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    Creative Leadership Strategies in Uncertain Times

    3 creative leadership modes to master leading in uncertainty.

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      Vaughan Broderick

      Vaughan Broderick

      Hey friends 👋,

      This week, I came across a fantastic opportunity to delve into the mind of one of the legends of creativity, design thinking and innovation.

      Tim Brown is the co-chair of IDEO, a global design thinking firm, author of ‘must read’ book Change by Design, prolific contributor to the likes of Harvard Business Review and has introduced design thinking to business leaders worldwide across manay sectors.

      With decades in leadership and service, Tim has a real gift to explain complex matters in easy to understand ways.

      Today we’ll explore:

      • 2 critical leadership practices
      • Random pearls of wisdom
      • Tips for leadership
      • 1 sense-making video

      Let’s go!

      Themes of Current Challenges

      The themes of current challenges “seem larger and more complex than ever.” and tend to fall into ‘reactive’ and ‘pro-active’.

      Reactive means that circumstances have changed, and we have to think about things we didn’t have to before.

      For example, the pandemic has brought remote work front and centre in terms of the technical aspects and the mindset around lifestyle and balance.

      Proactive means that organisations and leaders decide to deal with it.

      An example that falls into the proactive category is climate change. Organisations and leaders who are proactive around climate change are trying to determine their role and how the “new economy” will exist.

      The commonality is that they both are “incredibly complex in the present”, but we also “need to figure out where to go in the future.”

      This means we must consider “how we solve them in the future, what future state we want, and what solutions will there be.”

      Why Creativity is Important for Complex Challenges

      Creativity provides the opportunity for new kinds of choices.

      “The responsibility of organisations and leaders is to search, reveal and provide new choices, solutions and paths to follow.”

      To enable more capability within people and bring forth creativity, “you need the right kind of leadership.”

      Leadership that focuses on efficiency and execution is required when times are more certain, when there is abundance and stability and isn’t suited to times of uncertainty and complexity.

      “Leadership today is like being on a train, looking at the tracks, and all you can see is fog.”

      “The organisations that will be successful are the ones that figure out how to bring something new into the world that customers need.”

      The Case for Creative Leadership

      “At its heart, creativity is about asking an unexpected question to get to an unexpected answer.” (I just love this phrase)

      “Unexpected questions are usually stimulated by getting different information than others have, which causes you to see things differently.”

      As we know, innovation rarely is a eureka moment. Instead, it is more likely from a system, method and mindset that provides fertile ground for innovation.

      The exciting thing in times of uncertainty is that when you start ‘doing innovation,’ you begin to feel a “sense of agency”, which is often counter-intuitive to the first reaction of ‘doing what you’ve always done.’

      Creative Leadership Strategies

      Tim recommends two strategies to practice as a leader – leadership modes and listening.

      These two practices are designed to counter-act the dominant thinking that leaders have all the answers.

      The reality is that the job of a leader is to “unlock” creativity from the people within the organisation.

      Leadership modes describe leading from the front, alongside, and behind.

      1. “Leading from the front is about asking questions that help to orientate the team and strive for things they might otherwise not.” The metaphor here is an explorer asking what’s over the horizon and gathering the team to get there.
      2. Leading from behind is about “setting the conditions to thrive as a team explores.” On a practical level are things like rituals, norms and recruitment. The metaphor here is one of a gardener.
      3. Leading from the side is more of a coaching role. One that understands what the team is going through and can get stuck in to help move them forward. “It’s not about providing answers but about providing the nudges or confidence to move through.”

      Tim also suggests developing the ability to recognise when you may need to switch modes, or call on someone else who can provide the mode when you are not yet able to.

      Listening is the creative practice of developing better questions.

      And, “to ask good questions, you need new insights and new data.”

      The best ways to get new information are:

      • You’re listening and thinking about that in a ‘below the surface‘ way that takes you forward. “People don’t know what they’ll need in the future, but listening deeply is a way of getting to insight to ask a more interesting question.”
      • Emotions often point to what people are thinking. However, we often believe that analytical data will move the problem forward in business. But, “it’s what people ‘feel’ is right that is more effective.”
      • Observation also provides more new insights, data and questions.

      Tips for Creative Leadership

      Tim shared several tips to help leaders develop this skill:

      • Challenge assumptions with thought experiments ‘what would it be like to…’
      • Build a practice of reflection to develop questions and to learn continually.
      • Set your team up for success by giving people space for creativity so they can step away from BAU and focus on new ways.
      • Be intentional in developing creativity capability, such as using the correct language.
      • “Keep expanding the sources of input about the world.”
      • Think about the questions that led to the brief/scope being defined in the first place.
      • Failure in times of exploration means you’ve found something that doesn’t work – learning.
      • Build creative confidence by doing the practice again and again. “It’s the holding back that’s the problem.”

      On that note, I’ve put together a short video to share one of the techniques I’ve found most helpful to gain insight and make sense of uncertainty.

      Link to sense-making video here.

      Affinity Mapping Example

      That’s all for today friends!

      I hope that you’ve found a new insight on how to navigate uncertainty with creative leadership strategies.

      As always, feel free to reply to this email or reach out to me on LinkedIn as I’d love to hear your feedback.

      Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you next week.

      Vaughan

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