Of Mice and Mentors

The hushed halls of the nation's biggest businesses are starting to hum with the latest buzzword in management generativity. It's a technique that calls for fostering the growth of the next generation—and may prove a fitting antidote to the greedy, grasping '80s.

By mentoring subordinates and treasuring a company's long-term development, generative employees not only energize the workplace, they also empower themselves, says Massachusetts psychologist Harry Levinson, Ph.D.

Generative managers who teach workers now skills, for example, often move closer to their ego ideal those mental pictures of ideal self we all aspire to—and, as a result, feel more enthusiastic about themselves and their company, says Levinson. At the same time, subordinates also feel motivated pining knowledge they can un to reach their own ego-Weal

Unlike altruism, generativity involves a commitment nd only to volunteering ideas but also to encouraging others to use them, observes Nancy Cotton, Ph.D., a psychologist Harvard Medical School. "Altruism is going out and helping in a soup kitchen. is getting other people to help in that soup kitchen."

But generativity need not be overly complicated, says Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams, Ph.D. "Most people can't make a big splash like Gandhi or Martin Luther King."

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Nonetheless, employees can make a difference. To foster generativity in the workplace, Levinson recommends that bosses:

  • Stress teaching and development of subordinates by managers.
  • Praise employees who look beyond the next quarter.
  • Use "constructive toughness" to maintain high standards while instructing subordinates.
  • Recognize and recruit naturally generative employees.

Though generativity may empower both bosses and subordinates, it does have its down side. Generativity often involves a "healthy type of narcissism." As a result, McAdams says, generative people often have trouble saying goodbye to their proteges or generative projects.

And along with the good, employees can take on the bad characteristics of their mentors and propagate poor management practices, says corporate psychologist Jack Thompson, Ph.D. The bottom line: "Don't buy into all looking for a guru."

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