Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Simon Sinek outlines a story in his book, Leaders Eat Last, about a fighter pilot who used a verbal count to assess how much distance he had before his plane hit the ground while laying down cover fire for his troops in contact on the ground below. The first thing that stuck out to me about this story is the ability of the pilot to be creative in finding a solution under extreme pressure. He trusted his training and trusted his team to support him. This is the role of the leader. It is our job to look at things from every possible angle and find a solution knowing all the while that our team is trained to adapt and support our decision. It’s the great throw on the run after escaping the pocket by Patrick Mahomes, the late dish by Michael Jordan to Steve Kerr in the playoffs, the Philly special call by Doug Pederson to win the Super Bowl. These are all examples of leaders being creative when the stakes are high and the spotlight is on. What’s often overlooked, is where this freedom to be creative comes from.
The ability to be creative in all those examples came from the tremendous amount of confidence each of those leaders had in their team. Yes, they made the decision to make something from nothing, but the integral part in every scenario is the person on the other end of the pass, or the person putting up the last shot. Putting the right pieces or people in place, building trust with those people, and building the confidence that they will deliver when the time comes is what being a leader is all about. Investing in your team and your culture allows you to be creative when solving problems. You no longer have to worry about a “weak link” because there are none. You’ve built a group whose mission is clear and who are completely committed to each other and the vision. Nobody cares who gets the credit as long as the team wins.
What does creativity look like in a daily behavior environment? It’s how you run your meetings, how you keep employees engaged, and how you communicate within your team. Leaders must be willing and able to adapt to the ever-changing environments they are competing in. If your team seems disinterested in a staff meeting, how are you reminding them of the importance of these meetings? Are you just repeating the company mission statement, or are you finding ways to make the mission, vision, and ultimately the meeting personally relevant to them? Leaders must grow past the “my way or the highway” mentality and find new innovative solutions to everyday problems.
Creativity does not mean throwing away the game plan, but rather understanding that no plan is bulletproof. Your competition will adapt, the market will throw things at you that you weren’t prepared for, a national pandemic may strike and cancel your season. These are all realities. How we respond to them can have monumental implications for our teams and businesses. This is when you are free to find new and innovative ways to communicate, solve problems, and thrive within whatever environment you find yourself in…if you’ve put in the work. Over these past few months, I’ve seen businesses pivot their entire business models in a matter of days. Colleges are shifting to online formats. Sports teams are having virtual workouts and doing culture building activities. The leaders who wasted no time finding a solution and keeping their team’s momentum rolling are the ones who will reap the benefits when things return to “normal”. How were these leaders able to act so quickly? They had internalized the vision, mission, and values of the organization, prioritized having the right people on the bus (and in the correct seats), and were willing to try something new.
Leadership Reflection Questions: Creativity
1. How often am I trying new strategies?
2. What challenges are coming that may require a new strategy?
3. Who on my team is willing to take risks?
4. What framework do I rely on during high stress situations?
5. What areas could I look for new ideas in?
6. Am I training my team to be adaptable and creative?
Creativity from leadership shows your team you are committed to growth and willing to experiment. It reaffirms that you are willing to take a risk for the best interest of the group. If you act creatively in high stress environments and trust your team to make proper decisions, it shows that you have faith in them and their training. If you want your team to be creative problem solvers, give them the training to solve problems and the room to experiment (and possibly fail) in low stakes scenarios. Leadership is building a culture and organization that allows for creativity. Be courageous enough to draw up the Philly special in the Super Bowl, then trust that your team will execute.
“Creativity has much to do with experience, observation and imagination, and if any one of those key elements is missing, it doesn’t work.” – Bob Dylan