How to unlock your creativity in leadership

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Dannie-Lu Carr
Founder
Five Gateways
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Leaders: need to get the creative juices flowing? Dannie-Lu Carr has a few simple pointers. 

As someone who steps up to the responsibility of leadership, it is worth remembering that an effective leader always empowers others and allows them to step up and step forward in order to get the best job done. All too often a leader can feel they need to know all of the answers and lead from the front, rather than leading from within in a facilitative manner. The ability to be able to flex between the two is, of course, paramount.

So why is this the most important concept to start with in terms of unlocking your creativity in leadership? Well, creativity needs to bounce between people in order to really fly, meaning that when we look at how to unlock creativity in leadership, teams and colleagues are a crucial part of that.

Whether it is managing innovation projects, looking for what’s new in any sector and identifying the development points around it, finding and delivering breakthrough solutions or orchestrating the creative behaviours of your peers, clients or stakeholders, knowing how to unlock creative potential is a crucial skill for any leader. So the question is, how?

It’s a big question and yet there are just three key points that will ensure that creativity becomes the essential backbone in all of your leadership endeavours:

Make time and space

This is a big permission and one that many of us hold a lot of excuses and self-limiting beliefs around. How many times have do you say things like, ‘I haven’t got time’, ‘I’m too busy’, etc. And yet, it is crucial that you hold thinking time and ideas space for both yourself and your people in order for creativity to emerge.

Here’s an exercise: Sit for five minutes without doing anything. Simply pay attention to whatever you hear, see, think, feel within those five minutes. You will likely realise how much thinking space can exist in just five minutes when you hold that space for yourself, and, there will be a lot of information that will fall out of that space. Some of it may seem random. Try not to judge and simply give yourself two minutes afterwards to write down your stream of consciousness. Do this every day for a week and see how many ideas begin to emerge.

You might even set this as an exercise for a week for your people and then follow up with a brainstorm/discussion – don’t put an end goal on it in terms of objectives, just see where it takes you. But do put a time limit on it, and make it less than an hour.

This will hopefully help you to see the value of diarising thinking space between meetings and appointments. Block it out as ‘unavailable’ if you have a shared diary or someone manages it for you. If you are set to work on a train then spend five minutes of every hour that you work to just mentally create space.

Become aware of the thoughts and behaviours of others

Every single behavioural pattern is valid and useful when it comes to the creative process because every single behaviour is, in essence, creative. So pay attention to see who in your world really likes to make sense of things, who likes to improvise and play, who likes to tear things apart, who likes to gather information, and then orchestrate these behaviours accordingly, depending on the task in hand. Be transparent in order for others to realise that no behavioural trait blocks, only how we respond to it. Accept everything.

Notice too where people default to in terms of their thinking patterns – there are generally four thinking areas: thinking to clarify, thinking in order to generate ideas, thinking in order to develop ideas and thinking in terms of how to implement things. Again, know who sits where in terms of their ‘go to’ place or places and orchestrate accordingly.

Notice these traits in yourself too so as you can consciously shift into different areas when you need to break patterns and unlock further creative potential.

Ask 'what if?'

Make random connections and make them work, e.g. choose two random items and make sense of them by associations – picture and nailfile, for example. If I think about a picture of a nail file then what does that evoke? Nails being filed and therefore friction? Nails down a blackboard? What if we allowed things to create more friction in the boardroom, what might emerge? What if we made friction the aim once in a while?) You see where it goes?

'What if?' also holds permissions – the permission to try it out, the permission to fail. It takes the brain to any possibility by removing the limitations. What if we had an endless budget? What if we only had two resources, which would we use? It puts the brain into a different space and welcomes a range of unpredictable possibilities.

An effective leader always sees the possibilities. And there’s nothing more creative than that.

Dannie-Lu Carr co-founder of The Five Gateways, a leadership programme to empower dynamic women

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