7 Ways to Become a More Creative (and More Effective) Leader
All effective leaders are creative leaders.
This is not my opinion. It’s a fact.
Consider what we’re actually saying when we characterize someone as creative. We’re usually saying they:
- Think differently
- Explore new ideas
- Build something out of nothing
Creativity is an essential business skill, and the great news is that everyone is creative. But you do have to actively unlock your creative mind in order to reap its benefits.
Creativity is a Muscle
Did you know that about 85% of the thoughts you think today will be the exact same thoughts you had yesterday? It sounds impossible until you reflect on what goes through your mind each day.
You wake up and think about how tired you are. Then you think about the things you don’t want to deal with today. You have the same discussion with your spouse about dinner, the same argument with your kids about homework, the same small talk with your receptionist.
Our minds love to be on autopilot. They like to relax into their habits, because repetition is safe and easy. And the problem with this is…?
Because your mind is taking the easy route, it’s not getting any stronger or more flexible. So when a problem or opportunity arises, the best it can do is turn to the same old thing. And as we know, you don’t get anywhere by repeating patterns that haven’t worked.
You grow as a leader and as a business by exploring the unexplored and trying the untried.
So how do you do this? How do you train your brain to think differently?
There are dozens of methods. These are my seven favorite, because they fit easily into the life you’re already living. No big routine changes needed.
1. Learn What You Want to Learn
It’s already a good idea for you to be in a constant state of learning as a business owner.
Whether it’s sales strategies, new technology, or personal development, your success depends on your willingness to keep growing. And you can do this without taking a ton of time and energy away from your business. (Here’s how, if you were wondering.)
Plus, the more you learn about any topic, the more energetic and agile your brain becomes.
2. Ask Questions
The beauty of having a team—or a family or a social circle—is that you’re surrounded by people whose strengths and interests are very different from your own. This gives you endless opportunities to exercise curiosity.
Ask your Gen-Z hire to explain the new social platform they keep mentioning in the break room. Ask your neighbor what they miss about their hometown. Or, you know, ask your customer what else you could have done to make your services even better.
Make it a habit to wonder “What would it be like if…?”
3. Discover New Perspectives… Literally
New sights, smells, and sounds wake up the brain. Get out of town for a weekend and try to go somewhere you’ve never been.
If you can’t take a weekend off yet, try a new local hike or grab dinner at a restaurant in an unfamiliar part of town.
You can even give yourself a dose of the unfamiliar in your daily life by taking a different route to work or mixing up your lunch routine. Whatever it takes to signal to your brain that you are not on autopilot today.
4. Try Something New. Anything New.
Seriously. Anything. Big or small.
You can take up a new hobby, listen to a type of music you don’t usually listen to, or let your kid teach you a new dance move. Be curious and playful. On that note:
5. Make Time to Be Playful
If you can manage a full-on vacation, go for it. Trust your team and take a step back so you can get out of the weeds, clear your head, and feel like a human being.
But if, say, you’re still in your first year and working long hours to make ends meet, just make sure you give yourself space to step back, breathe, and be goofy.
Watch five minutes of stand-up on YouTube. Swap knock-knock jokes with your kids. Try a fun activity that you’re pretty sure you’ll be bad at. Remember what it feels like to be loose, playful, and unattached to outcomes.
6. Choose to Hear Differing Points of View
The most effective leaders are open to learning that they’re wrong. So considering other points of view is a great way to thicken your skin.
But it’s also good exercise for your creative muscles. Whenever you entertain new ideas—even if you ultimately disagree—you practice seeing your world from another angle. And that’s exactly what you have to do in a creative problem solving situation.
So read a book you think will make your blood boil and approach it with an open mind. Listen to a podcast with a host on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Follow someone on social media who has differing points of view but a respectful way of communicating their thoughts.
7. Be Present
Practice mindfulness… which is a way of saying get out of your head and into the present moment.
Meditation can help with this, but if meditation is not your thing, keep it simple! Choose one activity every day that you are going to give your full focus to.
When you make your morning coffee, instead of mentally reviewing your tasks for the day, stay present. Hear the sound of your bean grinder. Smell the grounds. Watch the brown liquid fill your cup. Actually taste your coffee.
By practicing mindfulness, you improve your ability to stay with the situation in front of you instead of obsessing over what might happen, what did happen, or what should happen. And when you eliminate that constant spiraling and worrying, you free up a lot of space for creative thought.
That’s really what all of this is about: releasing your old thought habits and giving yourself the freedom to wonder, question, explore, and discover. From that freedom, you begin to build something out of nothing. In other words, you create.
As a business owner, that’s exactly what you’ve set out to do.
Build. Create. Give the world something it didn’t have before.
So what are you waiting for?
Further Resources on This Topic
Blog Post: How to Train Your Mind to Think Bigger
Free Video Course: Cultivating a Growth Mindset on the Job