Creativity Is Only A Start, Learning To Lead Matters Even More

Creativity Is Only A Start, Learning To Lead Matters Even More

Business September 20, 2021 / By Larry Robertson
Creativity Is Only A Start, Learning To Lead Matters Even More

The powerful and surprising steps that lead from creativity to lasting impact.

It’s a common occurrence that the creative among us are often marveled at. Their minds seemingly cross borders and boundaries most of the rest of us consider fixed and un-crossable. They create works and ways of doing that open up the gates to generating new forms of value. In truth their secret formula is rather simple: Unlike the rest, they take that universally shared human capacity for creativity and actually use it, habitually. While certain so-called "creative geniuses" among us excel on this front, they too have something to learn. Their lesson concerns leadership.

A Common Challenge

The ability to generate creative ideas is a powerful skill. But if you throw a party and nobody comes, it isn’t much of a party. If you birth a breakthrough idea and never realize it, or realize it but it never gets shared with, adopted by, or built upon by others, you’ve really created nothing. It’s harsh sounding to the ears, but inevitably true.

Sometimes it’s easier to face a shortcoming when you learn you’re not alone. News flash: You’re not alone. Even those whose primary job it is to lead (think: CEOs, Directors of fill-in-the-blank, Presidents of whatever) struggle with leading others, not in the limited sense of telling others what to do, but instead when it comes to enabling others to lead, create, and thrive in their own right. That challenge is only compounded in an uncertain world (read: our world, right now and for the foreseeable future), where no one person can possibly have all the ideas and all the answers. And yet, despite the rising tide of abnormality, for many leaders there is a persistent belief that success comes in "ones" – as in one person being the font of all ideas, one individual accruing the spoils of success all to themselves, one and only one path or means to achieve success, or seeing success as somehow limited to one form or a single moment. For creative and leaders alike, sometimes success does happen in ones. But inevitably such achievement is fleeting and false. Unchanged, it is also a recipe for long-term failure.

A Way Forward

Creatives, CEOs – how do we address this shared challenge of leadership? In ways remarkably similar to changing the perception that creativity is the unique skillset and domain of the few, we need to set aside the mythology and look at the actual patterns. When we do, what emerges as the difference maker is not some isolated ‘X’ factor or rare skill, but instead certain key insights and consistently practiced habits. Four patterns stand out. Be warned: they're not the usual suspects, nor are they techniques to be used now and then or only when you're in trouble. They're deeper and more foundational in nature. They require the hard work and honing dedication not simply of the leader, but of everyone in the organization that person leads – a co-creation, in other words. You might say they're cultural skills, and if you did you'd be right and on the right track.

1. Compromising Without Compromise. Perhaps the most elusive skill among us right now is compromise. Each day it seems we're met with examples of leaders – business, political, social, or otherwise – who model a message that compromise and cooperation are not in their progress toolkit. The biggest reason why is this: We interpret compromise to mean giving up, a false and dangerous red herring. At its root, compromise is about the sharing and blending of ideas and ways of thinking to achieve a whole greater than the sum of the parts – not unlike the creative process.

A powerful change in our view of compromise is easier than you'd think. Advantageous and effective compromise boils down to knowing the difference between principles and positions. Principles are what we stand for and seek to fulfill over time. Positions are those very specific things we labor over, even get blinded by in any given moment – like getting locked into a single idea. It's positions that we strategize, argue, and often get defensive about. Whenever we focus too much on them we risk distracting ourselves from the greater prize and the point: long-term success and repeated value creation. Simply checking in on the proportions of energy you're investing in principal versus position goes a long way towards helping you see a bigger picture and the multitude of ways to make it real.

2. Exploring The "Adjacent Possible." Compromise works or fails largely on the basis of scope – in other words, we can choose to see things only within the narrow boundaries of our current position, process, or knowledge, or instead choose to look bigger and beyond our borders. MacArthur Fellow, scientist, and serial entrepreneur Stu Kauffman calls that choice to go bigger exploring "the adjacent possible." Its name conveys its meaning: what's possible – the next big idea, the way out of the place you're stuck in, or the ground from which new opportunity is most likely to spring – inevitably lies beyond the borders of where you are in this moment, but most often just beyond. Those possibilities exist not a moon leap away, but just adjacent to where we are now. When we're in the habit of exploring beyond what we know, we don't just raise the likelihood of seeing new things in the great beyond, we inevitably change the way we see our current environs. Both things make us more open, more adaptable, and better positioned to find lasting success. More, they raise the likelihood of drawing others to us who can help realize and sustain that success – which brings us to the third vital skill: enabling mutual gain.

3. Enabling Mutual Gain. Let's be blunt. We venture into unknown territory or entertain compromise most often because we hope to gain something. "I go, I give, I expect to get" is a deeply grooved human soundtrack. But it's not our only soundtrack. Innately, we lean towards the collective too. The challenge is balance. To achieve it, there’s an interesting exercise you can try: imagining the other side's victory speech, not just yours, when the challenge, deal, or day is done (borrowed from Getting to Yes).

This simple habit has enormous yield. At a minimum, you begin to explore a zone beyond your own – a perfect example of going into the adjacent possible and doing so with zero risk. But inherently you venture to understand the principles and not just the position of others you work or compete with, shifting your view of them towards collaborator and away from the foe. And more still, you afford yourself a chance to design a process or find a path that draws on collective assets, immediately raising the odds of gain for everyone.

4. Taking The Long View. A view of success as being about "ones" (one person, time, reward, etc.) blinds you to the reality that success is inevitably a game of inches. When you instead take the long view, you automatically raise you to expand the probability of being around to play the game again tomorrow and many days after that. It's not just about seeing further out or bigger. The long view fuels the preceding three skills, the ones the most successful leaders know intimately to be the difference makers. If you pause and consider that for a moment, chances are you'll see the future more clearly than before.

You can learn more in Larry Robertson's newest book Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times.

Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times

We are two decades into this new century, and now live in a world more uncertain than certain. In this new “abnormal,” our ability to sustain far into the future, to realize our dreams and our potentialities, and to progress, depends on seeing leadership in a whole new way. Rebel leadership is that new way.

There’s a growing pattern of not just individual leaders, but entire cultures rebelling against old and ineffectual ways that have long defined what it means to lead. At the heart of rebel leadership is the emergence of five patterns seen in leading organizations across sectors. Together, these patterns outline a framework for how to successfully meet this turbulent new century and thrive. Rebel Leadership will not only reveal these patterns, but will teach the reader how to tap into the power of this framework and make it their own.

More precisely, Rebel Leadership will teach readers:
• What lies at the heart of success, no matter how much the environmental conditions might change
• How leadership is counterintuitively at its most powerful when it moves across individuals and cultures
• That, inevitably, there is only one truly sustainable competitive advantage in uncertain times
• Where leaders can find the best source for lowering risk in a changing world
• Why a long-term view has less to do with the long-term and far more to do with this moment than you’d ever imagine

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