Saturday, January 1, 2011

Creative by Design: Three Habits for Effective Leaders

Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.
- Edward de Bono

A past reading in Bits & Pieces tells the story of fashion designer Sandra Garratt. She was given a project to design clothing that would go against her natural inclinations –clothes that she did not like.

She came up with a line of economical, one-size-fits-all, modular clothing for women. Garratt moved on to a series of jobs in the fashion industry, but she kept thinking about those clothes she had designed. They intrigued her enough that she eventually began producing them for a boutique in Dallas.

Several business people saw promise in Garratt’s clothes, and in 1986 they invested the money to help her start a nationwide chain of shops. The investment paid off. Within a few years, more than $100 million of Garratt’s clothes had been sold, and she made millions in royalties. All because she put her natural inclinations aside and investigated something different.

Garrett’s success came about by forcing herself to focus not on what her natural strengths were, but to intentionally design clothes she did not like. It was by adapting to a new style that she made her fortune. Her example is inspiring because she teaches us the power of new possibilities when we choose to embrace something different.

The challenges you face in 2011, both personally and professionally, can be stepping stones that can take you to a new level when you dare to set aside your natural inclinations to play it safe. Consider these three intentional acts that will enhance your leadership skills. These are simple steps but profound in their impact. How you respond will set the tone for the coming year.

Read more books. Simple? Perhaps. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “Five years from now, you will be the same as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” And this will be a strong benchmark of your growth as a leader. It’s been said, “Leaders are readers.” I agree.

What’s on your reading list for 2011? The success secret for Sandra Garrett was that she designed clothes that she did not like. In order to develop as a leader you will need to expand your reading list which will shape your world view. Branch out of the safety of your bubble and absorb yourself in the wisdom of a good book. You will soon be amazed at your new way of thinking and understanding.

Meet new people. I recently had the opportunity to meet Don Hutson, the CEO of U.S. Learning and a New York Times best-selling author. His books and seminars have significantly impacted tens of thousands of people around the country.{} His positive attitude, generous advice, and genuine approachability were an enriching personal experience. Every encounter we have with others is an opportunity to grow as a leader and meeting Don was an inspiring moment.

Much has been said about the power of networking which certainly has its merits. But in the true meaning of networking, strive to create unselfish moments to add value. Francesco Guicciardini said, “Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them.’ I agree. Each new person you meet is someone who can make you a better leader.

Ask more questions. One of the most significant things you can do as a leader is not to always have the right answers but ask the right questions. As you ask the right questions you then can draw the right conclusions.

Regardless of how much you think you know you will only expand your knowledge and horizons when you are curious enough to ask the right questions. Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning.” What questions are you asking? Who do you seek out for advice and counsel? A cup of coffee and thirty minutes with a mentor can do more good for your company than one of those boring hour-long meetings you might be thinking about conducting.

Becoming a creative leader is on purpose and by design. It starts with a good book, by meeting new people, and asking more questions. Your rise to the top begins when you welcome new challenges with an open mind.

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

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