Category Archives: Creativity & Innovation

Your Are Not Alone: Lean on Colleagues with Your Next Leadership Challenge

Participants in the 2014 TLCW for Non-Profits. Learning from each other!
Participants in the 2014 TLCW for Non-Profits. Learning from each other!

“I’m not creative.” It’s one of the most often refrains that I hear from leaders when discussing methods to help engage people. In the last week, and in this coming week, I’ll have had great experiences that tell me that, “YES, you are creative!”

Last week I spoke to a group of child welfare professionals on how to creatively reward and engage their teams. At first, folks were stumped when it came to coming up with a creative way to encourage their team for their contribution to their organization. But the minute two or three people get together to talk about ideas, prompted to “help each other”, the energy changed in a big way and creativity ran rampant.

And this coming week, I look forward to my favorite week of the year when I’m able to join colleagues from around the world at The Leadership Challenge Forum. It’s a great time of learning from each other, catching up and building our community. It’s amazing how much we talk about what we can do that’s new, next or better with each other – capturing some great ideas in the moment and then bringing those creative inspirations home to our teams.

So when you are thinking you are in it alone, or not feeling creative, take a cue from my friends:

  • Lean on your colleagues with your next leadership challenge. Stop by their space, call them, or buy them a coffee.
  • Take just 15 minutes to brainstorm with a friend. Solving problems is sometimes just slow on your own. Check in quickly to get a different perspective and you’ll see the problem with renewed vigor! (Really)
  • Take 5 minutes to reflect. What will help your next interaction, solution or leadership move be a success? What metaphors might help you describe that?
  • Oh, and share a laugh while you’re at it! Let’s have some fun while we do the work of the world.

And speaking of fun, I’m off to talk about the LPI and a Coaching for Culture change:

2015 Leadership Challenge Forum Presentation with Amy Dunn @integrisPA
2015 Leadership Challenge Forum Presentation with Amy Dunn @integrisPA

Check out more about Harness Leadership at ReneeHarness.branded.me.

 

6 Lean Lessons in Leadership: Learnings from Washington State Lean Transformation

Integris Performance Advisors Team Meeting aboard My Girl in Tacoma, WA.
Integris Performance Advisors Team Meeting aboard My Girl in Tacoma, WA. (I’m back row, 3rd from left.)

Last week I attended the Washington State Lean Transformation Conference with Integris Performance Advisors. As a leadership consultant I often work with Integris in a corporate setting, and it’s intriguing to learn about the company’s roots in Lean/Six Sigma and leadership in a government context where @ResultsWA goal is to improve the lives of Washingtonians.

What is Lean? According to goleansixsigma.com, Lean is simply a method of streamlining a process, resulting in increased revenue, reduced costs and improved customer satisfaction. I’m interested in the interplay between innovation and leadership and in my second visit to the conference in two years, was impressed that so many of the presenters stressed the critical importance that leadership and coaching play in creating Lean government.

So here is my take on what I heard from the folks and partners @resultsWA and leadership.

  1. Start with Respect. I love that to improve our work we first need to start with respecting others and building a culture of respect. Of course, it makes sense. No one wants to share their ideas or suggest solutions to problems if there is a lack of respect. The message was clear: if you don’t have an organization where people feel respected, start there – not on process improvement.
  2. Build a language of leadership to build culture. The language we use creates our environment and our culture. If your organization doesn’t talk about and reinforce dignity and respect, you likely will have a hard time engaging others to innovate. See lesson #1.
  3. Break it down. We can’t innovate until we are very familiar with what exists. Each of us might have our own personal understanding of “what is,” however, until you shine a light on the process, it exists in our minds only. That light is shown in many ways, but we have to break down the process before we can determine what needs to go and what needs to stay.
  4. Use humble coaching. This is a nuance that I had not heard articulated until now. It’s in line with my idea that our “belief in people” can help increase their engagement and development. It goes one step further, however, and reminds you to take your self-interest out of the equation. Leave your “great advice” at the door – in most cases – and truly coach by asking opinions and helping people grow their problem-solving capabilities.
  5. Reflection is key for improving your work and your world. This is a theme that I return to frequently. If you don’t take time to reflect, you may be implementing ideas that are “half-baked.” In her sessions entitled “Burn the Popcorn,” Carol Knight -Wallace shared a brainstorming technique called the 7 Ways. To use this technique, think of 7 ways to solve the problem at hand. This is a great technique to help you reflect on your challenge and prevent the mistakes that come with rushed decisions.
  6. It’s about relationships. If you don’t have the relationship, it’s very hard to inspire people to want to work WITH you to improve what you do and how you do it. To create and implement “what’s next and new” you need to have the attention of others. That comes from building a strong relationship, including getting to know those around you. Good at your work relationships? Work to make them deeper and you will reap the rewards as people deepen their trust in you.

And speaking of relationships, thanks to the Managing Partners of @IntegrisPA: Tracy O’Rourke, Evans Kerrigan and Brett Cooper for inviting me along. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this fabulous team of consultants (pictured above in our team meeting on the Puget Sound), helping create healthy workplaces…and just having fun!

 

 

5 Creativity Questions: Boost Your Leadership with Creativity

Raise your hand if you are a creative genius. No? Well you are not alone if you feel that creativity is not your strong point. Many of us feel we left our creativity back in grade school with the finger-paints and Row Your Boat rounds.

Artist Rae Witvoet - A Creative Mind
Artist Rae Witvoet – A Creative Mind

Creativity is one of my personal values. For me, creativity is more about what I take in than my “output.” Sure, I’d love to say that I come up with cool graphics and unique ways to position things. And sometimes I do. But really, creativity is about what I have around me. A big part of that, for me, is art and music. I’m amazed at the talent, creativity and ingenuity I see in art, artist, music and musicians.

Creativity is a huge part of what we do as leaders, but I hear so many leaders say “Oh, I’m not creative.” What I find is that taking just 5 to 10 minutes exploring what that means and asking a few questions helps people see that they can be creative. I think most often, people feel like they aren’t artistic or don’t “think outside the box,” and stop expecting this of themselves.

Musicians and artists, on the other hand hone their creative skills by using simple things that we can all use. A simple prompting question can take them in another direction, ideas building on ideas. I’m a huge fan of reflection questions – they give folks time to ruminate on what’s important. So let’s try some creativity questions.

Here are a few examples I’ve seen of the challenges that leaders have and how Creativity Questions can help:

  1. Change your perceived environment to show vulnerability (read more about vulnerability at Bestbehaviors.com): Imagine you’ve never met your team before. What would you tell them about yourself as a leader?
  2. Use lists and images to encourage others: Who needs your encouragement today? List 10 things they are doing well. For each item on the list, think of a visual image or metaphor that would help them understand the impact they are making.
  3. Use humor to show that you are listening: What are some funny ways that you can share that you sometimes aren’t the best listener? (tip: this is another way to build trust through showing vulnerability)
  4. Compare your team to another kind of organization to find unique solutions: What would we do if we were a non-profit organization? Or what would we do if we were a start-up?
  5. Reflect on your own creativity to examine what’s holding you back: What’s the most creative thing I’ve done in the last month? Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem very creative. Take that example and list how you could have made that even more creative.

Most of the time we sell ourselves short when it comes to our creativity. Take one of these questions, or a question that you’ve been wrangling with recently. Write it down right now. Take just 10 minutes to come up with ideas, and I’m sure that you will surprise yourself with the ideas that start flowing.

I’d like to thank Mr. Jeremy Hatch, the Artful Fundraiser, for his prompting question to me this week that inspired me to continue to make a contribution – to leadership.

Training Innovation Out of People: Or, Go Get that Halloween Costume

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I was talking with a friend this week about the good old days at their company. You know the days: the ones with rosy-goldy edges about the memories. Where everyone is smiling, laughing, and rushing from meeting, to project, to customer with energy aplomb. The days when you loved your team, you loved the company and what it stood for, and you loved the work. LOVED the creativity and innovation that you could bring to the work! The stories you could tell about the fun you had, the crazy Halloween you dressed up as bikers (complete with mushroom tattoo), the friends that you made – for life.

Yes, you had stress. Yes, there were a few people you wanted to avoid in the halls because they “didn’t get it.” But overall, these were the golden years. Looking back on these years, if  lucky enough to experience them, one might feel a bit deflated about the here and now.

Today, it seems that many companies are trying to train the innovation right out of people. Adding more workload without the efficiencies needed to make it happen. Wanting more of our time (our life) and giving us less to care about in our work. Pushing the newest corporate initiative with a “don’t-ask-questions-just-do-it” mentality (questions are only for negative people).  How does this relate to our mission, our vision, our values? “It just does” is an answer one might expect to hear from some leaders who, themselves, are being pushed to their limits.

I hear a lot of stories from people who are looking to contribute, but are a part of a company that has lost it’s shimmer. It could make you feel deflated, but I prefer to think about the possibilities.

It’s energizing to meet with like-minded, engaging people. Last week, that was at Centric: Indy’s Innovation Network, where people talk about innovation and hear from some of Indianapolis’ most innovative leaders. They hosted The Supremacy of Mission: An Elephant in the Room. Indianapolis Zoological Society president and CEO, Michael Crowther, shared how to avoid business as usual by genuinely focusing on the mission of the organization. By seeking ways to advance the Zoo’s mission, Michael and his team constantly develop new and innovative ways of contributing.

The Indianapolis Zoo has a mission that stands out from the rest. It’s not simply a place for recreation, an addition to a downtown scene, or for people who “love animals.” The Indianapolis Zoo empowers people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation. Michael repeatedly spoke about how the Zoo “engages, enlightens, and empowers” individuals to make their mission a reality.

Hearing my friend talk about the golden years, and then hearing Mr. Crowther talking about the elephant (and “orangutan“)  in the room inspired me to reflect on the dichotomies we see in our organizations. That once purpose driven organizations can falter, but also that there are institutions that have been around a while, who can still reach deep and find a way to energize and engage those around them to try innovative ideas. Organizations whose mission is at the forefront of their work.

Jeb Banner (@jebbanner), CEO of SmallBox marketing also spoke last week about mission. In his TEDx Indianapolis talk, Jeb proposed that organizations might be more successful if they worked more like bands. Jeb is the founder of Musical Family Tree, a website dedicated to keeping Indiana music thriving. He reflected on how companies often put profits above purpose, while in a band, purpose is always first – it’s always about the music!

As Jeb and Mr. Crowther shared, purpose, mission and the sense that your work has meaning – beyond the dollars – are essential to individuals wanting to contribute to an organization.

So, how are you leading innovation?

Are you asking people to “just do it” without tying your work to purpose. While few of us would take this “just get it done!” approach, we may still be training the innovation right out of our people – and organizations

It starts with each individual leader. Maybe your organization isn’t perfect, but you can strive to engage and innovate with the folks closest to you.

Think about it. Reflection is a part of every great leader’s practice. Reflect on who you are being as a leader with regard to inspiring innovation:

1. How is the work of my team tied to the mission of the organization (including budget, day-to-day work, and strategy)?

2. How am I (or can I begin) creating a energized work environment, with time to enjoy the work, have fun and innovate?

And, if you want to start with the “fun” part, go talk with folks about the team Halloween costume for a start. Enjoy and engage!