Last week I had a chance to hear a presentation by Gervase Bushe, an internationally known author and scholar in my field of organization development. One of the first things he said was that, basically, he thinks leaders with a clear vision can be dangerous to organizations.
That was unexpected. Aren’t leaders supposed to create a clear vision, get others on board, and then lead the organization to success? Well, not always.
We’ve written before about adaptive challenges. Unlike technical business problems, they don’t have clear solutions, a right answer, or a single clear end goal. Leaders who treat adaptive challenges as technical problems are doing what Bushe called the “pretend it isn’t really complicated” method of leadership. They can cause great harm.
Instead, Bushe said that what we need is “generative leadership” in which leaders promote dialogue among the stakeholders who actually do the work. The role of generative leaders isn’t to drive change, it’s to support the change process and promote collaborative decision-making.
This article from the Higher Learning Commission talks about the benefits of generative leadership in community colleges. I appreciated this observation:
Sometimes community colleges try to do so many things that they have difficulty doing any one thing well. Often, especially at small colleges, employees wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to find the time to communicate with each other, as well as to reflect on their practices and the theories inherent in them, and to exercise their creative energy to think through challenges and to innovate instead of simply adapt.
We’re all been there, and it can be easy to create coping strategies rather than systemic change. In addition, there are challenges in moving higher education from a culture of isolation and stability to one of collaboration and nimble change.
The article says that anyone in an organization can show generative leadership. What examples have you seen? Who on your team has been a generative leader, and how can you support them?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Great perspective. Generative, adaptive, grass roots leadership
Yes, he is right on. A leader “bringing his/her vision” is a recipe for trouble. Facilitating the wisdom of the team is far more effective.