3 Reasons to Care About Generativity

Why care about Generativity? I think you'll find reason to care if you are concerned with: 1) boosting employee engagement; 2) encouraging aligned acts of emergent leadership at all levels; and 3) turning lofty aims for change or inclusion into practical and consequential realities. 

Where to Begin

To intelligently examine this question, we must first define generativity and care. Generativity, concerns a vital phenomenon in lifespan theory and adaptive adult development. It represents a level of maturity that is normatively positive, indeed exemplary.  

Care is a feeling (concern for others), an attitude (thoughtful attention to others), and an action (care-giving). It’s also a virtue, the expression of which in feelings, attitudes, and actions reflects our humanity. And both words have relevance across cultures. 

Generativity—a way of being and leading

Generativity is a normatively positive quality of adjustment in adult life, which leads us to show concern for and active encouragement of the next generation. It manifests as a prosocial attitude and an action tendency that is equally relevant to our roles as parents, leaders, and citizens. It is not only an outward expression of care for others and for causes that will outlive us, it is a way of being, which, when lived out in our practice as parents, leaders, and citizens, fulfills our destiny. 

Its opposite orientation leads to self-absorption and a preoccupation with self-interested motivations. Erik Erikson, the author of this psychosocial theory of development, called this stagnation. It involves a retreat from interpersonal positivity, and from vital engagement with community. It blocks generative growth and development. Instead of experiencing the expansive and elevating qualities of hope and fulfillment that accrue to a generative life, our sense of vitality shrivels, our scope of interest shrinks. 

The sharply contrasting qualities of generativity and stagnation are described in the table below.

Table 1.  Generativity vs. Stagnation – This table compares trajectories in development and how they play out in the attitudes and actions of leaders, life partners, and colleagues. Consider which qualities are most likely to boost engagement, encourage emergent leadership, and promote a more inclusive culture, one that seeks to understand and appreciate differences.

Table 1. Generativity vs. Stagnation – This table compares trajectories in development and how they play out in the attitudes and actions of leaders, life partners, and colleagues. Consider which qualities are most likely to boost engagement, encourage emergent leadership, and promote a more inclusive culture, one that seeks to understand and appreciate differences.

Care - a practical virtue

"Why care?" is a question that invites reason giving. We suggested that our reason giving would link generativity, generative leadership, and the virtue of care to three practical goals that concern many organizations today: 1) bolstering engagement, 2) promoting emergent leadership, and 3) translating inclusion goals into value-adding realities. I'd like to make those links now. 

Engagement - A critical factor in engagement is the perception of fairness, which is not appraised on the scales of justice alone. We consider whether the leader truly cares about us, not merely as means (productive resources), but also as ends (persons). This positive regard is expressed through an ethic of care, which cannot be faked for long. It manifests daily in the attitudes, actions, and especially the dialogue our leaders have with us.  

Emergent Leadership - There will always be a degree of formality and hierarchy in an enterprise.  Fiduciary duty and regulatory compliance require it. But given today’s flatter, faster-moving, globally dispersed organizations, we must act less formally with well-aligned acts of leadership at all levels —that’s what we mean by emergent leadership. Early-career professionals are more likely to assert these acts of leadership when encouraged by the generative concern and actions of their manager.  

Diversity and Inclusion - The prevailing bias in leadership continues to favor white males. Cognitive filters can limit our capacity to see and development the potential of people who fall outside this narrow demographic category. The ethic of care that differentiates a generative style of leadership corrects for this unconscious bias. Its explicit aim to know the person, encourages others to speak and lead in their own voice, and to offer a fresh point of view.