Why is tapping into and expressing your creative side important for leaders today?
Let’s clarify what I mean by “tapping into and expressing your creative side”. As you know, we have both a left and right brain. The left brain is associated with logic, structure, language, words and rational thought; whereas the right brain is associated with creativity, emotion, “big picture” thinking and intuition. We tap into both sides of our brain for a variety of our daily tasks; however, we are usually right or left-brain dominant. Someone who is right-brain dominant is more adventurous, creative and emotional. An example of someone who is left-brain dominant is a person who is orderly, logical and analytical. When we tap into and express our creative side we are tapping into our right brain.
Since the Second World War, our organizations, educational systems and what we value have largely been structured around and based on left-brain logic and values such as “doing” more than “being” and valuing “competition” over “collaboration”.
Faced with increasingly complex issues such as climate change, systemic racism, and the rapid rate of technological change, authors such as Daniel Pink (in A Whole New Mind) and Sir Ken Robinson (in The Element) have made the case that we need to shift our emphasis away from valuing mainly left-brain traits/functions. They encourage us to change our organizations and educational systems so they encourage, stimulate and reward the right-brain functions of creativity and innovation.
Today’s leader needs to have a vision and inspire others based on that vision. Visioning a desired future involves tapping into your right brain. During these times of intense change and uncertainty it’s important to let go of old ways of thinking and acting and explore new paradigms and ways of thinking and acting. A creative leader encourages innovation and new ways of thinking and acting.
An example is rather than the senior management team in an organization sitting in a room on their own with a consultant developing a strategic plan and then communicating it down through the layers of the organization, there is much value in facilitating the creation of a shared vision where people throughout the organization are part of the process and can see themselves in and have ownership for the strategic plan.
From my own experience consulting with organizations in various parts of the world, I have experienced the power of facilitating a shared visioning process and enabling people through various levels of an organization to participate in that process. While working with the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan to develop their first strategic plan and build the capacity of a planning team I was assigned, we conducted group consultations across the Ministry. The findings from these consultations fed into a process that included a national level workshop where other key stakeholders were engaged to identify the Strategic Directions and key activities they believed were important to move them toward their shared vision.
Shared visioning is also powerful when designing a new project or program. I have used this strategy; for example, while leading a design team for a donor-funded project in Nigeria, where we facilitated a planning process in the 2 states where the project was being implemented, one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian south. Key stakeholders from each state created a shared vision, identified the key challenges and opportunities in their current situation and key areas that needed support to move from their current situation to their desired future vision. These 2 visions were shared by state representatives (selected by their peers) at a national level workshop with other national level stakeholders. The power of this process led to increased understanding among the two groups and laid the foundation for them to work more effectively together over the 5 year project.
In order for shared visioning and the exploration of new ideas and solutions to occur, you need to believe in your peopleand create a safe environment/culture where new ideas are encouraged, and mistakes are accepted and viewed as learning opportunities. Engineers without Borders is an excellent example of an organization who have created such a culture. A number of years ago they instituted an Annual Failure Report. As part the process, Project Managers from their various projects around the globe were interviewed and asked to openly share their lessons learned (what worked and what didn’t) in the previous year. These lessons were then built upon and fed into the next year’s planning process. Rather than only report on the positive outcomes of the year, they were encouraged and supported to share and learn from their mistakes. This is the way to improve; to create and share with others the challenges you have faced and explore how you can learn from and prevent them in the future.
As a leader in your community, workplace, business … , you know that change begins with you, as you are a role model for others. So how can you learn to cultivate and tap into your creative side? One way is through the following exercise.
Sit down in a quiet place, free from distractions. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself and close your eyes for a couple of minutes if you feel comfortable doing so. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses to them. Write down the first thing that comes to mind without judging or editing it.
Do you consider yourself a creative person? If yes, why? If not, why not?
Are there any creative pursuits you did as a child but haven’t done for years? If so, what are they?
Are there some creative or artistic pursuits you would be interested in exploring?/trying out?
Commit to either starting to integrate a childhood “passion” into your life or choose a new one such as “learning to play the piano” that perhaps you always wanted to do as a child but never had the opportunity to pursue. Identify the next steps for taking action to integrate a new or “old” creative or artistic pursuit into your life. It’s helpful to use a two-column table with “activity” heading one column and “timeline” the other.
Support is important for many of us when starting something new and continuing with it. Enlist the support of a friend, colleague or family member to encourage and support you in your new endeavor or invite them to join you in doing it.
What tools and strategies have helped you get in touch with your creative side? Do you agree that creativity is an important leadership qualityfor these constantly changing and uncertain times? I welcome your comments and experiences below.
Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders, I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago. …
Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.
You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:
Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.
Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006
Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html
Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.
Types of Play
Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:
Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
Social Play – playing tag or playing house with others
Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.
Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter
Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.
Your Inner Child
Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.
Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.
Strategies for Connecting with Your Inner Child
Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.
Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.
I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.
During these times of intense change you may be having difficulty focusing, feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster; one day energized and feeling those creative juices flowing and the next feeling sad, low in energy and like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You are not alone.
Researching and working with clients on change and transition for the past decade or more, what I know is that this is all part of the impact change has on us. Increasing your understanding of change and how you respond to it, and having tools and strategies to support you to move through it more easily can enhance your change experience.
As my gift to you, I’m sharing the video of a recent virtual participatory workshop I facilitated through Female Wave of Change. If you would like some support to better understand and move through a personal change you are experiencing, this gift may be just “what the doctor ordered”.
Here’s what you’ll receive. You will:
Learn what happens when we resist change
Discover a practical 5-step framework you can use to embrace change and generate creative solutions
Apply that framework to a major personal change you are currently facing.
Based on evidence from neuroscience, the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts, eastern psychology, and my own journey and work with clients around the world, the “Art of Change” Framework and Process can be your lifesaver during this time.
Here you go!
I am currently offering the one-hour workshop Embracing Change: Moving from Fear and Resistance Toward Clarity and Confidence as a stand-alone virtual workshop to groups and organizations at a special rate. It can be delivered as a “Lunch and Learn” or be the first part of a 2-part process for Leadership Teams, Project Teams, Boards, Community Groups … . This workshop focuses on personal change as change starts with each of us. Understanding how you and others on your team respond to change is invaluable.
Part 2 in the process is a 2-hour virtual workshop How to Move from Fear and Resistance Toward Creative Solutions during Times of Intense Change that focuses on organizational change.
The workshop helps to:
Improve focus and productivity
Leadership teams, project teams, boards, search committees have the opportunity to focus on a key change they are facing (e.g. new leadership, new culture, a change scenario to address something that is not working in their organization), apply the 5-step Art of Change Framework to a key organizational change they are facing, and through this process generate creative solutions to address it.
Each workshop includes handouts. In Workshop 2 as part of the process, ideas and potential solutions generated during the workshop will be typed up and sent later to participants in a short report.
Our beliefs influence our
perceptions (how we see the world), and our behaviors. Dr. Bruce Lipton’s work,
a stem cell biologist and author of The
Biology of Belief,
provides strong evidence that we can change the character of our lives by
changing our beliefs. How powerful and empowering is that!
As a leader you have the power
to choose what you believe and the ability to influence others in your
organization, the groups you belong to, and in your families.
It is important to be aware of
our core beliefs and to consistently walk our talk so people feel safe, trust
us and are aware of what is expected of them. I will share some of my core
beliefs from leading and managing in a variety of organizations and cultures for
the past three decades, with the hope that you may connect with them and also
gain some clarity on the core beliefs that guide you as a leader.
We are all interconnected.
You may have heard that when a
butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, two years later it can result in a
tornado in Kansas. The butterfly effect
has demonstrated that a small change in one area can result in powerful future
outcomes in another. If you as a leader believe in an organizational culture
that focuses on people, understanding and collaboration, you have the power to
shape and change the organization based on how you treat and respond to people
and challenging situations daily. How you communicate with others has an impact
throughout the organization and beyond. We all have heard about the
disheartened employee who has gone home and kicked his dog or beaten his wife.
I invite you to “try out” this
belief and have it in the forefront of your mind when you interact and
communicate with others on a daily basis in your workplace, community, and
family. Notice how this affects your interactions, the organizational morale
We are all the same. We
all want to be respected, valued, to feel safe, secure and to belong.
When living and working in
Afghanistan eight years ago, I was sitting in the rose garden of the Ministry
of Public Health eating lunch with one of my female Afghan colleagues when
there was a powerful explosion. Within seconds of the huge blast, my Muslim
colleague was phoning each of her family members to ensure that they were all
safe. I think most of us would have done the same. We all value family and care
about those close to us. The explosion was from a number of suicide bombers
entering the military hospital across the road. The result was the senseless
deaths of a number of Afghan patients and their families, and medical students.
I have enjoyed managing and
consulting in a number of culturally diverse and uncertain environments, and
believe my effectiveness has been largely due to the belief that we are all
the same. When you view everyone through the lens of that belief, you are
able to connect with them, and work effectively whether or not you speak their
language or have the same cultural background or religion. In Afghanistan using
participatory processes, I was able to collaboratively develop/co-create the
first strategic plan with the Ministry of Public Health, and have it pass
through all the policy layers and be signed off by the Minister within 9
I invite you to experiment
tomorrow and try throughout your day to view everyone you see through the lens
and belief that “we are all the same”, whether it be a homeless person, a
colleague you have a tense relationship with, or a family member you have
difficulties relating to. Try this and notice what you notice.
Nature connects me with my soul.
Did you know that when you walk
in forests, it reduces your blood pressure, reduces your heart rate and
increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces (i.e.
strengthens your immune system)? Based on longitudinal research, the Japanese have
institutionalized forest bathing or forest therapy. In their highly
competitive culture, they encourage and support people to regularly visit
centers in forests throughout Japan to forest bathe, and they continue to
collect powerful longitudinal data on its valuable effects.
I encourage you to spend time in
nature for 30 minutes or more at least 3 times a week. When I spend time in
nature I feel relaxed, energized, happy and free. My stress is reduced (if I’m
having a particularly stressful day). If as leaders we are committed to
spending regular time in nature, do you think it would positively impact our
Life is an adventure to be lived to the
Based on this belief, I’ve led
an adventurous and full life so far [and hope to continue doing so!]. I’ve
lived and worked in the mountains of northern Colombia with peasant farmers in
the late 80s when Pablo Escobar was “running around” and the Medellin Cartel
was in full swing. I’ve lived and worked in Kabul, Afghanistan for 13 months
from October 2010 to November 2011 (a volatile and uncertain time), and managed
large multi-stakeholder projects in Pakistan and Nigeria where corruption is
rampant and violence can erupt at any time.
When I don’t have adventure in
my life I get restless and feel unfulfilled, and I either seek out adventure or
it serendipitously comes my way. Similarly, if contribution and making a
positive difference in the world is one of your core values and you work in an organization that is
“all about the money”, over time you will likely feel unhappy and unfulfilled.
This will affect your personal and your work life.
Embracing change is a creative
process that opens me up to new possibilities.
These are times of massive
change and uncertainty. We have a choice to either embrace or to resist change.
When we view change as a threat and believe it is to be feared, this has
negative impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations
and on our bottom lines. However, when we believe “embracing change is a
creative process that opens us up to new possibilities”, it has positive
impacts on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations and on
our bottom lines.
To learn more about this and proven strategies for embracing change, I invite you to download and read “The Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Embracing Personal and Organizational Change” from the homepage of https://pamela-thompson.com/).
beliefs guide and support you as a leader?
I welcome your thoughts and comments
 Lipton, B. H., The Biology of Belief – Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter
& Miracles. New York City: Hay House, Inc.
In a recent episode of “The Art of Change” radio show that
focused on “The Entrepreneurial Journey” – http://boldbravemedia.com/shows/the-art-of-change/
– my guest, serial entrepreneur and Founder of the Westshore Women’s Business
Network, Deb Alcadinho, talked about grieving in relation to shutting down a
business; and she recalled one business in particular that was challenging to let
go of. On reflection, it struck me that in business we don’t usually talk about
and perhaps we need to.
In the third step of the Art of Change Framework, “letting go” is the work associated with the ending phase of a change or transition. According to organizational theorist William Bridge’s work, when we make a change it is important to do the internal psychological work, which he defines as the “transition”, in order to readjust and reorient ourselves to our new external reality. How often do we do this in life let alone in business?
I’ve launched four businesses since the early 1990s and realize that I didn’t take time to grieve any of them. When I no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing, a new opportunity would present itself or I would think “What do I really want to do now?” and then think of who might be someone in that space to approach. Then, I would be off and running to the next project, or iteration of my business. I really didn’t take time between those changes to get in touch with my feelings or to process my emotions. So I’ve started on a journey to do that, and am openly sharing with you insights gleaned along my journey.
At this point in my life I am choosing to only do things that are fun and bring me joy. I’m noticing with my new “Art of Change” radio talk show that I’m energized, excited and having fun. I appreciate having a new focus in business and it aligns with my core values of contribution, adventure, connection and love of learning.
I’m also consciously filtering opportunities that come my
way through a new lens; that of will it
bring me joy and is it in alignment with my core values? Do I have space in my
life for this based on what else I’ve committed to?
I love the feeling of spaciousness I’m creating. I
consciously spend time in nature and notice when my body needs a “nature hit”.
I look forward to my bi-weekly Women’s Circle and include philanthropic
opportunities and a Women’s Business group in my schedule. I make time, more
and more, for friends, and continue to cherish special moments with my partner
and my family.
I feel like my priorities are shifting and with that a sense of no longer wanting to strive (which I thought I let go of years ago), but rather to thrive. To me that means awakening each day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart; feeling strong, healthy and flexible in body, mind and spirit; learning and growing through reading and courses; creating the program for my radio show; beginning to write a memoir; consciously tapping into and asking my heart and gut: What do I really want to do now? What will fill me up?
I consciously choose to let go of worrying about things I
cannot control and instead choose to focus on what I am grateful for and what I
In summary, how can we grieve in business? Here are a few helpful
Take the time to tap into and express your feelings if you are shutting down a business or changing direction. Ask yourself – How do I feel about this? Relieved? Sad? Lighter? It’s helpful to journal about how you feel. If you have friends, colleagues or a loving partner, you may find it helpful to share your thoughts and emotions with them.
Ask yourself: What is my experience with endings? Do you find them difficult? Do they cause you pain OR do you typically “Just get on with it” and not take the time to feel or process those emotions?
and acknowledge your accomplishments. This can include spending time
journaling about what they are, inviting clients and staff (and/or contractors)
to a party to celebrate the end of that business and how everyone has
contributed to it. It can be a small gathering of friends and colleagues who
respect and honor you; where they can share how much they value you, how you
supported them and you can also share your gratitude for them and how they
contributed to your business success.
on and write down the lessons learned from that business (i.e. what worked
well, what didn’t and then build on your strengths and learn from/shore up your
weaknesses moving forward).
a list of what you are choosing to let go of and consciously release those
emotions and beliefs from your body.
Remember that grieving takes time. Give yourself that time to feel, heal and to rest.
regular time in nature. Being among trees reduces your heart rate, reduces
your blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells your body
produces (i.e. strengthens your immune system).
Practice mindfulness (e.g. body scanning, mindfulness walking meditation, listen to guided meditations). These practices get you get “out of your head” and “into your body”.
I’d love to hear from
you about how you’ve grieved past businesses. Does this idea resonate with you?
I welcome your comments and suggestions below.