Creativity, collaboration and leading change

One of the most insightful moments of my career, when I dreamed of making things happen when all odds were against it, was when my boss gave me permission to be creative, to think outside the box and not be afraid.

Since that moment I have always tried to encourage people to find their own creativity. I know everybody has it in them, and no it doesn’t just mean using colours or drawing pictures (although that certainly sometimes helps!). It’s a huge part of what we do in our Leading Change for Good programme.

Of course this can be taken the wrong way. ‘Creative accounting’ is generally not the way we want our businesses to report their taxes, nor do we want too much creativity when it comes to following rules necessary to keep us safe. This can take creativity to a whole different level…

My boss at the time knew that my core values would ensure anything I did was ethical and that I would stay within the overall policy framework. I’ve found constraints like that actually help drive creativity, you just need to force yourself to believe there are other ways to deal with the situation and go for it. At the time it was actually a trigger to accelerate towards more agile ways of operating and it drove me to new team structures, new meeting processes, new engagement techniques, new tools and a whole lot of new learning. 

In our current uncertain times, where tried and tested methods clearly have not worked to solve the big issues we are facing, we need to encourage people, especially those that want to be leaders to trust their creativity, to not give in to their ‘need for comfort’. This is the “just tell me what questions I need to answer / how many pages I need to do / what books to read” mentality.

This mentality stifles creativity, as does anytime we give people a template/form to fill in or a bunch of boxes to tick. Yes, this is useful when you need to get certain information in a certain format, for example to assist with data aggregation. Sure, it would be easier for those that are managing the process, and also for many of the people that are facing the challenges. A template gives comfort in a way, it takes away the uncertainty. 

However ‘leading for good’ and doing things differently is not going to happen if we tell people how to do things in a linear format. We need to encourage them to dig deep and discover their values, their leadership styles, their definition of good and their own authentic value. We need to encourage them to learn from and with each other. We need to encourage them to become comfortable with their own creativity. This is important for the outcomes, and studies now recognise creativity as one of the most important skills for the future of work too. (Why companies need creative leaders in the future of work)

So, as part of Leading Change for Good, we build in the opportunities for all learners to grow confidence in themselves as leaders. Leaders who can address the challenges we face in new ways. This includes encouraging them to be creative, collaborative, and step out of their comfort zones, especially for those that are used to more traditional ways of learning like “write a 1,000 word essay following these criteria”. We ask them to trust their own creativity.

Whilst this can be the intent of a course, it is really great to see it come to life. One of our assessments is all about learning by teaching others (and us!) It is a collaborative team assessment where learners are asked to deliver a short workshop on a topic related to what we have been addressing so far. It can be done in any way they like, using the skills and collective wisdom of all team members. Teams spend time researching, exploring and ultimately delivering this workshop to their peers during our face-to-face days, or as one of our cohorts already showed, via Zoom if we end up in a lockdown.

An amazing display of all those skills and values we encourage: ako, pono, rangatiratanga, manaaki, collaboration, creativity, and joy. Photo credit Bryce Groves

The images in this article, taken by one of our learners Bryce Groves, show one of our teams presenting the topic ‘Kaupapa Māori models of leadership’. An amazing display of all those skills and values we encourage: ako, pono, rangatiratanga, manaaki, collaboration, creativity, and joy. In this group they happened to have screenplay writing and drama coaching skills, as well as deep content knowledge, which they used in pulling together an impressive narrative about historic and present Māori landright battles leadership, showcasing the importance of kaupapa Māori values within those.  

It certainly works as a learning experience too, as learner Bryce Groves reflected “Broadly, across the workshops I really appreciated the diversity of ways to present an idea and capture the imagination and attention of a workshop audience or class. I appreciated the ‘theatre’ of Team 3 (Kaupapa Māori models of leadership) with music and handmade banners that made me reflect on the value of a more down to earth, lo-fi aesthetic; a way to learn that was visual and interactive with barely any digital means.”

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Leading Change for Good is an NZQA-accredited postgraduate certificate that focuses on leadership and transformation for real, lasting impact where it matters the most. Intakes starting throughout 2021 and 2022.