Leadership: Adaptability – Thinking Creatively

Creativity at work is comprised of these 4 components:

  • energy and focus to approach the job with imagination and creativity;
  • ability to inspire innovation in the organization;
  • willingness to experiment, and take bold but calculated risks;
  • optimism to view obstacles as opportunities for creative change

The manager needs to think creatively, model this for direct reports, and encourage the development of their creative thinking abilities. These four aspects of creative thinking are essential to each other, and in fact, they fuel each other. Start with any one of them, and it will lead to the others.

At first glance thinking creatively may appear to have little to do with being adaptable, but creative thinking is a learnable skill that has the most direct impact on adaptability. This is easy to see if we imagine someone who is adaptable. Adaptability starts with an attitude of faith. The adaptable manager has optimism that no matter what the situation, a way can be found to get the job done, to solve the problem, or to lead the staff through the difficulties. This faith or optimism becomes a source of energy and focus to approach the job with imagination and creativity. In addition this faith is the spring board for the ability to inspire others to innovation. Alternatively, managers who are not adaptable see failure just around the corner, and unknowingly drain the motivation and hope of their direct reports, leading to low morale.

How can a manager develop optimism, imagination, creativity, energy and focus? Draw a bull’s eye representing your strengths. Draw a series of four more concentric circles around the bull’s eye, making a target. Each circle going out from the bull’s eye is another set of skills, but not as strong as the bull’s eye. The farthest circle is the weakest set of skills for you as a manager. Where would you put imagination, creativity, energy and focus? Now, where do you want them to be on your bull’s eye? The first step to developing these qualities is to see the need for them to be strengths and to visualize them nearer to the bull’s eye with your strengths. The second step is to break these down, and working with others, to see more possible ways to solve a problem or perform a task. Brainstorming is practical way to bring out your own creativity, as well as the creativity of others.

One of the pitfalls of developing one’s creativity is the belief that “I’m not creative,” or “my people are not creative,” or “fear of failure.” The most basic source of creativity again is faith, including the faith that all of us are creative, realizing we as managers just have to learn to bring it out in ourselves and others. Working with others in an uncensored brainstorming session, followed by a critical evaluation of the ideas generated is an effective way to practice creative thinking. Teams are more creative than individuals working separately!

Bring the team into creative thinking activities about real issues, such as “how can we prepare to deal with the loss of three key people?” Try out some of the team’s ideas that have merit. Provide support and positive feedback for brainstorming efforts rather than criticizing. In other words, create an atmosphere and a place where creative ideas are welcome, and use them.

For additional growth in thinking creatively:

  • Learn to facilitate discussion and to stimulate creative brainstorming;
  • Read “Facilitating vs. Directing” in How to Lead Work Teams, by Fran Rees;
  • Have fun with The Fred Factor: …, by Mark Sanborn.
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