This level of involvement that skirts direct leadership and supervision is not always easy to attain. It also represents the important distinction to be drawn in the generativity literature between generative caring and narcissism. While the narcissist does care deeply about his continuing presence in an organization or community, even after he has left the organization, the generative mentor has moved beyond the inevitable need for control of the mentee’s current and future behavior or the environment in which the mentee is working.
One of our colleagues, Don Jochens, has effectively framed the difference between narcissism and generativity. At one level, we want our innovations and accomplishments to be sustained after we have left an organization. We want to leave a mark and know that our influence will linger and our style of leadership will be replicated by the next generation. This is an understandable (but often counter-productive) mode of narcissism. At another level, we hope to come back to the organization and observe that our mentees and the organization have continued to innovate and be successful. For this latter state to exist, our mentee and our organization will no longer be sustaining our specific innovation; instead, they will be able to take pride in their own unique accomplishments. To have emulated and sustained our spirit of caring and creativity, the mentee will be exhibiting their own style of leadership and probably will themselves now be mentoring someone else. To be truly innovative, the organization will have moved on past our own ideas. It is the latter state that exemplifies generativity.
Another of our Featured Players, Dan, expresses this sense of thoughtful, generative engagement by suggesting that the role he plays might not even be best described as mentoring. It is more like a friendship that is initiated by the other person:
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In the context of its meaning for me, mentoring is too strong a word. I think of a mentor as someone who fully engages with a person and really helps them. It’s like walking beside them during a part of a journey over time. I have not mentored in that fashion. I’m more of a resource, advisor, or a counselor. Maybe I am more of a nurturer than a mentor. I am sought out by friends and other people that I know—mostly in the nonprofit world where I have these contacts. And generally with younger people (e.g., executive directors of nonprofit organizations). A number of these friends are women and are raising families, and they just call me. I’m actually quite surprised when they call. These friendships have often led to conversations over coffee, and they are most often initiated by them and not me. It’s quite like my role as parent. I can give advice and insight when asked, without them having to follow it. It’s much like giving time to my children and grandchildren. So, I am not initiating mentoring, which requires a much more proactive role, and I don’t have any skin in the game—other than helping others as a friend. What I do comes entirely from my heart.