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How to Get Unstuck Through the Art of Generative Leadership

Last week, we talked about complex adaptive systems and the amazing creativity and solutions that emerge from them - if that is, we let them emerge. Allowing emergence to happen requires leaders to be generative in nature. Generative leadership is simply the act of nurturing healthy complex adaptive systems so emergence can arise.

How do Unstuck Leaders nurture these systems? Well, they structure the organization in a way that optimizes the conditions for them. That means lots of cross-pollination and inter-functionality. It means encouraging discussion upward, downward, sideways, inside and outside the organization. And it means Unstuck Leaders dedicate a substantial amount of their time to listening, observing and connecting.

In their book, Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer define this kind of listening, observing and connecting as, “a space of deep attention that allows an emerging future possibility to land or manifest.”

We’re not talking about making eye contact and nodding along as someone talks. Neither is this about simply downloading or debating facts, though those things certainly play a part. Nor is it merely about empathy, though that too is critical to the process as the listener watches for limiting patterns of belief and behavior that may be influencing the speaker’s point of view, as well as their resistance to some ideas and acceptance of others.

It’s about asking questions, good ones, thought provoking ones, at the right time and in the right place. It’s also about validation of the speaker. The Unstuck Leader shows enthusiasm, focuses intently and offers support, even when hearing unpleasant things. The conversation flows without judgement. It’s about possibilities, not grasping at the first available solution.

This is where humility comes into play. A leader must be curious, and this makes them vulnerable because it reveals that he or she doesn’t have all the answers. Unstuck Leaders have no interest in knowing more or better than their employees. They look for surprises and then delight in them because that is where the good stuff is happening.

Unstuck Leaders not only involve employees in building the vision and strategy for the organization, they take their cues from them. Employees are encouraged to voice opinions, even if those opinions are in opposition to those of the leader. When gathering information, Unstuck Leaders don’t hoard it to themselves for interpretation and action planning, but rather they funnel it to those who are in the best position to derive meaning from it and turn it into strategies and actions.

And, Unstuck Leaders never end the listening and observing process. This isn’t a short-term project where the leader travels from cubicle to cubicle chatting with employees only to forget everything the moment they step into the elevator. It’s ongoing. It’s a way of being and functioning.

Through this work, a vision and mission for the organization arises. The Unstuck Leader does not impose this vision, it is the product of what they are seeing and hearing. When they communicate the vision, it’s not through a mission statement or a PowerPoint presentation, but through exceptional storytelling, and by being a walking, talking embodiment of everything the organization can be. In doing this, the Unstuck Leader “generates” extraordinary cleverness, ingenuity and solutions.

Generation is the opposite of stagnation. And, it’s the opposite of stuck.

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