You Don’t Have to Wear Skinny Jeans

I want you to try something. Walk around your department or organization, and ask people how creative they are. Say something like “Would you say you’re not as creative as most people, just as creative as most people, or more creative than most people?” 

And then watch them squirm.

It’s an interesting question to hear people answer, both in terms of how they answer the question and why they answer the question the way they do. Most seem to fidget, at least momentarily, or look off into the distance as if the answer were inscribed on some distant wall and they were trying to make it out.

After the pause, you’ll get one of the three options listed in the original question. In their minds, they’re either not as creative as most people, just as creative as most people, or more creative than most people.

The follow-up question, then, is “Why do you think that?”

This is where it seems to get more difficult for folks to answer. The reason for this–at least partly–is that people have all these strange notions in their heads about what “creativity” or “being creative” is. Some people equate creativity with wearing skinny jeans, having unkempt hair, and producing some sort of art, be it on a sheet of music or a piece of canvas. In many minds, that’s a picture of what a creative person is and looks like.

Others have a broader view of creativity. They see creativity as being able to occur on a grand scale or a not-so-grand scale. They see it in pieces of art, and they see it in cleverly constructed spreadsheets. They see it in beautifully-crafted original music, and they note it in how organizations treat and relate to their people.

You see, the thing we’ve got to get our teams and organizations to understand is that most people are creative in some way, shape, or form and to some degree. Most people, given the right environment and tools, can be creative in that they can think of new ways to do things, or time after time find ways to make things that are already good, better.

So one key for leaders, then, is to find ways to create environments for people that allow them to exercise that creativity. Create venues for them to explore their creativity–whatever that looks like for them–and make your team and organization better.

The other key–and this one is likely a prerequisite–is helping your team and organization understand that creativity is about more than wearing skinny jeans. It looks different from person to person, both in its degree and its expression.

As organizations and leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to find ways to unlock the creativity in people, and help them discover things about themselves that they may not yet see.

5 Reasons Your Employees are Lying to You

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Newsflash #1: Your team lies to you sometimes. Maybe a lot of the time.

Newsflash #2: It’s at least partly your fault.

Newsflash #3: If you deny the possibility of #2 above, you may as well stop reading now.

If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume (yes, I know what they say about assuming) that you’re at least tentatively OK with the above assumptions. So what are those reasons? Why do folks sometimes lie to their managers and/or executives? Why might they lie to you?

1. They don’t trust you.

At least not really.

2. They feel like you’re always talking to them, not with them.

When you talk to your team rather than with them, it’s pretty clear to them that you’re not really all that interested in their feedback. So when you ask if they agree with what you’ve said to them, don’t be surprised when they all nod and smile. And further still, don’t for a moment believe that that means they’re actually agreeing with what you’ve said.

3. They’ve learned — somehow, some way — that being candid, especially with difficult truths, can lead to them (1) being the targets of your passive-aggressive behavior, (2) being labeled or (3) maybe even something worse.

People pick up on this crap really quickly. You may think your passive-aggressive nonsense is so subtle they won’t notice it. But you’d be wrong. You may think they don’t know they’ve been labeled. But they probably do. People are going to talk about the experiences they’ve had with you, and you can be sure that word will get around if people don’t feel like talking candidly with you is beneficial.

4. You say you’re “open to candid feedback,” and yet they can tell that you’d like to strangle the messenger who delivers the aforementioned candid feedback.

We’ve all got triggers, right? Things that really burn your bacon [or insert your preferred colloquialism for being annoyed here]. It’s important to have enough self-awareness to understand what sorts of things set you off. At the same time, just because someone presents information in such a way that you’d dump cayenne pepper in your eyes if you thought it’d make them stop talking; that doesn’t mean that the actual content of what they’re saying isn’t legit. And if people providing feedback get the sense that you’re considering the cayenne pepper, do you really feel like they’re going to tell you the hard truth?

5. They have reason to suspect you won’t do anything with the information you get.

This happens all the time with those organizational surveys. Some organizations do a great job with the info they get. They use it as just one of many ways they get feedback from their team, and they act on the information they receive. That, in turn, makes employees more apt to provide it. See how that works?

So what do we do? Well, we realize that if our teams feel compelled to be less than entirely forthcoming with us, we have an opportunity to build trust within the team. We must embrace humility, fight for greater self-awareness, and find ways to continue using our leadership as a vehicle to serve our teams.

3 Reasons You Should Listen to Negativity

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The undercurrent.

Every organization has one – even yours. Maybe especially yours. Sometimes it lurks in the shadows, while other times it can be noticed slithering through various departments. It’s almost always viewed negatively; this is due, at least in part, to the fact that the undercurrent often contains negativity, or at least content presented in a negative light.

Allow me a quick sidebar here. I’m not necessarily condoning the contents and/or tone of the undercurrent. I know, like you do, that often the undercurrent is a place where whining and complaining thrives; and I’m not a fan of either of those things. Further, I’m not saying that employees ought not be coached toward embracing a positive attitude and eliminating as much negativity as they can. But I am saying this: the undercurrent is a reality in most organizations, so why not use it? Here are a few reasons you should do just that.

1. It’s the “inside scoop.”

Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe we’re overlooking an opportunity here. You see, often the undercurrent is representative of the unpolished, unfiltered feelings and sentiments of the employees in an organization. If that’s the case – if the undercurrent really is the uncut, unedited version of the employees’ perceptions of the organization – than perhaps we’d do well to quit ignoring and start listening.

2. There’s probably some truth in there.

Instead of simply complaining about the undercurrent, if we can sift through the whining and complaining, we just might find that there’s some truth nestled in there somewhere. Perhaps, underneath it all, there’s some validity to some of the complaints. Maybe folks’ managers and/or executives really aren’t doing a good job with this or that.

So here’s what I’m suggesting: Leaders, keep an ear to the ground. Listen. Learn. Sift through the complaints with an eye toward how you might effect positive change within the organization. Search for the kernels of truth – even truth you’d rather not acknowledge about yourself – that can be found beneath the layers of complaining.

3. It forces us as leaders to take a hard look in the mirror.

And then – and this is the hard part for us in leadership positions – take a hard look in the mirror. Are we discounting what they’re saying simply because their critique is couched in a complaint? Are we avoiding taking responsibility for things we need to be improving upon as leaders?

If we can wrap our heads around these things, we can lessen the chances that we’re missing opportunities to not only improve ourselves as leaders, but also to be servant leaders who effect positive change within our teams and organizations.