Generative Power

The following is an excerpt is from Chris Crosby’s upcoming book:

Organization Alignment: Authority, Power, and Results

Generative Power

The intersection between authority, power, and love is where you will find a critical ingredient as to whether your organization is successful or not. However, since the words power and love are so confused in our culture I turn to Adam Kahane for the clarity I am seeking to convey. Kahane, in his recent book Power and Love synthesizes a view of power and love from some of the great minds of our time such as Martin Luther King Jr and Paul Tillich. When the people in your organization learn how to leverage their power and love as defined below and in the ways outlined throughout this book, then you will reach record results.

Tillich defines power as “the drive of everything to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity.” So power in this sense is the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get one’s job done, to grow. He defines love as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” So love in this sense is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented. These two ways of looking at power and love, rather than the more common ideas of oppression and romantic love, are at the core of his book Power and Love and reflect the type of power and love that, if nurtured and utilized, helps organizations thrive.

In the words of Martin Luther King drawing on his doctoral studies of Tillich’s work:

“Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change…And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites─polar opposites─so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What (we need to realize is) that power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.

…It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.,

“Where Do We Go From Here?”

The opposite of power and love is not hate but indifference. From here Kahane postulates two types of power: generative and de-generative. Examples of generative power in organizations are aligning the system to its real challenges, holding people accountable, ensuring conflicts get resolved so that work gets accomplished on-time and with quality between people and departments, and various forms of praise and acknowledgment to the employees for hard work and accomplishments. De-generative power can be seen as avoidance of issues, allowing employees to do whatever they want, forced separation of people or departments that must work together as a way of “coping,” punishing people for speaking out or raising up difficult work issues, and spreading negative rumors. All employees, but especially those in positions of authority, must find ways to use their power in generative ways and minimize or eliminate their use of de-generative power.

Organizations complicate these two types of power because most humans have at least some issues with authority figures leftover from childhood. Many in organizations want to pretend that authority, by the very fact that it exists, is only de-generative. My contention here is that, for the most part, those people have only known de-generative power and are blind to the promise, potential, and importance of nurturing generative power. A mature adult development stage is to recognize that bosses possess both. Yet, some need appropriate guidance, education, and opportunities to nurture and grow their use of generative power. Workplaces seduced by de-generative power are apt to think consensus is best, raising issues is tattling, controlling through indirect means is appropriate, lacking clarity about decisions is common and, worse, operating like this should be the norm.

You can nurture generative power in your organization and use it to help all employees get on the same page. Do this and you will successfully navigate the complexities of your business and dramatically improve your results.

About crosbyod

Crosby & Associates OD is a catalyst for high performance & morale. Our methods are a unique blend grounded in research and decades of experience. In the spirit of Kurt Lewin, the founder of OD, as we partner with you in the present we transfer our methods to you so you are independent in the future. Learn more at
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