What is generative leadership?

Oct 1, 2020 | Impact makers

If you close your eyes and imagine power, what do you see? Maybe it’s about being strong, about seeing things in black and white. Maybe it’s dominant, trying to be better and higher than everything around it. Maybe it’s solitary, edgy and dangerous. 

This is the traditional concept of power in society. When did we agree that power was about supremacy, strength and victory over others? When did power become synonymous with the “fight or flight” reflex? It’s not that anybody particularly has recommended it to us, but alternatives haven’t always been clearly laid out either.

Thankfully, there is another way. 

Close your eyes again, but this time think of a tree. Think of the roots that tunnel deep into the ground. Think about the branches that continue to grow and flourish, expanding to create something much bigger than the original tree trunk. Think about the oxygen it produces, literally breathing life into other beings. It’s an image of a generative power, synonymous with responsibility and vision for the future. When we adopt this way of thinking, it can truly be revolutionary, creating a long-term impact that goes way beyond our own selves.

A different kind of leadership

So what is generative leadership? Well, it’s something that’s naturally very prominent in parenthood. In fact, our Lifeed parent leaders believe generativity is inherent to their life experiences: 21.5% state it creates and raises a new generation, 29.7% believe it lets others flourish and grow, while 20.9% say it’s about generating ideas and innovative solutions (Lifeed, 2020). It fosters innovation, organisational adaptation and encourages high performance. It’s about creating and nurturing something that’s bigger than self, something that will essentially outlive your tenure.

Generative leaders at work know the importance of delegation as a means to making others responsible and accountable. Often, they strive to make a lasting contribution and impact on their company, colleagues and even society.

When we invest our time and efforts in those around us, HR usually calls it ‘inclusion’. We believe it can be better defined as generosity, enabling everyone in the team to contribute to the collective narrative. And although parents may have an advantage in their lived experiences of generativity, this new mindset can be embraced by all those who believe in building a future legacy. So much so, that 92% of Lifeed participants agree that generative leadership can be used in the workplace (Lifeed, 2020).

From managers to leaders

There’s no doubt that teams are looking for a different type of leadership from their managers too. In our recent survey, we asked people about the traits they expect from their manager. The results were clear. 70% believe ideal managers share more, talking openly about personal vision and experiences rather than keeping employees at arm’s length. 68% believe they are good listeners, willing to reciprocate by hearing and understanding about their team’s struggles, ideas and ambitions. 60% told us that they believe good managers know how to take risks, weighing up the evidence before making strong decisions that propel both the team and the business into the future (Lifeed, 2020). 

It’s clear that teams are expecting their managers to be more empathetic and open, which is why our programs weave these principles into the curriculum. Where Lifeed has been used with managers, 56% of employees feel they are not alone in facing their daily challenges, and 42.5% feel that generative principles offer them a more sustainable approach in their work. What’s more, the participants themselves underline the importance of generative leadership, with 58% of learners choosing to work on honing delegation, listening and empathy: the key skills that are essential to putting this leadership style into practice (Lifeed, 2020).

Essentially, it’s a leadership style that empowers everyone on the team to contribute and become leaders in their own right, irrespective of seniority or role. Ultimately, it’s a matter of truly engaging employees on a personal level, making them feel valued, listened to and ready to take action.

The results can be astounding. Highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity at work. The Workplace Research Foundation has also highlighted that when employee engagement levels rise by 10%, companies can experience an increase of 2,400 dollars in profits per employee. Aside from building a more understanding and positive working environment, there’s tangible evidence that it boosts the business’ bottom line too.

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