eadership is not a destination that, having arrived at, you can then rest, comfortable in the knowledge that you have achieved success. As I consider my decades-long career in health care administration, I’ve found that leaders are at their best when they are evolving and actively entering new stages in their personal journeys.
Because, as cliché as it may sound, life is a journey. And leadership is no different. It’s something I’ve learned from one of the most influential people in my career—Ed Clark, recently retired associate vice president for clinical affairs and the former chair of the pediatrics department.
Generativity makes you a better leader
Ed opened my eyes to the concept of generativity, the eighth stage of the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. It’s a stage which typically takes place during middle adulthood, between the ages of 40 and 65. During this phase of life, adults often turn their focus to creating, nurturing, and contributing to positive changes that benefit other people.
These attributes and concepts—creating, nurturing, and contributing—are naturally embedded in the work of health care. For example, our commitment to serving our communities and patients is central to our role as a state institution. As an academic medical center, the work of discovering and learning are both about creating and nurturing.
Generativity is foundational to our work; we have to work at it and recognize it. Leaders have the responsibility to model it, so it flourishes on our teams, in our departments, and across our schools.
How to Start Practicing Generativity
No matter where you are in your own leadership journey, you can start embracing the principles of generativity now:
Make commitments to other people. There is a tendency in our society to be a bit commitment-phobic—and the pandemic may have exacerbated some of this. Commitment involves dedicating yourself to something; it is a promise to take action. The New York Times columnist David Brooks describes it as “falling in love with something and then building a structure of behavior around it for the moment when love falters.”
Think of a person who has influenced you as a role model. Good role models, whether they are formal mentors or people you look up to and who support you, are often examples of generativity. They are generous with their time and wisdom in ways that benefit those around them.
Embrace the metaphor of family. Develop relationships with your family, your biological one, your adopted one, and your work one. Relationships can protect us and those we lead from depression and other illnesses.
Share knowledge and learning. As an academic medical center this can sometimes seem like a job—but it’s not. It is a way of working, living, and being. The hallmark of these efforts is rooted in curiosity—about the world and each other. In business-speak, we call it mentoring and developing. As educators, we call it teaching and learning.
Becoming a generative leader doesn’t happen overnight, nor is there a class where you study and build this skill. It comes with time. For me, it was the culmination of many experiences—launching my children into the world, mentoring colleagues more closely, committing to teaching, benefiting from observing other great leaders, and sharing what I’ve learned along the way.
So, I ask, how are you evolving as a leader?
*Originally posted July 2021