When Are You at Your Best as a Leader?

Reflective self-awareness is the entry point to creative leadership. Being comfortable with not knowing the answers, learning from failure, and collaborating with others different from yourself are essential to creativity, and they all involve a healthy dose of self-awareness.

Self-awareness starts with letting go of ego, and taking the time to reflect on your role and how you interact with your team. You also need to take stock of your own performance, and recognize where you’re authentically your best self. Think about it: What’s the intersection between your skills, the needs of the business, and your passion? Actively seek feedback from those around you, and consider praise or criticism in an impartial way.

Recognize what you don’t know, and make sure that you—and your team—have room to explore. Your team will be at their best when they have permission to be curious, try less obvious solutions, and make a few mistakes. To grant them permission, you as a leader need to understand your own assumptions, have empathy for those around you, and make sure your own contributions aren’t the last word on a project.

Here are two actionable ways to put yourself in a reflective mode, and to help you discover the role you were meant to play, in your career and as a leader.

What Motivates You?

Questions for Reflection

How do you get back in touch with what truly brings you joy, and discover what your path is?

Ikigai: A Japanese concept meaning "a reason for being"

To figure out what matters to you, consider the Japanese concept of ikigai—your reason for being. It’s often explained with a Venn diagram like the one above, where what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs overlap in a single center. To help discover your own ikigai, clear some time on your calendar and grab a pen. Think about what truly motivates you outside of your job title and your industry. What do you genuinely love? What brings you happiness? Spend some time figuring out the answers to the questions below, and write them down.

  1. What do I value?
  2. What are things I do no matter what because I just can’t help doing them? 
  3. What am I really great at—better than anyone else? What do others seek out my help for? Once you’ve answered this for yourself, source opinions from those around you. 
  4. What don’t I want to do? What do I only do because I have to? 
  5. How do I separate my identity from my work?

Are You Leading Alongside Your Team?

Questions for Your Team

Enabling creativity is all about breaking down hierarchies and bringing your team’s curiosity and ideas together. One of the biggest mistakes companies make when getting started with experimentation and design thinking is to let a team come up with new solutions, only to have senior leaders walk into a presentation and tear them apart. It crushes the creative vibe, and the vulnerability behind it. As a leader, it’s imperative that you set the tone by having empathy for the room and displaying your own curious mindset. Tom Kelley, IDEO Partner and Co-Author of Creative Confidence, talks about setting the conditions for creativity by creating an environment of experimentation, welcoming ideas in their early stages before people are too attached to them, and making it easy for everyone in your organization to have their ideas be seen and heard. One way to get started is to ask your team questions, and really listen to the answers. Try asking individual team members the following questions:

  1. How are you feeling on a scale of 1-10? 
  2. Are we helping the people we want to help?
  3. How could I be working better with the team?
  4. What tools could I give you to help you solve problems without me?

With these answers, and your own self reflection, you’ll have a better sense of the role you should be serving, and how you can help others embrace their own creativity and skills.

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