How to lead creatively and inspire your people

If you're a manager who wants to lead creativity effectively, there is hope and support available. You could be remembered as fondly as Herb Brooks is remembered by the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He's the guy who helped them achieve a miracle.

I watched a documentary recently about the American hockey team of the 1980 Olympics, who, in a gigantic upset, defeated the best hockey team in the world, the Soviet Union. You can probably remember where you were when that game ended, that is, unless you were born after 1972. This team of American collegiate and amateur players was led by Coach Herb Brooks. His pre-game miracle speech has been re-enacted by Kurt Russell and, later, by a cute, little five-year-old boy, Josh Sacco, a YouTube sensation.

When the American team won and those famous words were spoken by Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles?” the team started their post-game on-ice victory celebration. Coach Brooks was nowhere to be found. He left and gave his team every bit of the limelight. Thirty years after the game, the team members’ eyes well up when talking about Herb Brooks and they say things like, He had a vision. We trusted what he was doing with us. He taught us about motivation.

Now I don’t usually like sports metaphors. Haven’t we all had enough of them? But this story makes you want to work for someone like Herb Brooks, doesn’t it? While I was delivering a workshop on Environments that Nurture Creativity at Hallmark Cards, Inc., I conducted a survey in which creative people described the kind of managers they would turn cartwheels for.

Authentic: They are sincere, unafraid to be themselves and admit when they don’t have all the answers. This type of manager says, People come to me when they want a straight answer.

Visionary: They communicate a vision, they inspire with stories, they give clear parameters, and allow their staff to determine how the work is done.

Humorous and playful: They aren’t necessarily stand up comics but they, at least, appreciate humor and welcome it in the workplace

Supportive of risk: They say, Go ahead and try it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll take the heat. They don’t throw bureaucracy in the way of smart people.

Agents for their staff: These managers are their employees’ biggest fans, they cheer them on and eagerly give their staff the credit. They are concerned for their employees’ careers and personal growth, appreciating the unique needs of each person. When their team celebrates a win, they step back and watch with pride.

You might have a particular manager in mind as you read the list and think, “Yep. Mm-hmm, That’s my boss.” If so, thank him or her profusely. Managing well is more difficult than it looks. Leigh Branham, on his blog, Keeping the People, Inc., shares this statistic. The downturn has exposed a severe skills gap among managers in managing and re-engaging the disengaged – 63 percent are now rated as “ineffective” according to the Corporate Leadership Council.

If you’re a manager who wants to lead creativity effectively, there is hope and support available. You could be remembered as fondly as Herb Brooks is remembered by the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He’s the guy who helped them achieve a miracle.

Carol Kobza has spent more than two decades fostering creative growth in organizations as diverse as Hallmark Cards, Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts. At Hallmark she served as art director, innovation team leader, innovation process manager and idea manager, leading teams of executives and staff to develop new products, new brands and growth strategies. She inspires people to be more creative through laughter, learning and finding the inner reserves of creativity they need to make their work meaningful and fulfilling.

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