Senator John Glenn opens his preface to Klimek, Ritzenhein, and Sullivan’s Generative Leadership; Shaping New Futures for Today’s Schools by acknowledge the necessity of profound change in our education system. This transformation requires a new type of leader. As Senator Glenn states:
What kind of leadership is needed to reshape our schools? Certainly not the type that focuses solely on assigning tasks, managing units of time, and verifying compliance. Management and audit tasks such as these have an important place in stewardship of our schools, but they are not the essential tasks of leadership. Our schools need leadership that challenges the imaginations of our students and teachers. They need leadership that can uncover the liberating opportunities concealed within daunting challenges… This is the “generative leadership” we come to understand so clearly in this powerful and concise volume.
In their description of generative leadership, Klimek, Ritzenhein, and Sullivan outline three foundational elements: generativity, living systems, and brain/mind connection. Today we’ll focus on the first element: generativity which is defined as “the capacity or ability to create, produce, or give rise to new constructs, new possibilities.” It is this concept that provides a powerful and strikingly different picture of the emerging type of leadership that is necessary for the schools that our future demands.
Generative leaders are individuals who are able to effectively tap into the immense power of their team to accomplish a shared vision. These leaders have the flexility to adapt to changing circumstances and perhaps even more important leverage those circumstances and challenges to help reach their goal. This type of leadership is similar to an improvisational dance:
The starting point on the dance floor is clear, but how the dance will go and where it will end up depend completely on what the musician plays and how the dancer responds to that music. With true improvisation, neither the musician nor the dancer is in command. Neither has planned his or her actions in advance, and the precise outcome cannot be predicted ahead of time. Musician and dancer co-create the performance in real time, guided by shared knowledge, values, and intention.
Generativity is founded in this idea of interdependence and fluctuation. Generative leaders see that organizations are less like machines and more like living systems – an ecosystem of individuals. Given this reality, they realize that the command-compliance style of leadership will not be effective in an environment that is ever-changing and deeply interconnected systems. To lead effectively in this reality, leaders must:
- Challenge commonsense assumptions
- Raise fundamental questions
- Foster reconsideration of that which is taken for granted
- Furnish new alternatives for action and new prospects for the future
In education, generative leaders demonstrate the following competencies and behaviors:
- They see their school as a dynamic system and every individual as an integral element of that system, affecting its present behavior and future conditions.
- Their leadership is more collaborative than authoritarian and is intent on realizing the potential and possibilities inherent in their students, their staff, and the entire school.
- They recognize the pervasive influence of individual and collective mental models and constantly question the assumptions embedded in them.
- They see the future as very shapeable but neither precisely predictable nor controllable to the last detail.
- A focus on initiative, ideas, and innovation dominates their working style, with strong directive action reserved for moments that truly require it.
- A constructive spirit of collaboration in envisioning and achieving an outstanding future is genuinely present in every interaction, from meetings and presentations to individual encounters.
Generative leadership is scary. It means releasing control in a way that allows the power of the organization to emerge through co-creation and distributed leadership. This is far easier said than done. Yet, only through leadership that multiples potential instead of limiting it can we take on the challenge of truly transforming education. It is only through the unknown possibilities that generative leadership offers that we can adapt to the ever-changing, increasingly complex, and high stakes work of creating the educational experiences that our students deserve.
Questions to Consider:
1) What are the challenges to practical implementation of generative leadership?
2) What leadership behaviors are associated with a mechanistic understanding of organizations? A natural systems understanding?
3) Consider a leadership challenge you recently faced. What would a traditional leader do in that situation? Why? What would a generative leader do? Why? What did you do? Why?