April 20, 2020

Creative Leadership: Elegant Simplicity

The ability to reach people where they are, both in their physical location and in their individual development, is a mark of a creative leader. Creative leaders inspire, bring calm amid uncertainty, and provide honest clarity. When we are composed and inspired, we’re able to tap into our best selves, generate exceptional work, and nurture community.

The natural question is “how might we hone our creative leadership skill set?” Let us discuss:

We can inspire creative leadership by honing our skills in the following areas through simple tools and activities:

Empathize: Remember, we are communicating with a person, not an object. Our focus is required to be on others, not on ourselves. Be human. This will matter and make a difference. Nurture and grow your empathy skillset. We can cultivate empathy through simple experiences.

  • Discover commonality. Look toward similarities and not our differences. Try on another person’s life. When we place ourselves in the footsteps of others, we gain insight and build an empathic lens.
  • Be curious about others. Ask questions and listen. Then be open and share. Remember, the words we use in a discussion are not for us—they are for the individual or group receiving them. Deliver clarity. When a person feels valued and understood, they will respond in kind and a bond will be formed. We can improve the lives of everyone around us.

Liberate: Creativity is not about control; it is about change and transformation. We inspire, respect, eliminate barriers and build safe environments. Sow the seed and get out of the way. Then watch empowered talent grow and flourish. Letting go can be difficult. We must empower with guidance, clarify our purpose and build elite behaviors. Moving as one.

Contextualize: Success is measured by how we respond to challenges. Leadership requires us to look at a challenge with a fresh and robust lens. We must analyze the system of a situation to understand it holistically and not focus on the moment. We know from experience, just because something is not visible does not mean it is not important. Creativity can illuminate the entirety of a challenge, which provides clarity. When this happens, you are exercising your leadership muscle.

Be Curious: Leaders are inquisitive and curious in all things. A creative leader will bring objectivity to an issue by asking why. Often this will be done in repetition. In lieu of accepting the problem, abstract out. The strategy is to find the heart of the challenge which is often hidden below the surface. Now the uncovered knowledge can be used to frame and reframe a topic or challenge. Status quo is not an option; continuous investigation, growth and a desire to be better is what drives creativity. Invest your time with purpose and own your leadership trajectory.

Be Honest: Leaders are transparent to the core. They stay true to their beliefs. They communicate the why behind their beliefs. In his book The Motive, Patrick Lencioni explains it like this, "please don’t be a leader, unless you’re doing it for the right reasons.” Often the primary motive for leadership are the “rewards leadership brings with it. Things like notoriety, status, and power.” Leaders will fall short when motivated by rewards. Patrick explains further, “they will choose to spend their time and energy on what they are going to get, rather than what they need to give to people they’re supposed to be leading.” When you are a giver and not a taker, your trust quotient grows, and leadership experience will be elevated. And when challenges arise, as they always will, inspiration will flow from the heart.

Be Inclusive: Bring others into the organization’s goals, strategies, and purpose. Share, critique, brainstorm, and tell stories. Build through discussion and knowledge sharing. Words like collaboration are not strong enough. Creativity is cultivated through inclusive behaviors. When we show respect, we reflect confidence and emotional intelligence. When this happens, your group, organization, institution, and cohort will become an enduring community.

Finding Your "Why"

There are several good resources available focused on finding your “why”. I like to start with the following questions: Can you build a story you tell yourself and others? This story is where you express your most personal needs, both career and everyday life. These questions can help you define your why:

  • What values drive you?
  • What do you dream of?
  • Which principles are non-negotiable for you?
  • What kind of people do you want to have around you?
  • What purpose are you in this world for?
  • What difference will you make? Or, from the movie “Dead Poets Society”—what will be your verse?

When the story of you is complete, your “why” is revealed.

Growing leadership skills is vital and needed in times of complexity and change. It can be argued that we will always be living through complex change. It is part of humanity. As we can learn from the heuristics of design: leadership that strives for “elegant simplicity”—reduction to the essential beauty.


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