Creativity—the ability to look at complicated situations and identify novel solutions that solve problems, advance initiatives, or rewrite old rules—may be the most critical skill of all in our workplaces. As leaders, we need to foster it, stimulate it, and do everything we can to ensure we’re not the ones suppressing it.  

Sadly, creativity is something that many leaders trample all over in their daily activities. 

Are you giving your colleagues a chance to be creative, or are you suppressing it with your approaches?

Seven Questions to Ask and Answer About Your Leadership Behaviors

Consider the following questions: 

1. Are you stifling or stimulating creativity with your words?

Your negative framing of a situation: “This is a problem” generates one set of outcomes versus, “This happened. How can we leverage it?”

Stimulate creative solution development by adopting a neutral framing and teaching and guiding your team members to develop multiple solutions by framing things as positive, negative, and neutral. It’s much more compelling to choose from numerous solution sets versus one that is powerfully skewed by your words. 

2. Are you reinforcing or suppressing creativity through your actions?

The classic example of the leader who declares, “We value experimentation and learn from our mistakes,” rings hollow when the first person to experiment and fail is chastised, disciplined, or terminated.

Guess what’s never happening again?

3. Are you perceived as judgmental in your interactions?

Some in leadership roles falsely believe they’re in their roles to pass judgment on the ideas of others versus stimulate ideas. This behavior triggers defend mode type responses where individuals strive not to invite criticism. Instead, they tell the leader what they perceive will minimize risk.

Great leaders don’t feel compelled to be the most intelligent people in the room. Instead, they are driven to bring forth the individual and group genius that’s hiding in plain sight. 

4. Are you killing curiosity with your demands for data?

Sorry folks, data is intended to help the creative process, not supplant it. Part of creativity involves making leaps, drawing inferences, and testing hypotheses. If the leader demands data to back every decision, they’ll get data, not creative ideas.

5. Are you expecting them to be creative on command?

A classic example of this creativity-killing behavior is the leader who expects all ideas to emerge during group sessions. The social and power pressures are so brutal here that many opt to remain quiet versus take the perceived risk of offering ideas or asking questions.

Effective leaders recognize the need to meet people on their terms and give those who are less prone to speaking up a chance to share their ideas in risk-free ways.

6. Do you talk more than you listen?

When the leader insists on filling all available airtime in meetings, they condition others to sit, listen, and refrain from sharing their ideas. It turns out, fierce listening on the part of the leader is a prerequisite for creativity to emerge.

7. Are you indicting them with your questions?

Curiosity is the raw material of creativity. It’s a powerful skill for influential leaders. However, if your questions connote judgment, as in, Why am I having to ask this question, and I know the answer and am shocked you don’t, creativity takes a holiday in these interactions.

Seven Simple Things You Can Do NOW to Stimulate More Creativity at Work

  1. Judge less and redouble your efforts to understand how others see situations.
  2. Listen fiercely. All the time! 
  3. Engage with individuals in ways that make them comfortable and communicate with them on their terms, not yours.
  4. Skip “creativity-on-demand” events and build in creative problem solving for all endeavors.
  5. Ask questions with genuine curiosity.
  6. Reward experimenters who learn and keep pushing forward through the failures.
  7. Get a swim buddy to help you better understand how others see and hear you. And then do something with the input.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Creativity is your organization’s most crucial asset for surviving and thriving in a world that reflects extreme complexity. Your job is to bring forth the genius of your team members. You can’t do that if your standard operating mode is to assert and win. Great leaders don’t feel compelled to be the most intelligent people in the room. Instead, they are driven to bring forth the individual and group genius that’s hiding in plain sight.

Art's Signature 

Join me for our Leadership Caffeine Jam Session: Reinventing Idea Generation Practices at Work on 11/12 at noon central. REGISTER HERE (If you’re reading this later, ask me for the recording.)