My name is David Castro. I’ve spent more than 20 years engaged in a concerted effort to practice, analyze and teach effective leadership. In 1995, my passion for leadership led me to found I-LEAD. Our mission is to liberate human potential in America’s most challenged communities through leadership development.
Through my work over the last two decades with leadership thinkers, scholars, practitioners and learners, I came to notice that leadership practices in our communities have been evolving. This is not surprising. Many entities in our experience evolve: living beings, communities, natural systems, the earth and the universe itself are not what they used to be. They are continually changing into something different. Leadership is part of evolution; it too has the potential to change and improve.
Some problematic approaches to leadership are slowly giving way to new practices that I and many others perceive to be better for the individuals and communities who participate in them. Reflecting on these positive trends—what is coming and what is receding—has inspired me to describe what I see and also to encourage and develop it. Readers can think of this work as both chronicling evolution in leadership practices and stimulating the evolutionary process itself.
The effort to describe the evolution in leadership has called forth a new ideal: genership. I hope that one day soon people across the world will be talking about genership rather than simply leadership skills. What is genership? While leadership involves the ability to point the way, to lead others toward a destination, vision or common goal, genership entails a quite different dynamic that displays the abilities required to create with others, together with the capacity to engage and stimulate creativity within a community. Genership relates closely to the word generate, with the same connotation of origin, energy, birth, life and growth. It intentionally departs from traditional connotations of leadership that involve power, prestige and ego.
While genership presents a critical evolution in leadership practices, it also expresses something fundamental carried in the roots and seeds of human nature. Those of us who have a faith-based orientation to life and work can see genership as being connected to our God-given free will. It captures the idea that when God made humanity in his image, he gave us a fraction of his creative powers. As Thoreau wrote, “The world is but a canvas for our imaginations.” Those who may be agnostic or even atheist can understand genership in existential terms, as humanity’s connection to the powerful concept of emergence, the insight that higher-order systems are capable of transcending deterministic, reductive theories. Human beings and their communities are more than the sum of their parts. Whole systems have qualities not found in their parts. The rules that govern the parts can neither predict nor adequately describe the behavior of the whole. The future is not preordained with reference to as-yet undiscovered or unfathomed postulates; it is ours to make freely.
Why do we need a new word like genership? What is wrong with leadership? First, leadership is an extremely broad concept that in current usage sweeps together so many diverse characteristics and dynamics of group process that it almost becomes like a Rorschach image, with participants able to project whatever they please onto it. In this sense, it is crucial to have genership specifically reference group processes related to innovation and creativity.
Beyond ambiguity and overbreadth, traditional leadership sometimes entails dysfunctional ideas that inhibit group processes while undermining team creativity and success. After much reflection over many years, I have identified three such specific areas—Fallacies—associated with traditional thinking about leadership.
The Messiah Fallacy refers to the idea that a group’s success depends upon one extraordinary individual who serves as a messianic leader. In my experience, groups suffering under this fallacy often waste precious time and resources focusing on this messianic leader, obsessing about whether the person who wears the messianic robes is the true messiah, and about his or her actual progress in serving the needs of the group. This obsession ultimately creates both paralysis and helplessness.
The Hero Fallacy describes an idea that often takes hold of a group when there is no visible messianic leader or where that leader is failing. Groups suffering under this fallacy hope that a messiah will emerge from a contest among warring heroes. Groups believe that the process of combat among the heroes somehow imbues the successful contestant with messianic qualities. Groups suffering under the weight of this fallacy tend to ignore the abilities of their members to engage in work while they wait for a messiah to emerge from the hero wars.
The Fallacy of Leadership Nostalgia involves a group’s efforts to enshrine the ways and wisdom of leaders who have departed or died (e.g., FDR, Reagan, Steve Jobs). When laboring under this fallacy, groups often wrongfully attribute the creative work of many community members to the efforts of a singular genius. They then attempt to create parables and codes of conduct that supposedly describe and analyze this genius, behaving as if the group’s present members can achieve messianic leadership if they dutifully follow these recipes. This fallacy causes groups to look backward, attempting to recreate an imaginary past instead of collectively and equally grappling with the creative opportunities that the current moment presents.
The Fallacies form a recurring dysfunctional cycle:
This cycle causes groups to divert critical energies from teamwork to leadership processes bound up with the Fallacies under the mistaken belief that the selection of a true messianic leader is necessary for the group’s ultimate success. This focus causes groups to move more slowly and miss opportunities to make meaningful progress.
In contrast, genership takes certain core practices of leadership and evolves them into more functional skills that enable teams to unite their creative energies both nimbly and effectively.
In this book I explore the following:
|New genership skill evolving…||from former leadership practice|
|Listening||… rather than the messianic leader’s projection|
|CoThinking||… rather than the messianic leader’s directed thinking|
|CoVisioning||… rather than the singular messianic leader’s visions|
|Development of effective team creativity||… rather than strategic management through the messianic leader acting alone or within a small subgroup|
|Development of an open, level genership culture||… rather than an autocratic, hierarchical culture developed through a messianic leader|
Teams working within a leadership culture tend to rely on one person or a small subgroup to engage in visioning, assessment and strategic thinking while generating energy and commitment, whereas teams practicing genership encourage all members to share equally in the work of visioning, assessing reality, surfacing creative impediments (both external and internal), and developing the emotional and motivational resources to sustain highly innovative and productive efforts. My life’s work continues to explore these elements of group creative processes.
Genership describes a new ideal of human interaction, one that embraces the emergent evolution away from traditional leadership toward more liberating, beneficial and productive ways of working together. It also offers individuals—and the communities they inhabit and sustain—a way of living and working together that releases aspiration essential but latent within human nature: our capacity to become more than we are at this moment, to transcend history and circumstance, to express our connection to a power deeply rooted in faith.
About David Castro
David Castro is a graduate of Haverford College (1983) and the University of Pennsylvania Law School (1986). In 1993, following a successful career both in private practice and as a Philadelphia prosecutor, he was awarded a three-year fellowship in the Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Program, which he devoted to the study of community leadership and its relation to improving community quality of life. Based upon this work, in 1995 Mr. Castro founded I-LEAD, Inc., a school for community leadership development that has served several thousand emerging leaders across Pennsylvania. In 2002, in recognition of his work on behalf of Pennsylvania communities, David was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship, which he used to study leadership and its impact on economic and community development in Turkey. In 2009, based on his development of an accredited Associate Degree program in Leadership delivered in underserved communities through innovative education partnerships, Mr. Castro was named an Ashoka Fellow by the Ashoka Global Funds for Social Change. Ashoka is an international community of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. A teacher at heart, David is frequently consulted as a speaker, serving on panel discussions and contributing regularly via blogs and articles posted through the Ashoka network and the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal.
Genership is currently available in print and digital formats. To arrange for David to speak about this work, send an email firstname.lastname@example.org.