The need for creativity may be at an all-time high as organizations venture to find a new normal in the midst of COVID-19. The bright side is that human beings are highly creative, and the best leaders know it. They understand that each team has the ability to be creative in its own way and know how to find and engage with that creativity.
The ability for leaders to unleash this creativity is quickly transitioning from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have-now.” There are some key pieces all leaders can examine to see what they’re currently doing to harness creativity and engage the people they lead, what they can do more of and what they may need to start doing.
1. Examine the Way and Frequency With Which You Ask Questions
As Allison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John say in a Harvard Business Review article, “Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations.” In the age of search engines with easy-to-find answers, the ability to asking meaningful questions has become a critical leadership skill. It is a way to engage and harness the creativity of others — but it doesn’t happen overnight.
“You can’t expect to wake up one morning and run a marathon without training,” points out Ronald D. Vale in his article “The Value of Asking Questions.” Think about this statement from the perspective of the people you lead. How can you expect them to be more effective and creative in answering questions if you aren’t helping them build this skill set by doing your part and asking good questions? What are you doing right now to ensure that the people you lead have the ability to “exercise and train” for their marathon?
2. Focus on How to Harness Innovation in Others
Engaging leaders realize that not every person will bring forward a big and bold idea but that every person can bring forward an idea. They know that not every person will have a revolutionary and innovative thought process in everyone’s eyes, but it may feel that way to that person.
In his book “Creative Quest,” musician Questlove writes, “A creative person is a person who creates.” In other words, anyone can be creative. It is the leader’s opportunity to partner with the people they lead to tap into their creativity. The best leaders invest in all team members and harness all creativity, large or small, while ensuring that they recognize everyone who tries to be creative in a way that is meaningful to him or her.
I once had an employee share with me in one of our first one-on-one meetings, “I’ve been here 11 years. I love my job. I come in, do it and go home. Is that going to be OK?”
As a leader, I could have gone a lot of different avenues in response to this statement. I chose to assume it was coming from a place of positive intent. I wasn’t sure if anyone had ever invested in her. I didn’t know if anyone had given her the opportunity to be creative in her work. As months went on, and we explored her work processes together, we found that she had great ideas about improving workflow, and she took ownership of the creative process of improving procedures and processes. Her ideas weren’t necessarily big or bold, but they were ideas — ideas she wasn’t thinking about before asking questions for growth. Then, she was engaged in new and different ways.
How are you opening the door to innovation and creativity for all your team members? They may not think it is there, but with the right approach, they can all be creative!
3. Celebrate, Recognize and Appreciate
The best leaders understand that each of these three words — celebrate, recognize and appreciate — means something different. They understand the importance of using all three words to creatively engage the people they lead. All three words have different modes and methods, and it is important to understand how each person you lead likes to embrace each word.
Celebration comes in many forms, including celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, certifications, degrees … and the list goes on. It takes deliberate interest and investment to be aware of what’s going on in the lives of the people you lead. Some may want a small one-on-one discussion with you to celebrate, while others may want to have a group lunch to share in the celebration with others.
In a Harvard Business Review article, Mike Robbins says that “recognition is about giving positive feedback based on results or performance.” Again, taking the time to know how the people you lead want to receive recognition takes time and energy. It also may involve a personal growth investment to be able to flex your communication style in different ways for different people.
Robbins goes on to share that appreciation “is about acknowledging a person’s inherent value” — who they are as a partner and what they bring to your team. Recently, I received an appreciation card in my home mailbox from my leader. I was so thankful for the time, energy and focus she had spent to get to know me, and I could feel her appreciation with the descriptive words she used. I let her know that this card was my all-time favorite way of being appreciated.
Great leaders reflect and work into their leadership process deliberate and genuine ways to celebrate, recognize and appreciate the people they have the privilege to lead. Assess your strengths and improvement areas in these three elements of leadership. For instance, I love to appreciate and recognize, but I’ve struggled with celebrating in the past and have had to be deliberate about building it into my process.
Engaging the people you lead has become an even more unique opportunity in the midst of today’s uncharted climate. Your team members may be working remotely, but if so, don’t let that fact keep you from embracing creative ways to engage them. Each piece — the way you ask questions; the way you harness innovation and creativity; and the way you approach celebration, recognition and appreciation — can happen without being physically present.
Challenge yourself to examine where you are excelling as a leader with these areas and where you may have to push through discomfort to grow and engage the people you lead in the process. They will be thankful!