opposite of learning and innovation… it’s the threshold. When we think or say “I don’t know” we’re not describing a state of affairs nearly as much as we are creating something… and what we’re creating is called a context or an opening for learning.
o Purpose-driven; Virtually all of us value contributing to something bigger than ourselves. But how is this experience created? Once again, we know that leadership has gone from command and control to inspire and enroll, and leaders ongoingly enroll others in their explanations of who we are, what we do and why it matters. As “conversational architects”, leaders enroll us in larger conversations that help us see past “breaking rocks” to “building cathedrals.”
o Awareness of the importance of workplace culture on organizational performance – especially in the areas of innovation, creativity, relationships, continuity and retention of quality people – has dramatically increased over the past decade. And conversations in which leaders genuinely recognize the contribution of others are a direct driver of these sorts of cultures.
o Leaders demonstrate that they care by listening – deeply and intentionally – to those on their team and throughout the organization. As we know, listening is not = to hearing… and understanding this difference is crucial. We agree with Winston Churchill when he said “Leaders who don’t listen eventually find themselves surrounded by people with nothing to say.”
o One of the most powerful contexts for coaching and feedback is what we have called Carefrontation: that is, caring enough about the other person and his/her performance, attainment of goals, career path, etc. to initiate conversations which may be difficult or uncomfortable. “Speaking into our concerns” authentically is a proven pathway for setting the context for feedback and guidance conversations. The ability to have “difficult” or “challenging” conversations well is what separates great leaders (and great relationships, for that matter) from average ones. And the purposeful creation of conversational context – especially a context that we call Carefrontation – is a key contributor to our success in these types of conversations.
o Language creates and generates relationships. Most of our relationships are not physical and they are not sexual. They are conversational. Change them, and we change the relationship. End them, and we end the relationship. The quality of leaders’ conversations is directly related to the quality of workplace relationships, as well as the quality of workplace outcomes.
o Are there “missing” conversations in your organization related to celebrating progress… vs. perhaps waiting too long before celebrating “perfection?” All of these conversations serve to acknowledge real movement, connect people emotionally to the “big picture”, strengthen relationships, demonstrate care and maintain energy and focus on the most important things we need to be about moving forward.
o When I hear “teamwork”, I think about coordinating action… how we actually do what we do, how we interact and collaborate at work. And this immediately brings to mind the notion that all organizations may be understood, at their core, as networks of interdependent commitments – people making and managing promises, commitments, agreements. (See the “middle” of the house below). No matter how big or how small, how simple or how complex… all organizations may be understood as human beings coordinating action by virtue of how they make and manage commitments with each other. This fundamental way of understanding the “nuts and bolts” of workplace execution has proven to be a tremendously helpful framework and set of tools for improving and sustaining teamwork.
o Remembering and teaching Elements of Effective Requests (committed speaker, committed listener, future action and conditions of satisfaction, timeframe, background of obviousness, context and mood) as well as Valid Responses (yes, no, commit-to-commit and counter-offer) provides team members with a shared vocabulary and shared tool kit – across departments – for dramatically improving clarity, productivity and accountability.
o Role modeling that involves being open and curious and humble brings to mind Jim Collins’ “Level 5 Leaders” who embody a powerful combination of both 1) tremendous drive, ambition and motivation to achieve goals and attain the higher purpose… and 2) humility… openness to learning. Our capacity to declare ourselves beginners – through the simple declaration of “I don’t know” – can be an example to others and a shaper of a healthy workplace culture.
o Role modeling that involves seeking out and acting on feedback involves:
- Remembering that Events are not = Explanations; and all of us are constantly making up Explanations (stories, interpretations, narratives, assessments)
- Understanding that feedback from others = their assessments (opinions, judgments) of us
- Assessments belong to the Observer, not to the person or thing being observed; this is why different people very often provide very different feedback to the same person
- Understanding that being truthful (little “t”) is not the same as claiming to have The Truth (big “T”)
- Listening to people’s truthful assessments of us requires emotional strength, and it can be a meaningful trust-building exercise
- Also understanding that just because others’ assessments of us aren’t The Truth, they may very well be very useful!
- Keeping in mind that Intention is not = Impact; and that we often assess ourselves based on our intentions, while we assess others based on their behavior
- Learning about the often-unintended impacts we produce is a first step toward addressing “blind spots” and more enables us to more consciously shape our public identity
- A helpful process for obtaining feedback is called Start – Stop – Continue
I believe there are many valuable frameworks, tools and approaches that can help all of us become better leaders, and periodically I will be sharing what I’m learning with you.
I also believe that the distinctions and tools and “ways of seeing things” in my books and my programs can serve us, no matter which of these other frameworks and models we choose, for this reason: We are one level “beneath” all of these other frameworks, because we are here dealing with a new way of understanding language itself.
And it’s this generative and creative understanding of language itself… and the corresponding power of conversations to drive quantitative and qualitative Results… that helps us more effectively work with these models and understand more clearly WHY these other frameworks and approaches work!
Wishing you well and looking forward to any and all opportunities to be a resource for you and your team moving forward… and remember: Never Stop Learning!