Want your Organization to Thrive? Create a Supportive Environment for Creativity

Employees have tremendous creative capacity. If properly harnessed with a supportive culture, it can help companies to thrive in today's turbulent business world.

Interview #29 in The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Leilani Raashida Henry, M.A., a leader in the field of workplace creativity and work-life balance. A pioneer on bringing innovative whole brain strategies to personal, professional and organization transformation, Leilani is President of Being and Living Enterprises and is the creator of Brain Jewels, a multi-sensory coaching process.

She worked for 13 years as an internal productivity/creativity consultant with Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Jones Intercable. Leilani’s lifetime experience in the performing and visual arts is integrated into her unique approach to leadership, creativity and performance. She is cited in books, national publications and organizations such as Centered on the Edge, Corporate Meetings & Incentives, Fast Company, Fetzer Institute, New Visions in Business and Thrivability. Her clients have included AT&T, Intuit, Time Warner, HBO, University of Colorado Boulder, HP, EPA, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation and HSBC Bank among others.

Q: How does your work relate to creativity?

Henry: Individual and collective transformation requires engagement of the whole person at work. It brings the group as the “new art form” into being. We can do more as an inspired collective than we can do alone. Rather than leaving our true thoughts and feelings unexpressed in service of getting the job done, my work makes the invisible more visible. I enable what’s not seen, heard, or allowed to surface safely, as a catalyst for better relationships and organizational change. My work also encourages groups to think better collectively by challenging assumptions and uncovering possibilities. Creativity is the opposite of certainty – it allows us to co-create with others what is emerging, for the benefit of ourselves and the larger whole. I also focus on stress management to increase the flow of creativity.

Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?

Henry: When you unleash the whole person (body, mind and spirit), you unleash creativity in the workplace. Employees become partners and investors in the organization, and are valued for the multiple intelligences they can provide. This new way of working also includes patience with chaos, which is critical because the new paradigm in more non-linear than linear. A respect for the differences in pace and style of working is needed, as well as honoring differences, in general.

The new way of working requires the ability and willingness to hear and connect with all stakeholders, in order to increase the bottom line and contribution to society. Work-life balance keeps everything in check, so people can bring their best selves to their projects and take time for regeneration and what they value. It now takes our whole brains to deal with the complexity of the marketplace and the chaos in our lives. The organization is freer to produce extraordinary results when everyone is pulling together, understands their part in the whole and believes that their contribution is essential for the organization to thrive. Increased connection between all parts of the organization encourages the organization to become greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Q: What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Henry: Creativity allows us to do things more elegantly, more coherently and have fun in the process because we engage our whole selves. Behind creativity is “espirit de corp” – the morale, the exuberance needed to fully be present at work. It is the underpinning of being able to do more with less. If we wish to keep up with accelerated growth of our companies, or with market turbulence, creativity can help us have a more “possibilities” outlook on that which we have no control. Business can grow more organically. Tapping into the creativity of employees increases positive customer service (both internal and external customers). Each person can see more easily who they are, how they fit and what difference they make. It becomes easier to play a greater role in serving a greater good, partner with the community, and be more profitable.

Q: What practices and mindsets do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Henry: When organizations require unlimited hours and energy to be an employee, work-life balance is not maintained, effective communication is eroded and participation in the larger whole, can decrease. We put our heads down, do our work and don’t come up for air until we complete OUR piece of the pie.  It becomes more essential to get one’s part completed than it is to connect with others around intention of what we are doing, what works best when trying to get things done under pressure and sharing what you/we are learning.

Self care is essential. Rather than ignore or put off until later, pay attention to the signals your body gives you regarding stress and rest. Keep in touch with what is emerging, so you are not blind-sighted by external change. Imagine “What if?” and look at alternatives, upside-down scenarios to keep things fresh and alive. A business can also pay attention to and openly acknowledge signs of stress and lack of productivity. This could prevent mistakes, accidents, waste and a climate of discouragement or unnecessary conflict.

Q: What is one approach people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?

Henry: Something I call Pay Attention to Signals. Here’s how it works: Divide into 4 teams, or if alone, divide your paper into 4 squares.

1. Ask: What signals (unexpected events) have we seen in the outside world in the last month? Examples: hurricanes, stock market crash, consensus in the European Union.

2. What signals have we seen in our customers, clients, patrons? Examples: More people unsubscribing to our lists, customers downgrading, customers sharing information about how well they like our company.

3. What signals have we seen from internal relationships between department and business units?  Examples: less information sharing, stealing each others employees, collectively problem solving has gone up.

4. What signals have you seen within yourselves? Examples: more feelings of frustrations, 80 hours a week feels normal, I keep stubbing my same toe on the desk, I meditated every day this week.

Let your mind wander as you see what messages come up, as you reflect on these signals. What might be behind the signals? Brainstorm potential meanings for the signals. Find at least one positive outcome from the signals, as well as, one action to start, stop or continue doing. Ask: What might be the meaning of these events, signs or signals for me/us?

Q: Finally, what is creative leadership to you?

Henry:  Authenticity, boldness, transparency, engagement, appreciation of the uniqueness each person and each part of the system brings. When a leader tunes his or her instrument first and ensures that each instrument in the orchestra is tuned, harmony is created and people are drawn to see and hear what the organization has to offer. The least amount of effort for the most reward and gain is present.

Leilani will be leading an experiential breakout session at the upcoming Creativity in Business Conference in Washington, DC on October 23, 2011. The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series is from business creativity catalyst, Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence.

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