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How Leaders Can Boost Their Team’s Creativity

Simple gratitude practices fuel the shift from bystander to creative problem solver.

Have you ever been assigned a project that you believed was absolutely not supposed to be yours? I have. When I was working for a bank, my leader delegated a project to me that was very technical in nature, and at the time, I was in a marketing role. I was upset with my leader that he gave this project to me because I frankly thought, “I’m a marketing person and why am I being asked to do all of this technical stuff? This is not my job!”

So, I did what normal people do. I used hope as my strategy that leadership would have this spiritual awakening and they would realize that they were wrong in delegating this project to me. Like magic, I hoped it would be rightfully gifted to its technology project owner. I’m pretty sure I prayed nightly that maybe if I just ignored it long enough that nobody would notice that the work wasn’t getting done.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened. I got called into my boss’s office and he wanted to know what the status was and when I was going to deliver this technical troubleshooting manual that I was supposed to be writing. Well, I had no plan nor a delivery date because I was spending my time as a helpless bystander, wishing that this thing would go away. But if I wanted to save my career, something had to change.

I had a simple mindset shift that I learned from working on my family’s farm that helped me find a little bit of creativity, fun, and inspiration to get this project done. I met my family on our farm near McCook, Nebraska because we had an especially long list of chores to complete. We had paint a wash house and drive around the perimeter of the thousand acre ranch and put up no hunting signs. Oh, but my favorite chore (insert sarcasm) – we had a sweep rat poop out of our barn. I was complaining, but my mom said to me, “Sometimes you just have to make this the funnest thing you never wanted to do.

Brooding about my undesirable work project, I had to make a shift if I didn’t want this to impact my career. This advice popped back into my head. I thought, “How could I make this technical project the funnest thing I never wanted to do?”

First, I considered how could I make it a learning game. One way I did this was to break this system (don’t worry, it was a testing platform!) every day so that I could learn how it worked so I could better write technical help manual. Once I chose to go all in, it turned out to be a fun project working with interesting people. I had to start thinking about how I could bring other experts into the project. At the end of it all, a successful project was delivered, and I learned a brand new skill set. Looking back, had I never been assigned that project, I never would have had the understanding that I needed to go be prepared for my next career step, which was working for a software company.

So many days, I had no idea what the heck I was doing (and that is okay) but I kept moving forward because I was grateful for my career, the skills I was learning and the connections with people who could help me.

Happiness researchers agree there is a way to shift your teams, and to shift yourself, from the mentality of just being a helpless bystander into a creative problem solver. It’s gratitude. Gratitude practices help bring us to the present moment so we can shift out of this whole stuck victim mindset and into creative problem solving.

Two Ways Leaders Can Boost Creativity

Ask Questions. We can’t tell people into creativity. We often have to ask them questions to get them a little more contemplative so they can tap into their own inner source of creativity. Team members sometimes came to me with these familiar lines (admit I’ve thought them myself):

  • There’s just nothing else we can do. We’ve tried everything. Why am I the one who’s always signing up? We tried that ten years ago.
  • As a leader, it’s our job to encourage them to make to shift to focusing on finding the light in the dark places and thinking about how this could be serving their own greater good.

Questions that get people present and ready to think creatively could include:

  • What’s working about this project? How could saying yes to this project actually be teaching you some skills to prepare you for your next career step? What else have you tried? Who could you go to that’s been successful in this type of endeavor before that could give you a few ideas to get you unstuck.? Are you trying to do this by yourself? Who else could help you?
  • What’s another time in your life that you’ve done a project like this that you didn’t have any of the answers but you found a way to figure it out and you be successful? How could you transfer those practices to this situation today?

Daily Group Practices. Another approach to shift out of feeling stuck and into creative problem solving is to daily gratitude practices in your team. Gratitude practices don’t just have to be lists of things we’re thankful for, they can be any activity that brings us back to the moment and encourages us to interact with a situation in a fun a helpful way. When I made it a game to “break” the system so I could learn it, I was focusing on making a great work product.

An organization that I work with does daily 15 minute “stand up” meetings. Priming your team to get present for creativity is to begin these meetings with a simple question, “What’s working well today?” Even if a client is upset or some things aren’t going right about the system, challenge them to find something working for the benefit of someone that day. Bring your team back to their “why” and what they did yesterday to make someone or something better.

If all else fails, help your team reframe their current challenge by taking perspective. Have you ever had a time in your life where you thought you were facing a career catastrophe because nothing was going your way? Do you look back now and often tell that it was actually one of the best things that ever happened to you because of what you learned from it? Ask your team to do the same. How could their challenges and setbacks actually be setting them up for a bright future?

Using these simple strategies gets your team present and focused on what’s working so they can continue to build solutions upon what’s working – instead of focusing on what isn’t – by tapping their inner creative problem solver. If you’re looking for a simple, daily gratitude journal for your own personal development, try the Five-Minute Journal. Most Fridays, I share a reflective journal prompt on Facebook and Instagram. Follow me there to find more tools to access your inner creative leader!

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