Most of us live downstream, where the water is flowing at a rapid rate. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the flow. But that’s what we do.
Let me suggest that what really smart people do, what successful people do, is to go upstream. Richard Chait and his colleagues at Harvard call this generative thinking. They make a case for it in their book Governance as Leadership. A few weeks ago I was a presenter at a hospital’s board retreat, and the person that followed me did an incredibly skillful job of unpacking Chait and what it means to think generatively. In terms of going upstream, Kimberly McNally argued that you begin downstream – what we often call fiduciary, or stewardship responsibilities. She says, “Fiduciary is the price of admission to good governance, but it’s not enough; strategic and generative leadership is what engages board members and moves the needle for change in our communities.” That is true for all of us, not just board members.
McNally explained, in the generative mode, we engage in deeper inquiry, exploring root causes, values, options, and new ideas; raising and discussing crucial questions that require critical thinking. To me she’s talking about asking why more than what, the questions behind the questions, the hard work and good thinking that comes before success, the important more than the urgent, the game-changers rather than just the game, and the strategic over the tactical.
Perhaps it’s time for all of us to make the move upstream, personally and in the organizations we lead. What results might surprise us.
If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.
And for more information visit www.boardtrekconsulting.com