The notion that creativity belongs in the marketing department rather than the board room is outdated in today’s global economy, marked by fierce competition. Innovation isn’t just an option anymore; it is a necessity to survive.
Leaders with a capacity to think outside the box are poised for the greatest success; in fact, creativity was cited as the number one attribute deemed critical for leadership success in an IBM Global CEO study.
“Constant disruption is a given in today’s dynamic corporate and organizational environments,” according to Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates. As we often tell clients when we begin our executive coaching engagements, “the ‘same old-same old’ doesn’t get you very far in a perpetually changing marketplace.
“Teams that are able to generate, explore and implement new ideas have the competitive edge. At the helm of those teams are creative leaders who aren’t threatened by change — in fact, they are excited by its possibilities.”
6 Executive Coaching Strategies to Cultivate Your Creativity
Becoming a more creative leader encompasses — and transcends — developing a more flexible mindset. Even if you don’t consider yourself an imaginative type, you can learn to cultivate your creative side to become a better leader. The following strategies can help:
- Let go of perfectionism — Many leaders feel constrained by their responsibility to maintain order and produce results. As such, you might feel like brainstorming or “playing” with ideas is a waste of time — or that a new approach has to be flawless before it can be considered. By resisting perfectionistic tendencies, you open the door to innovation. As Jody explains, “If you approach a challenge with an open mind, you invite more opportunity. When many ideas are on the table, then you can analytically decide which option or solution makes the most sense to pursue. Multiple approaches to the same problem provide you with more choices to consider.”
- Tolerate a little clutter — Creating and maintaining an organized workspace has many proven benefits, including increasing productivity, focus and even perseverance. However, as University of Minnesota marketing professor Kathleen Vohs found in a recent study, being in a messy room can not only inspire creativity, it also promote the consideration and acceptance of new ideas. By contrast, according to her research, an orderly environment “encourages convention and playing it safe.”
- Increase security — “Creativity flows from a state of feeling safe or secure,” according to John Kounious, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Drexel University. Enhancing your self-confidence can help you learn to trust your own instincts and abilities so that it feels safer to take risks. In addition, as a leader, you can cultivate creativity — not only in yourself, but also in your team members, by creating an open atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas.
- Embrace your inner artist — Even if your reaction is: “Whoa, not me … I don’t have an artistic bone in my body!” — paint, sculpt, draw or create something. Perhaps you enjoy cooking; focus on creating a delicious — and aesthetically pleasing — meal. If landscaping appeals to you, try a different planting arrangement this spring. Engaging in a creative outlet of any kind flexes your creative muscle. Adult coloring books are a great way for non-artistic people to dip their toes into creative waters. In addition to encouraging you to experiment with different color schemes and patterns, coloring has been proven to alleviate stress and encourage mindfulness.
- Do things differently — Switch it up! If you always wear the same striped tie with your tweed suit, try the paisley one. Change the ring tone on your phone. Run your Saturday errands in reverse order than usual. Or, try this executive coaching strategy we recommend to our clients: Have team members choose a new seat in the conference room for your weekly sales meeting. Breaking out of auto-pilot — and trying new things — have been proven to increase creativity, thus helping you become a better leader.
- Set limits — Although it may seem counterintuitive, restrictions or parameters can actually increase your ability to come up with new approaches. An unlimited universe of choices can cause decision overload, leading to creative blocks. In his TED talk entitled Embrace the Shake, artist Phil Hansen talks about how developing a tremor when he was a student in art school increased his creativity. Thanks to sage advice from a neurologist, Hansen learned to accept — and rise above — his new physical challenge. “Ultimately, most of what we do takes place here, inside the box, with limited resources,” he says. “Learning to be creative here, within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves, and collectively, transform our world.”
What strategies have helped you become a more creative leader?