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Turning to the arts; 3 lessons today’s leaders can learn from the creative writing process

Giving away "power", finding your authentic voice, and experimenting

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Today’s multifarious new world is powered by the most diverse workforce in history; generations, life-stages, cultures and cognitive approaches are being juxtaposed at a grand scale. 

This presents an awesomely inspiring time to live, learn and lead.

But with these changes comes demand for a new breed of leaders. The leaders that will own the future are ones that have the ability to go far beyond leading from a place of expertise and familiarity and can additionally lead from a place of inspiration and enablement – even in areas where they have zero expertise on which to lean.

So how does one lead from a place of inspiration and enablement versus only a place of expertise and familiarity?

There certainly is no silver bullet, but turning to the arts – specifically creative writing in this case – can offer some helpful perspective and reminders. After all, there are few better examples we have – through the human adventure – of bravely creating new realities from scratch and infusing inspiration without pushing expertise, than the arts.

1 – GIVING AWAY THE “POWER”

Today’s leaders must move away from “I” and towards “we” and empower their diverse workforce to self-organize (owning both their products and their careers while navigating via guideposts versus guard rails). Without doing so, the opportunities brought along by diversity can be lost based on a leader’s biases, blind spots and unintentionally myopic viewpoints.

Creative writing holds some profound lessons in empowerment.

The idea of being able to create, from scratch, a glimpse into a world of your choosing and control every last detail that goes into it, every last thought of each character, is one that reeks of raw power. But upon diving – or belly-flopping – into the process, I’ve realized that is not what makes for good creative writing.

In any good novel the author is not the one who holds the true power at the end; for he or she has slowly given away that power, through each chapter, until at the end all that is left is the story and its reader.

Leadership can be quite the same.

The best sign of good leadership is the success of the team or project after the leader has moved on or left the room. The power of a leader lies not in how much he or she controls at any given time but how he or she empowers their workforce in order to get the most from it.

Leaders must not fall into the trap creative writers often do when they insert their ego into the story, or opportunities will be lost forever.

2 – FINDING YOUR AUTHENTIC VOICE

I learned very early in my experimentations in creative writing that finding your writing voice can be extremely difficult. Many authors write several books before really homing in on their authentic voice. Leading through expertise is possible without finding an authentic voice – you can follow other leaders, or just tell people what to do. Future leaders will not thrive this way. 

To lead through inspiration and enablement, today’s leaders must stop trying to be like other leaders – just as authors must do. In doing this they must consider their voice as the sum of what they say and what they don’t say.

One mistake I notice many make is writing like they talk. When they put pen to pad they write down all the words they are thinking or would say to describe what they are trying to communicate as though they are describing a scene to someone standing next to them.

To get past this, writers must understand that their authentic writing voice is not limited to what it is they explicitly “say”; it is the sum of what they say and don’t say.

This concept applies directly to managing today’s workforce and is now pivotally important with the breadth of tools currently available for leaders to deliver and hone their voice (e-mail, slack, twitter, meetings, phone calls, voicemail, text messages, blog posts, etc.).

Leaders must find their “leadership voice”, which is different from their “talking voice” or their “managerial voice” and takes into account not just what they say, but the areas of absence. They must then own this through the context of all their communications.

3 – EXPERIMENTATION AND PRACTICE

All creative writers are born through experimentation and practice. In leading a diverse workforce through inspiration and enablement, experimentation must also be held paramount. 

According to Natalie Goldberg in her book “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing your Inner Writer” one of the key pillars of being a good writer is that you just get out there and write. Just write stuff.

In order to be a great leader, you need to get out there and start leading. 

No, this doesn’t mean all of sudden telling people what to do. This means experimenting with new leadership methods. This means getting creative and really being unafraid of failure. Each leader has their own method and to find it you need to experiment. Just like writers, leaders mustn’t fall in love with ideas, methods, or philosophies to the point that they don’t abandon what isn’t working. They must build a mindset of experimentation.

Thank you for reading. Now, get out there and lead (or write)!

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