If you want to stand out in the crowd as a leader you need to make creative thinking a core to your skill set. Forbes.com has made Creative Thinking the #7 key attribute of leadership. This is definitely a good choice. I see two reasons that creative thinking is important to great leadership.
Today’s business environment is calling for unique, creative thinkers who can take us and our organizations to new levels. But not only do they need to think creatively, they need to allow their team members to do so as well. Leaders need to give everyone the bandwidth or permission to get creative once in a while and think outside the box.
This is where and how we create new and exciting products, services, processes and more. As a result, this is where great companies succeed and grow.
We all know organizations out there that support this kind of creative atmosphere: Google uses an internal system to promote creative thinking among employees. 3M requires employees to spend 15% of company time on creative thinking and experimenting. Microsoft uses internal science fairs to get everyone thinking and IBM holds ‘jam’s for employees to think outside the box. There are many more.
Great leaders create these environments and promote them – in good times and in bad.
I run a program out of the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business, and York University for project managers and business analysts. As we work with our corporate clients, the one skill that they wish their employees demonstrated more of is the ability to think outside the box. Especially the business analysts. They wish these ‘technical architects’ would put down the ‘This is the way we did it yesterday ‘ attitude, clean the slate and allow for a more creative process to finding a solution.
In the day-to-day leadership role thinking creatively plays a big role as well.
The plan does not always go the way you had hoped. There comes a moment when you have to abandon the plan and think on a new level or in a new direction. Forbes says “It is during these critical situations that your team will look to you for guidance and you may be forced to make a quick decision. As a leader, it’s important to learn to think outside the box and to choose which of two bad choices the best option is. Don’t immediately choose the first or easiest possibility; sometimes its best to give these issues some thought, and even turn to your team for guidance. By utilizing all possible options before making a rash decision, you can typically reach the end conclusion you were aiming for.”
In the book “The Keys to Our Success” I contributed a chapter called “Never Go in Alone” where I suggest that we all need coaches, mentors and advisors to get us through the ever competitive world of business. I admit that not everyone can be creative but we all have people in our lives that are. If you aren’t the creative type, get some help. Find a coach, mentor, advisor or side-kick who will be that creative part to your professional life. When times call for out-of-the-box thinking, pull them in. If your company needs to build some creative space within and you don’t know how to do it, pull them in.
It doesn’t have to be you. But you need to drive it.
So great leaders need to look at creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in two ways: as a means to new and innovative products and services and as a management tool when things do not go as planned.
How creative are you? And more importantly, how creative is your team?
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