The Four Outcomes of Exponential Generativity in High-Performing Teams
November 4, 2022
Generativity is the ultimate outcome produced by leaders when they reach their most evolved psycho-social development stage, and it is what some scholars refer to as “servant leadership”. Leaders first embody generativity when they begin to care about more than themselves, their team, or goals by showing concern about the impact of their decisions on the rest of the world. What they then create becomes a catalyst for exponential creativity and productivity, well beyond the original idea. Today, even a platform or technology can begin to generate new creative output or behavior sans input from the originator of the system (Zittrain, 2006).
The term generativity comes from Erik Erikson’s theory of human development. He defined generativity as a combination of high levels of productivity, creativity, and innovation. According to his theory, people naturally experience conflicts at different stages of their lives and careers. They must grapple with the lesson each conflict presents if they are to transform themselves and proceed to the next level of growth. Although Erikson believed that these stages were correlated with age, there is evidence that generativity is achievable at any age and that it has more to do with a leader’s balanced character strengths and integrative wholeness.
The most salient clue that a leader has reached this ideal level of development (and the associated potential for contribution) is when they care about establishing and guiding the next generation in ways that serve humankind beyond the span of their own life. The existential conflict that usually arises for such a leader is between Generativity and Stagnation. Resolving this conflict can manifest as contributing broadly to the next generations, which is healthy for the individual (and society more generally).
What drives generativity in leaders?
In order to understand what makes leaders generative, one must first understand what might prevent a leader from being generative. Low self-esteem and operating from fear as opposed to operating from inner strength can impede high levels of productive output and result in underachievement. If leaders are extrinsically motivated by performance as others see it, they will struggle to tap into their own creative intelligence. In this case, reward and punishment systems will drive the majority of their behaviors, limiting their potential to make unique contributions.
Reward systems will be associated with two primary things. First, their behavior will reflect the behaviors rewarded through compensation, performance evaluation, and values communicated by the actions of authority figures. While these systems can produce results, they will rarely produce creative contributions of effort or result in broadly adapted innovations. To attain an exponential growth result, leaders must be intrinsically motivated by personal and collaborative performance mastery that comes from inside them. In this way, it enables them to draw on their most innate creativity and imagination without concern for external rewards or punishments. In this state, they are motivated by their own mastery of a new skill or strategy. When multiple leaders reach the level of intrinsic motivation, only then is exponential synergy and generativity possible.
So, what makes one leader intrinsically motivated and another extrinsically motivated? The one difference is their level of self-esteem. When one has low self-esteem, they will look to others for feedback and experience an identity that reflects the idea of the “imposter syndrome”. As a result, inner beliefs and thoughts will reflect inner conflict, indecision, and self-doubt as they interact with others. Consequently, this can spread throughout the organization and affect others who also harbor self-doubt. The general effect is an intense experience of relational triangulation that spreads ego-drama based on four specific fears, as follows:
Loss of approval, which causes them to overcompensate by blaming others.
Loss of attention, which causes them to overcompensate by fabricating untruths.
Loss of status, which causes them to overcompensate by diminishing others.
Loss of power, which causes them to overcompensate by dominating others.
Any of these overcompensating behaviors are toxic to others and disrupt the flow of work substantially (see diagram below).
What causes them is a fear-based identity that is more concerned with external feedback than trusting the inner creativity that arises from a strong sense of self. The effect is, in essence, the difference between inner conflict and inner resolve. The former begets external conflict, and the latter results in contribution. All it takes is one leader with self-doubt to derail an entire team and send them spiraling into toxic dysfunction and ”Who’s right?” debate (that usually goes nowhere). If members of the team are focused on self-protective or self-advancing behaviors, the outcomes are wholly reliant on leader values, behaviors, and reward systems. If the values are communicated clearly, the skills are present, and the reward systems produce desired behaviors. If not, the team can perform, but it will not perform exponentially or produce innovation.
If one hopes to effect massive change in a generative direction, it requires investing in the development of the four balanced meta-strengths that create generative wholeness in all leaders of the organization. Only then will drama disappear and foster accelerated energy into collaborative contribution.
Steps to increase self-esteem in leaders
In summary, there is a compelling argument that any organization that wishes to become exponentially generative must invest in the inner strength development of every leader at every level so that teams can operate from inner strength instead of from inner fear. Striving for generative wholeness is essential to ensure that teams spend more energy on contributions like problem-solving, strategy development, tactical execution, and healthy collaboration. One must have a framework for this aspiration (as well as one for recognizing and naming the four clues suggesting that toxic behavior is afoot) and then learn how to self-correct quickly. Tilt365 has developed both. The framework of generative leadership is based on three decades of research and provides evidence that when leaders exhibit all four meta-strengths (i.e., Humanity, Wisdom, Courage and Resilience), they are able to interact in a way that provides psychological safety for their team members. In such a culture, the leader does not allow the four toxic behaviors (blaming, fabricating, diminishing, and dominating) to arise and quickly snubs them out with effective laser coaching skills. This protects the team climate from ego-based drama and enables exponentially more effort to be funneled into four specific productive outcomes.
The four outcomes of generativity in teams
Leaders need to be able to quickly “turn the ship” (with a set of behaviors) in the right direction to produce specific outcomes in response to the context. For example, if the right strategy has not been agreed upon, members of the team will operate with disparate behaviors that will thwart the need for ONE specific set of actions desired. This indicates a need for team ALIGNMENT, which can only be accomplished with a certain mindset and set of behaviors. In this example, the team needs CLARITY in order to agree upon the direction, mission, and metrics that will be used to measure successful performance. More importantly, they must be able to shift their mindset and behaviors swiftly into one direction without interference from strong personalities that don’t naturally resonate with these behaviors.
What follows are the four most common outcomes that a leader and team must be able to shift into at a moment’s notice. The skill involved in this ability to shift a host of behaviors in multiple team members at once is referred to as team agility, and it enables a collective process called flow. The four sets of behaviors arise naturally in certain leaders who have greater strengths in them and can lead the way to a quick shift to produce specific results and outcomes, as follows:
The four desired outcomes:
Alignment- When a team needs to align swiftly, it requires the collective strengths of Trust, Perspective, Empathy, and Focus.
Collaboration- When a team needs to collaborate swiftly, it requires the collective strengths of Openness, Likability, Vision, and Empathy.
Execution- When a team needs to execute swiftly, it requires the collective strengths of Dilligence, Integrity, Focus, and Boldness.
Innovation- And when a team needs to innovate swiftly, it requires the collective strengths of Creativity, Confidence, Boldness, and Vision.
The challenge is that certain leaders are better at different collections of strengths than others and this must be considered when making the shift. The other requirement is that the person operates from a secure and intrinsically motivated inner identity (generative wholeness). At Tilt365, we call this the unique amplifier of the leader. Whole-person inner strength and balance PLUS the unique amplifier is a powerful combination that enables strong followership versus the divisiveness that is created by insecure or fear-based leaders.
Though this article represents a summary of the general concepts of generativity in teams, it is a concept that the world needs desperately at this time in history. Fear-based leadership is rampant in these challenging times, and extremes in behavior are often the clues that toxic leadership is afoot. The future of humanity is in the hands of those who are unwittingly led by inner fear about loss of power, status, approval, and freedom. The path to healing is best solved by character strength development which offers a stabilizing and inspiring alternative. A framework of organizing principles for human interaction that truly enables generativity and contribution that transcends focus on oneself and in favor of the purpose or mission (and even inspiring a better future for all of humankind) is the essential first step.
If you are a leader, this starts with you. Make the commitment to take this first step today and strengthen your inner identity with the Tilt framework of 12 character strengths that will make you whole. Then watch your inner creativity soar to make contributions that will help your organization prosper. The first step is self-awareness regarding your inner character strengths and development opportunities that advance inner wholeness. Balancing the meta-strengths of humanity, wisdom, courage, and resilience is what helps a leader shape a culture where top talent loves to work (and drama-seekers prefer to leave). Start by taking the True Tilt Personality Profile to discern the top four strengths that amplify your leadership potential.