Building Creativity

This might seem like a strange topic for a leadership blog, yet one of the essential competencies of a leader is to define the vision and strategy for the organization and balance that against the available resources.
Effective leadership is at is grounded in creativity. John Maxwell offered an alternative view of creativity and creative thinking in his book “Thinking for a Change”. He proposed that creativity can come from connecting existing ideas together to form a new one.
Here are five reasons why you should invest in the power of creative thinking.

1. Creative thinking adds value to everything 2. Creative thinking compounds 3. Creative thinking draws people to you and your ideas 4. Creative thinking helps you learn more 5. Creating thinking challenges the status quo

Give up the need for every idea to be a success. Try it out, experiment and fail. This creates intense growth opportunities and enriches your experience and learning.

Developing Your Brand

It is important to finding a new job as well as keeping the one you have to develop a well-defined brand – Yourself. Just like marketing a product the goal with an individual is to ensure their value proposition is simple and clear and can be easily communicated. You need an elevator pitch too and no matter what we think we are always selling ourselves to others. Here are a couple of ideas to keep in mind when developing your brand:

Dream big – take some time to really think about who it is and what it is you want to become. Zeroing in on something you passionate about will make it exponentially easier to achieve.

Define a niche – This may sound contradictory to the first suggestion of dreaming big. However having a well defined niche makes it easier to differentiate yourself from the competition. My experience as a consultant has taught me that being a generalist can be career limiting. Find something that you can do better than anyone else and that is your niche.

Develop an Elevator Pitch – This is popular advice in the world of product marketing and equally important in self-promotion. You will be granted many opportunities in any given day to tell others about yourself, why not use it wisely and share a well crafted statement that showcases your talents and contributions.

Stay Focused – Stay true to your dreams and passions. This will resonate with anyone you speak with and come across as authentic. Don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that are just distractions from your big dreams.
Have fun with this activity and put in the effort to developing your own brand. It will give you clarity of vision, a blueprint for your career, and ensure you stand out from the crowd.

B-ALERT System

I ran across this great acronym from author Jack Canfield. It really resonated with me and I wanted to share these concepts with you to ensure each and every day is a productive one.

B is for Blueprint
Just like with any project it is important to have a big picture view of the end result. If you don’t have this in your possession how can you hope to make progress or more importantly measure your progress throughout the day. The reactive person is one that doesn’t have a blueprint for the day, which results in eroding productivity and becoming a slave to other’s needs. Don’t let this be you, take the time to review your calendar, tasks, and major projects the night before. This will enable your brain to focus on these items while you sleep and you will wake up focused and ready for a productive day.

A is for Action
This is critical for a productive day. Learn to differentiate between being busy and actually engaging in activities that propel you forward in pursuit of your goals. Migrate from reactive to proactive and you will achieve a significant amount with less effort. Make sure you are maintaining your big picture view and your actions will reflect that.

L is for Learning
Never, ever stop learning. Take advantage of every opportunity you can to learn whether it is by engaging in conversation with others, reading books, or failing. Consider watching documentaries, attending concerts, or talks on areas that interest you. These all represent learning opportunities that build character and our leadership muscles. I challenge you to find three new learning opportunities and incorporate them into your daily routine.

E is for Exercise
We can accomplish so much more, be more creative, and effective when we are in peak health. As knowledge workers our body and mind are the instruments of our craft. We need to be in optimal health to extract high levels of performance. If you are not exercising on a regular basis start now, the dividends are huge! From personal experience I started training for a half marathon this month and the burst in energy since I started training has been phenomenal. My mood and creative potential have increased as well.

R is for Relaxing
I am a firm believer in setting goals and working hard to achieve them. I also take regular breaks to rejuvinate myself. Daily I work in short bursts of 45 minutes followed by 15 minutes of renewal. For me this is the optimal mix and ensures I remain focused throughout the day. I also never eat lunch at my desk, instead I take a opportunity to get out, weather permitting, and go for a walk to clear my head and prepare for the next part of my day. I also think taking regular vacations is critical to maintaining high performance. When I go on vacation I completely disconnect. No email or voicemail is allowed. These periods of renewal have a dramatic effect on my productivity.

T is for Thinking
I cannot stress enough how important it is to maintain big picture thinking by establishing regular time to think. I use this time to focus on my current projects, goals, and what I will do in the next seven days to move toward achieving them. Above all else it ensures that each week I am making progress. It is also a reflective time where I can review the events of the past day or week and glean learning opportunities. Do this one thing and you will see a huge gain in productivity!
I encourage you to commit to the incorporating the B-Alert system into your daily life and measure the benefits that come from a disciplined approach to productivity and performance.

Focusing Techniques

In any given day, you are pulled in many different directions, which if not managed effectively, can quickly erode your productivity and ability to strategically plan for your team, division, or organization.
At times throughout my career, I have also found myself in this situation . Each time I find it helpful to ask this simple question: What one thing can I do to improve my current situation? This question, while simple on the surface, invites reflection and moves the mind from a reactive to a strategic perspective.
Here are some of my answers to this question.

Often times when I feel overwhelmed, it is because I have chosen to take on too much. As a leader, it is my job to ensure that I focus on the activities that deliver the most value to the team. Generally, this means making choices on which tasks I should take on myself and which should be delegated. Choosing to delegate has dual benefits: 1)as you let others assume more responsibility, you allow them an opportunity to grow and mature into a leadership role, and 2) . grooming others is one of the most important aspects on which a leader focuses.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the issue of the moment and bark out orders to keep the delicately balanced house of cards from toppling over. This is the quickest way to ensure you lower team morale, decrease employee engagement, and encourage team members to adopt what I call the “employee” focus. This is when they stop being innovative and develop an attitude of doing only what their job description says. This is dangerous territory for a leader.
Instead of reaching this dead end, stop yourself and try listening to your team members and employees. They possess a wealth of knowledge and engaging them in problem solving empowers them to take a more active role in the resolution. This is an area where it is easier than you think to succeed. Some quick tips to help you develop this skill include 1) solicit feedback in team meetings and let the discussion mature without jumping in to give your own opinion, 2) hold regular one on ones to develop a strong working relationship with your employees, allowing trust to build, and 3) applaud those that raise issues.
Take the extra time to incorporate these activities into your leadership strategy and you will be rewarded handsomely.

When you feel overwhelmed and start making lists, it is a sure indication that your regular planning has taken a back seat to other priorities. Do not let this condition persist for any length of time or it will take a large amount of time to get back on track.
What do I mean by planning? Having a system that enables you to capture the things you need to remember and surfacing them at the right time. The most important thing is to stop using your email inbox as your to do list. Important to your planning is having periodic reviews to ensure you are tracking to your short and long term goals. I usually do this early on Sunday before the family wakes up. This is the best time for me to focus on my goals during the week and ensures that I begin the week on the right foot.
Don’t underestimate the value of finding a planning system that works for you and sticking to it. Making this small investment of time regularly will pay huge dividends in terms of overall effectiveness.

Be Proactive
Leave the firefighting to the professionals. Instead of constantly putting out fires, which ultimately leads to stalled progress, take time to examine the root cause of an issue and address it to reduce the chance of it knocking you off course again.
Being proactive is a technique that is utilized by effectiveness support organizations and incorporated as part of problem resolution methodologies, which . take a two pronged approach. First, seek to restore service as soon as possible or return to a state equilibrium. Second, take time to review the problem, and fix the root cause to eliminate the issue from surfacing again. This is the hallmark of a learning organization that is striving to constantly learn from its missteps.
Reactivity is a sign of immaturity in your leadership style. Don’t succumb to this operating method, it is highly ineffective and quickly imbues your team with a bad reputation for delivery.

At times, I have found myself suffering from nearsightedness, and at other times, farsightedness. The prescription for this condition is simple, ensure you are giving the right amount of focus to short term execution and long term strategy. Focusing too much on one or the other can enhance your blind spots and make you more susceptible to mistakes.
Regularly giving time to check in is a great way to ensure you keep your vision at 20/20. This means honestly evaluating where you are on your roadmap to achieving your organizational goals. These check-ins are an effective way to ensure you don’t get too mired in the details and find yourself one step behind the rest of the organization.
These are straightforward leadership principles that should be incorporated into every leader’s toolkit. Always keep the basics in focus to ensure a solid foundation.

Building Resilient Teams

Clarity of Purpose
It is the leader’s job, regardless of the type of team, to clearly and authoritatively declare the purpose of the team.  Just as with individuals, this is the most important element and is the foundation upon which all other elements are built. Without a clear purpose, it is difficult for the team to take over and assert its power, instead the team will have to rely on the leader for decision-making, and will require constant tending to ensure they stay on course. You must ensure that the purpose allows some latitude for the team to define the means to achieve the goal.  Remember clarity = measurability!
The purpose should be clear, but should not spell out the method for achieving the vision.  This provides a rich experience for members of the team and gives them the opportunity to flex their creative muscles, which is an essential element to grooming high-potential leaders and exposes them to problems in the context of real business situations. In addition, this develops the strength of the team unit, and enables individuals to take the lead in their respective areas, manage conflict, and exercise their decision-making skills. This is the best, most effective type of training for leadership.
Working Sandbox
It is your job, as a leader, to create a safe environment where failure can be celebrated. That may sound like an odd statement, but we can learn a great deal from failure.  Amy Edmondson, in her article,Strategies for Learning from Failure, actually creates a continuum by which to measure failure from Deviance to exploratory testing.  She suggests that not all types of failure should be celebrated, especially that which is due to violations of prescribed processes or inattention to detail.  These types of failures stem quite simply from laziness. On the other hand, failures based in exploration or hypothesis testing is valuable as a learning tool for the team.
Creating this environment enhances the overall cohesion and resulting productivity of the team.
Measurement & Feedback
Providing clarity to the vision is essential to outlining what the business outcomes must be.  Given a clear picture of the vision and the desired end state, teams can use innovation to reach the desired result, but it is also important that feedback is given throughout the process so that progress can be measured along the way.  In a famous Gallup poll on employee engagement, receiving regular feedback ranked higher on employee satisfaction surveys than salary and other tangible benefits.  This should cement for the engaged leader how important it is to provide usable feedback.
Regardless of the team type, these four ingredients must be present to overcome the organizational inertia and produce lasting change.
In the world of knowledge workers, teams are a ubiquitous presence; however, few of us have probably worked on a true team.   According to Jon Katzenbach, with true teams “the leadership role shifts among the members of the group; a Single Leader Unit, by comparison, always has the same leader.”  Based on personal experience, I have participated in more Single Leader Unit (SLU)-based teams. It is important to note that both types of teams are effective in their respective contexts; one difference is that true teams tend to be more productive than SLU’s in the long run, while SLU’s produce results almost immediately.

Regardless of the team type, I have found four main ingredients critical to the development of a resilient team, including
1.    Clarity of Purpose
2.    Autonomy
3.    Working Sandbox
4.    Measurement & Feedback
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