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 people and 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.
There are a number of other practical strategies for “tapping into and expressing your creative side” in Chapter 5 of my book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women.
What tools and strategies have helped you get in touch with your creative side? Do you agree that creativity is an important leadership quality for these constantly changing and uncertain times? I welcome your comments and experiences below.
Many of the critical issues we are facing in the world today are due to holding on to old paradigms and belief systems that no longer serve us. These include: valuing logic over intuition, leading from our heads and egos rather than from our hearts, rewarding individuals over teams and undervaluing collaboration and teamwork, believing that we are different from others based on religion, race, country of origin …, and acting and believing that our planet’s natural resources are infinite.
I believe that “authentic” feminine leadership holds the key to addressing these critical challenges and to creating a world that works for everyone.
What do I mean by a world that works for everyone? In a nutshell I mean a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
Why feminine leadership and Why Now? Why the time is right for women’s leadership and active participation in creating a world that works for everyone:
- Lessons from history; when women are involved in decision-making and politics, outcomes are more inclusive and positive
- Lessons from COVID-19 and women political leaders’ rapid and effective responses using their feminine energy and feminine values; (e.g. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, British Columbia’s provincial Medical Officer of Health)
- Recent demonstrations against the police and anti-black racism around the world and the acknowledgement of systemic racism in our societies and institutions by leaders worldwide.
The world is ripe for change. We are at a point to examine lessons from the past, let go of old beliefs and structures that are no longer working, explore new paradigms and focus on creating a better world: a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
The difference between masculine and feminine energy – Female Energy (Yin) is associated with BEING and GIVING whereas Male Energy (Yang) is associated with DOING and RECEIVING.
Our organizations and societies have been focused on DOING and RECEIVING and it is time to create a balance between Female and Male Energy. When people feel pressure to continually drive and strive (be in their masculine energy), it creates chronic stress and negatively impacts their bodies, their minds, their relationships, their productivity and their bottom lines.
It is time for more women to step into leadership positions and for feminine leadership qualities to replace the dominantly masculine ones that our systems and organizations have been built upon.
What are Authentic Feminine Leadership Qualities and Why are they Important to Creating a world that works for everyone?
An authentic feminine leader is:
- Compassionate – “feeling and showing sympathy and concern for others” (Oxford dictionary). “Compassionate people often have other positive traits like generosity, kindness, and understanding. People who are compassionate feel the need to impact the world around them in positive ways.”
In order to create a world that works for everyone this quality is essential. To better understand and deal with critical issues such as systemic racism and gender-based violence, we need to learn and model compassion. To be compassionate has been perceived as weak and not what leaders typically do; however, as Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, so thoughtfully commented recently:
“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
- Intuitive – uses their body as well as their mind to make decisions e.g. heart and gut.
When I reflect on my life, all the decisions I have made by “going inside” and listening for the answers, have always been the right decisions for me; whereas those made solely from making the ‘pros and cons’ list and only using left-brain logic have not always been the ‘right’ ones. Did you know that our heart and our gut have nerve endings that send signals to our brains, and that our hearts and intestines contain neural tissue? The HeartMath Institute has done research to show the powerful influence our hearts and guts have on decision-making and strategic thinking. I encourage you to think about how you typically make decisions and the impacts of those decisions.
To remind us of the importance and power of intuition I offer this insightful quotation from a brilliant man:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)
- Creative – As a leader is important to create a shared vision to lead and inspire others. I’ve experienced first-hand the power of creating a shared vision among various levels of an organization while doing strategic planning and also when designing and implementing international projects that involve different disciplines, cultures and religions. A well-designed and facilitated process has the power to create understanding and ownership and to change attitudes and beliefs. To encourage creativity and innovation it is also important to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learns from its mistakes (e.g. annual Failure Report from Engineers without Borders).
In the words of Ashley Good in Engineer’s without Borders 2017 Annual Failure Report:
“We hope this report serves as an acknowledgement that systems change is complex and therefore some degree of failure is inevitable. … we need to create room for ourselves to try new things and experiment in pursuit of figuring out what might work to shift the system towards our vision. Therefore, the best thing we can do is be willing to take the risk of trying something new, and at the same time, get really good at detecting where our efforts are failing early, analyzing effectively, and applying our learning to continuously improve 
- Collaborative – believes in and models collaboration. This is important when dealing with complex situations and issues. Barbara Gray, an organizational theorist and veteran mediator, has written extensively on the importance of involving multiple disciplines and sectors to solve complex problems.
- Inclusive – recognizes the importance of different races, religions and ethnic groups being represented “at the table” so their voices are heard, understood and included in the process and outcome.
- Emotionally Intelligent (EI) – capable of recognizing their own emotions and those of others, discerning between different feelings and labelling them appropriately, using emotional information to guide their thinking and behavior, and managing and/or adjusting their emotions to adapt to environments or achieve their goals … Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater job performance, mental health and leadership skills.  Leaders who are not emotionally intelligent often surround themselves with people similar in thoughts, beliefs and actions to themselves, do not see their blind spots and also are challenged with differing points of view and in being creative.
- Authentic – “walks their talk”; clear on their own values and beliefs and lives and leads aligned with these. As a leader it is important to consistently “walk your talk” so people feel safe, trust you and are aware of what is expected of them
What can you do to help create a world that works for everyone?
- Get clear on and live life in alignment with your core values. (For more info on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/)
- Practice Regular Self-care. Do yoga, go for regular walks in nature, have a bubble bath.
- Listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom.
Some tools to help you connect with your body’s wisdom are Mindfulness practices. Such practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They help us to live “in the present moment”.
Think about someone you’ve hired in the past, who on paper looked great, but you had an uneasy feeling about during the interview process. You let your left-brain logic rule your decision-making, and within a few months had evidence that this person was NOT a good fit for your organization. For tools to assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2
- Tap into and express your creative side (right brain) on a regular basis.
Is there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it and lose track of time? It could be film editing, painting, writing, gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
- Choose an area of focus that you’re passionate about; e.g. climate change, women’s health, gender equality … and get involved with a group that is advocating in that area of focus; a group that you feel aligned with.
Here’s to You and to working together to create a world that works for us all!
Do you agree or disagree with the statement: Feminine Leadership holds the key to creating a world that works for everyone? I welcome your comments below.
 Note that men can also have and learn these qualities
 Gray, B. 1989 Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
 For more info on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/