Become a More Creative Leader — Think Small

What kind of leadership do we need now?

This was the question I asked last week at the beginning of a day-long workshop attended by a group of senior-level women at a major technology firm headquartered on the west coast of the US. And I've been asking this question of thousands of other business professionals over the last year or so in similar settings around the country. Just a few days ago, in Puerto Rico, I asked it again at a gathering of business executives and, again I heard pretty much the same thing.

By far, the most common responses? Adaptive, flexible, and innovative.

Because of the ubiquitous sense of turbulence in most of our lives these days, the leadership attribute that comes to mind most often is the means for dealing with chaos. It boils down to this: playful creativity.

Now, more than ever in my experience, people are feeling a need for greater control. When you believe in your own power to generate new ways of getting things done — that is, when you have the confidence and competence to produce meaningful change — then you are less likely to succumb to the stomach-churning anxieties that come from not knowing how you'll deal with whatever obstacle that's next to be thrown in your path.

What's most essential for us in the Global Leadership 2.0 universe, then, is the capacity to be creative as leaders. The really good news is that you can learn to become more creative as a leader, at work — no matter what your formal position — and in the other parts of your life, and thereby gain a greater sense of control over the turbulence.

Leadership is the capacity to mobilize people toward valued goals; that is, to produce sustainable change — sustainable because it's good for you and for the people who matter most to you.

To be innovative, to act with creativity, is to experiment with how things get done. The innovations people pursue in my Total Leadership workshops are designed to improve performance not only at work but also at home, in the community, and in your private life (mind, body and spirit) by better integrating these different parts of your life — I call the results four-way wins.

These short-term experiments could be trying a new way to delegate; reducing noise by shutting down your technology for a while; sharing your vision of the kind of world you're trying to build with others; even exercising regularly to reduce stress and enhance your focus. These are just the kinds of small wins that the participants at the west coast technology firm and the executives in Puerto Rico were going after by the time we finished our workshops. But the larger purpose was to gain greater mastery of the skill of leading change. For once the experiment ends, the real learning begins, through reflection on what worked — and what didn't — in the attempt to bring about something new.

A warning: If you're not continually getting better at overcoming the three great inhibitors to creativity — fear of failure, guilt about appearing to be selfish, and ignorance of what's possible — then you're missing opportunities to strengthen your capacity to gain control in an increasingly uncertain world.

So, what small wins are you pursuing these days? How will they improve your ability to be creative and to have greater capacity to adapt to the rapidly shifting realities of your life and work?

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