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The ability to connect the dots & integrate novel information into an established schema is essential to effective leadership.

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My mother use to call me a “destructive angel” because I use to pull apart her VCRs(kids, look this up), her walkmans, tape recorders, etc and put them back together again.

I wanted to learn how things worked. And what better way to learn than by reverse engineering expensive pieces of technology and reassembling them?

I’d carry this same attitude throughout life well into the corporate world, except I wouldn’t pull apart copy machines and expensive scanning devices.

No, I’d immerse myself within various topics in psychology, business and leadership by reading some of the best works on these subjects and apply them as I encountered real-world leadership scenarios.

As I bumped up against the walls of the corporate arena, I added new, updated information to the pool of pre-existing data within my leadership schema, connecting the dots as I went along.

At its essence, this is what generative learning entails and we are at a time in history when it’s more important than ever before, especially in the leadership and start-up world.

When you’re a beginner in the world of leadership, you need to understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process.

As you navigate the leadership realm, you’ll be adding valuable, unique, experiential information to your schema of leadership.

This is how your “brand” or “style” of leadership will manifest.


What Is Generative Learning?

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The Generative Learning theory was introduced by Educational Psychologist, Merlin C. Wittrock in 1974. We already hinted above that generative learning is education through trial and error.

But in a technical sense:

“Generative learning is a theory that involves the active integration of new ideas with the learner’s existing schemata. The main idea of generative learning is that, in order to learn with understanding, a learner has to construct meaning actively (Osborne and Wittrock 1983, p. 493).

According to Wittrock, the main advocate of generative learning, learners construct meaning by actively building relationships between stimuli and their stored information such as knowledge and their experiences (Wittrock 1990, p. 349).” — Encyclopedia Of The Sciences Of Learning 2012 Edition

The latter portion of this text is essential to leadership development, especially with regard to emotional intelligence because the context of information is just as important as the content itself.

Navigating leadership means applying information at the appropriate times rather than firing off random leadership tactics without context. This is what separates humans from machines.


The 4 Key Components Of Generative Learning Theory

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In this article, Christopher Pappas explains that Generative Learning Theory consist of 4 key concepts: recall, integration, organization and elaboration.

  1. Recall: Recall occurs when the student accesses information stored within long term memory. In order to store information within long-term memory, the student must use repetition. An example of using recall is during multiple choice questions on an exam.
  2. Integration: This involves the student integrating new information into their already developed edifice of information on a particular topic. The goal is to mold this information into something easily homogenized into memory that they can refer back to later on. Many of us writers do this when we write on novel topics using metaphors and analogies to describe specific concepts with the intention of teaching others. In others, we learn through teaching.
  3. Organization: This is where you’re able to effectively link new concepts with previously stored concepts in a meaningful way. Examples include making lists as well as boiling down a concept to a few main points.
  4. Elaboration: This involves the students capacity to scan and analyze ideas while adding and connecting new concepts. Examples of elaboration is the further development of ideas through creative endeavors such as writing and visuals. It’s the ability to enhance a sentence or thought with the learners schema.

Generative Leadership

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In his article, “The Leaders New Work,” Peter Senge purports that human beings are meant to evolve, learn and advance. It’s in our DNA. It’s what we were designed to do.

Generative leadership is leadership of the 21st century. In my time as a union steward I knew this to be the truth which is why I worked on not only my emotional intelligence and soft skills but my ability to learn new concepts and integrate them within my leadership schemata.

It involves full immersion in learning in order to generate new strategies to solve problems and engage scenarios in creative ways.

Generative leadership, as oppose to adaptive leadership, places its focus on visions. Rather than being reactive and problem-focused, generative leadership is geared towards creating its own reality while moving beyond its problems.

This is the type of leadership that innovates. It moves whole organizations and sectors forward.

Generative leadership is what we currently need. Rather than simply diagnosing problems and addressing symptoms, we need a major overhaul in the way we think in order to avoid these problems all together.

I see major similarities between generative leadership and spiral dynamics in the sense that they both focus on moving beyond traditional ways of thinking to not only solve problems but to move beyond these problems as a whole.

Key Characteristics Of Generative Leaders include:

  • Dedication: The generative leader is fully dedicated to continuous learning. This a leader that, despite having an MBA or any other form of formal education, is committed to learning through efforts purely of their own for the betterment of their organizations and teams. You can think of generative leaders as “autodidacts” that pushes parameters of their current schema to drive innovation in their circle.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Generative leaders are engaged with their team through emotionally intelligent thoughts and behaviors. They make their people feel like they matter because they do matter. They’re skilled communicators. They elevate their teams self-worth through encouragement and guidance. They value creativity by appreciating new ideas that’s generated from within the team.
  • Courageous: Leaders of all kinds require an above average level of courage. This is pre-requisite for generative leadership. In being a generative leader, courage is necessary for inevitable opposition that stands in their way. They have to be willing to buck against the status quo in order to exact their vision. This requires veering of the beaten path of old school leadership and paving the way for 21st century leadership.
  • Holistic: Generative leaders are whole within themselves. They’ve spent significant amounts time in the realm of self-development and improvement in order to bring untold amounts of powerful tangibles(technical skills) and intangibles(soft skills) to the table. This allows for their leadership to be restorative for recruits and self-renewing for themselves. This is the leader that helps others become the strongest versions of themselves through love and mentorship.
  • Competent: Generative leaders are competent. Their leadership isn’t solely built on power and influence. It’s also built on their knowledge and their ability to get things done correctly. This is what inspires their influence. Their team knows that their leader is skilled in their individual roles and their role as a leader. Therefore, they can turn to their leaders coaching prowess if need be.

How Leaders Can Integrate Generative Learning In Leadership Education

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You’re a generative leader, now what? As a leader of any kind it’s important that you facilitate ways for your knowledge and skills to trickle down to your team.

You can do this in a myriad of ways which include designing leader education programs that include: seminars, mentorships, online discussions. And if your organization possesses the means, eLearning is one way to go in addition to in person courses.

This can take the form of online classrooms, software that contains learning modules as well as educational videos that contain various leadership scenarios.

Here’s how you can train and develop the next generation of generative leaders:


Provide Real-World Scenarios & Shadowing

Generative learning is based on the ability of the individual to connect the dots. What better way to learn how to connect these dots than through real world scenarios?

This portion of the eLearning module should consist of two parts:

  • Theory
  • Lab

The theory portion should consist of basic reading material and videos of a specific scenario.

The lab portion should consist of shadowing various leaders that will throw them into real world situations which encourage individuals to draw on and apply previously learned information as well as integrate new information that exists outside of their schema.

Take turns picking an individual on a weekly basis to shadow you or another experienced leader. This portion is a great way for you produce pressure and observe weak points to improve upon when you place learners in uncomfortable scenarios.

This is powerful because it generates a fresh, unique, perspective for the individual to operate from.


Problem Solving

Problem solving is one of the most effective educational tools. Whether it’s math, engineering, physics or leadership, problem solving is a great way to work through the intricacies of complex issues.

This portion of leadership education should include common scenarios that occur frequently in the leadership realm. And students should have a hands on approach to solving these problems rather than reading it out of a textbook.

For example, you can have the class form a common scenario through acting it out in a scene and recording it for further study later on.


Allow Room For Independence

If they’re in this leadership program then we can readily assume that they’re self starters and proactive.

It’s best to give these individuals enough room to work so that they can integrate the information within their schema without too much of the instructors own noise interfering.

This works well for professionals who have a substantial amount of experience within the realm of leadership.

Ideally, leadership and development instructors can provide individuals the autonomy to choose their own learner-centered path, goals and activities based on their already developed knowledge base.


Cultivating The Big Picture Mentality

The overall goal in generative leadership education should be to expand the vision of tomorrows leaders.

This should be facilitated by guiding them to connect the dots of various disciplines with regard to new ideas and pre-existing knowledge.

Content should be cultivated to help create relationships between multiple ideas as well as compare and contrast various concepts.


Encourage Formation Of Mastermind Groups

This is essential for stimulation of great minds through sharing of ideas. This should be a habit amongst all leaders.

Leaders should routinely come together to trade expertise and integrate novel ideas into their pre-existing leadership schema.

Offering networking opportunities can facilitate the formation of various mastermind groups for different fields and organizational models.


A Final Note

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Generative learning is not just for the leadership community. It can be used for self-improvement purposes as well.

In fact, with us being in the age of information, we are in the position to consistently pull in new data, apply it to scenarios and form updated schemas and paradigms of how we navigate the world.

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