Leadership that Nurtures the Picassos on Your Team

Is your leadership style one that nurtures the Picassos on your team, or is it one that directs them to be “paint by number” types, staying within the lines you impose upon them?

Since reading Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers last year, I’ve thought a lot about the differences between “multipliers” and “diminishers” and their impact on culture and ultimately on outcomes and results. If you’ve not read the book, it is definitely a high recommendation from me!

Regarding creative and effective problem-solving and solutions by teams, diminishers often lead teams that deliver, at best, “paint by number” results. This outcome is more a function of the leader than the composition of the talent on the team. The leader whose style is grounded in a belief that they are the “genius” and thus need to direct their teams on “how to do it” ( aka drawing the lines for the paint-by-number execution) usually get average to poor results.

Contrast the above with times when leadership style produces the culture and environment for that same group of individuals in the previous scenario to deliver exceptional results because they are fully engaged and allowed to flourish as budding Picassos.

I, for one, love art.

I love engaging with creative people of all types. I always have.

All effective problem solvers and solution finders are artists in their own way.

I also love seeing a team and the members within grow and thrive through their engagement and enthusiasm around their work.

While I have not explicitly led groups of artists per se in my career, I have seen the power of nurturing teams to think and behave in ways similar to artists.

Finding the Patterns for Better Outcomes

The intersections of creativity traits and leadership that empowers teams to do good work come down to a few key elements. While these are not the only elements that fuel engaged and productive teams, I believe these three are among the most critical:

Support Growing Team Members through Effective Feedback

To be truly creative as an artist requires toughness. Artists frequently receive input and criticism and must be able to take in that feedback, objectively evaluate its usefulness or lack of usefulness, and decide how it will or will not influence their next endeavor.

As leaders, we have the opportunity and the imperative to give our team members the constructive and well-timed feedback they deserve to help them grow. This feedback has nothing to do with performance appraisals and judgments – the type of “deserved” feedback that I’m advocating comes from a place of desire to support the growth of the individual. Sometimes, this type of feedback can highlight a gap or shortfall, but even then, it is delivered to support and nurture the individual – not give them a grade or stack rank them among their peers.

Create a Culture of Celebrating Failure

Every artist must have a spirit of experimentation that yields new insights or ideas by tapping into success and failure. One of my favorite people is a potter friend of mine. I sometimes visit her in her studio for inspiration and a dopamine hit. She is a prolific artist and has found the sweet spot of doing what she loves and being able to support herself and her family in the process. Sometimes, I’ll see a shelf of objects that look nothing like what she typically creates – new glazing techniques, new shapes, different textures. I’ll ask her about them, and she sometimes breaks into a full-out gleeful giggle followed by something like, “Isn’t it garish!” Then, she will explain some new techniques she tried and how they did not do what she was going for but how they resulted in her finding another way to do X or Y. She’s ebullient in the learning gaines from her so-called “failed” experiment!

As leaders, we nurture the creative problem solvers and solutioneers in our teams best when we give them the space and flexibility to fail. I am a big fan of post-project reflections (I once called them post-mortems, but that sounds like reviewing the dead vs reflecting on what the project taught us for the future!). It is always a win if the teams engage in thoughtful reflection of what did and did not go well without judgment, shame, or blame creeping in (explicitly or implicitly). The team fully brainstorms creative ways to mitigate those failures in future projects.

Enable the Humans on our Teams to Grown and Constantly Reinvent Themselves

To be truly creative as an artist requires “A constant reinvention of one’s self” (Steven Kotler, The Art of the Impossible – great book – more insights on what it means to be and develop one’s creativity).

As leaders, we can build and support working environments that give teams the freedom to invent and reinvent how they get their work done. Suppose the culture is supportive, and they feel engaged and appreciated. In that case, we get continuous improvements driven by the folks who know most about the daily opportunities and challenges faced in their roles.

When leaders believe they know best and over-direct how to do the work (aka, the leaders who draw the paint-by-number lines), it often results in disengaged workers and significantly reduced overall productivity.

To take this a step further, we have an opportunity as leaders to give our team members flexibility in navigating their career journeys. Through thoughtful and intentional efforts by leaders to provide team members with career pathways that open up new avenues of learning and contribution for them, we get more engaged and satisfied team members. And that engagement usually translates to productivity wins for the business.

What could you do differently tomorrow when engaging your teams that might spark just the enthusiasm, engagement, and creativity needed to get to better outcomes? Did I miss any key elements that you’ve observed? I’d love to hear from you!

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