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(206) 686-4400 ext. 13

Henley Leadership Group Blog

5 Keys to Developing Generative Employees


It’s all up to me.”

"I am the one driving this initiative.”

“If I stop pushing, everything slows down.”

No one is looking out to see what needs to happen now to hit our 2020 goal.”

 Nothing about this is new.  For the last twenty years, I have heard leader after leader describe their reality in these terms.  Sure, they have quality employees who get their job done.  They have good people who will do what needs to be done.  They have high performers who will hit their targets.

 So why isn’t this enough?

The challenge is it still leaves one person, usually at the top, holding the larger outcome and the bigger picture, while the rest respond to the current problem or task of the day.

 Yes indeed, responding to the task, challenge or problem of the day is necessary for our survival. It allows us to keep moving forward day to day. It allows “stuff” to get done.  What it doesn’t do is create a culture of collective accountability and ownership.  A culture that is oriented to solving today’s challenge misses out on having access to a “generative” culture. A generative culture consists of leaders who create their future instead of reacting to it. A generative culture consists of daily problem solving that is consistently set against of the backdrop of what it takes to advance the organization.

 Historically, leaders have turned toward more bureaucracy, meetings, and micromanaging as a means to create more commitment, buy in, and engagement on the larger vision. Fancy posters displaying the vision are posted around cubicles.  These sorts of actions are deployed with good intent, and yet they fall short. What these solutions fail to address is the interactions and behaviors between leaders and their teams.  These solutions fail to address the most valuable asset of a generative culture – the generative leader.

 The role of the generative leader is one of accountability, foresight, and connection. Generative leaders have their attention on the daily task, are tracking emerging projects, and staying connected with internal partners all while holding the ten-year vision in the head, hearts and hands. Taking time to develop leaders and employees is the distinction and “generative leadership” is the key to creating a culture that is collectively working toward the big idea.  This investment results in a body of generative leaders, increased accountability and ownership at every level.

Here we have outlined five behaviors often found in generative leaders and practices that can be applied today to encourage each:

 Student:   Be committed to life-long learning. Generative leaders are actively engaged in their own development. They seek out opportunities to stretch, grow and take on tasks that are outside of the current scope. 

  • Action: Conduct empathy interviews to gain a greater understanding of an employee’s untapped gifts, contributions, and talents. Define stretch assignments based upon what you have learned from the interviews that result in expanded learning outside of their own sphere of impact. 

 Business Owner:   Engage with an entrepreneurial spirit.  Generative leaders work with an entrepreneurial spirit.  They work from a mindset that embraces critical questioning, innovation, service, and continuous improvement.

  • Action:  Create space and time in team meetings to gather wisdom from all levels. Offer challenge scenarios to your team and facilitate brainstorm sessions that allow all members to share their insights and ideas for future improvements and outcomes.

 Boss:   Embrace authority through partnership.  Generative leaders embody their own authority. They assert their ideas, define what is needed next, seek alignment from key stakeholders, and get to action. Through partnership, they lead up, informing their boss, colleagues on what needs to happen next and what they plan to do about it. 

 Action: Define areas of authority for your employees.  Empower them to take the lead, to identify next actions, and to produce creative solutions.  Do not rescue them, empower them. Be a coach and encourage their ownership and authority.

 Collaborator:   Know the connections.  Generative leaders pay attention to who should be involved, what needs to be known, how to best work together. They are aware that what they do has an impact on what others are able to produce. They not only communicate status around current projects but they proactively bring future projects into focus.

  • Action: Hold partnership meetings for each project. Have members of the team define who the key collaborators are, what each member needs to know on an ongoing basis, how to best work together, what agreements need to be made to achieve success.

 Hunter: Track the future.  Generative leaders are hunters at heart. They are hunting down the next great project, they are looking forward to possible barriers to address, they are taking action that keeps the vision alive, and they are seeking ways to keep all members of their pack informed, up to date and energized to the future is realized.

  • Action:  Utilize the creative tension model and train your team to hold both the current and future realities simultaneously. Give equal time in meetings to current state, future state, and the key actions needed to get there.

 By utilizing the practices mentioned above, you will begin to cultivate generative leadership within your employees, resulting in increased accountability, higher morale, increased creativity, and improved results.

 For support and guidance on how to best implement these practices, and to gain greater insight into the benefits of these tools please contact us here.

 Lead on!