Generativity: Why Care?

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 D&I aims into practical and consequential realities.

Where to begin

To intelligently consider this question we must first define its two key words, generativity and care. The first is not used here as a term in technical innovation—although its proper and fuller expression may quicken the potential for innovation in others and in organizations. Rather, we here focus on its use in designating a vital phenomenon in lifespan theory and adaptive adult development.

Similarly, the word care, as we use it, is more than a feeling (concern for others), or an attitude (thoughtful attention to something), or an action (care-giving). Rather, it is a normative virtue whose practical expression includes such feelings, attitudes, and actions but also reflects a fuller expression of 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 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 direction leads to self-absorption and preoccupation with self-interested motivations. Erik Erikson, the author of this psychosocial theory of development, called it stagnation. Its effect is to prompt a retreat from vital engagement with community, which blocks generative growth and development. Instead of experiencing an expansive and elevating sense of hope and fulfillment that accrues to a generative life, our sense of vitality shrivels, our scope of interest shrinks.

Table 1. Generativity vs. Stagnation – This table compares trajectories in development and how they play out in patterns of attitude and action as a leader. Consider which is 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 patterns of attitude and action as a leader. Consider which is 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 reasoning 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 D&I 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 based on the scales of justice alone. We consider whether the leader truly cares about us, not merely as instrumental 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 attitude, actions, and especially the dialogue our leaders have with us.

Emergent Leadership - There will always be some degree of formality and hierarchy in an enterprise, because 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 of the organization—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 prototype of leadership that governs in many if not most organizations today continues to favor white males. Such cognitive filters 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, encourage him/her to speak and lead in his/her own voice, and to offer a fresh point of view. 

For more information:

For more on assessment-based strategies for developing generative leadership, and for leveraging it as way of promoting emergent leadership in your early-career professionals (your next-generation leaders), please contact us at information@generativityllc.com or by phone at 401.885.1631.

Also we welcome you to attend our upcoming webinar on Early-Career Leader Development.