4 Things Leaders Say That Undermine Creativity

When navigating troubled and uncertain waters you want creative people beside you that can offer different directions and possibilities to achieve the company’s goals. 

So leaders ask the Talent Management team to find creative candidates that can leverage the team’s productivity and collaborative work. But once that person starts working they don’t seem to show the initiative and bring good ideas as you expected. What must be the problem?

There can be a problem with the recruitment process, but most of the time creative people complain about the environment. They say they don’t feel comfortable giving ideas and sharing their doubts.

Leaders play a huge role in nurturing this creative environment. Even the most creative people can be afraid of sharing ideas if their leaders are very critical or if there is little space for mistakes.

You can end up undermining people’s creativity and not even realize that, just because the way you run your meetings was not crafted to encourage people to give ideas.

So here are some things you shouldn’t say to people if you want them to be creative:

#1 – “Bring me ideas to solve this problem” 

So, Carol, you are telling me that you can not ask your team to bring ideas when you need them? I know that might seem strange, but there are 3 major problems with stating the need for solutions like that:

You Expect creative people to work on their own

There are different kinds of creative people and each one might have a different creative process. When you say it like an order you create debt and also may promote a competitive environment among team members.

You are also saying that you won’t collaborate to foster ideas and solutions and therefore will only judge what the team will bring to you.

You did not set time limits

A little bit of urgency can actually be good for creative processes. So, this request might not be seen as a priority and get lost in the middle of the daily routine.

When you set time limits people understand they must focus on the challenge ahead and get people into action mode.

You failed to give context and purpose

If you just want people to bring ideas on a specific problem and do not give them context or explain the reason they are working on that you might be undermining the creative process.

People tend to give their best when they can understand the value of what they are doing. Getting the context, the expected results, and the impacts of the solution will bring extra motivation to your team. When you provide meaning for the work, people respond with commitment. Focus on the WHY they are doing things not only on the HOW they are solving problems.

#2 – “Who wants to Speak first?”

Picture this, you host a brainstorming meeting with your team and now it is time for people to share their ideas on how to solve the specific problem at hand. You ask who wants to go first, what is most likely to happen? In my experience coaching teams, I never saw an introverted person take the lead.

When you do this, you are actually giving extraverted team members a chance of a spot in the light and taking all the space. It often happens that two or three people dominate the meeting and start debating a bunch of ideas, while others watch and just agree or disagree. Some people might act as group speakers, but often they only speak their minds or even steal other peoples’ ideas.

Give everyone an equal opportunity to speak

Use a robin-style conversation to give each member a chance to state their ideas. 

Ensure everyone has the same time to contribute and just give one idea at a time.

Give the same weight to everyone’s comments. Just say thank you after each idea is given and comment on all of them once the ideas are over.

#3 – “I don’t see that working, because…”

Leaders have more experience and often have information from the executive level, stakeholders, and clients that the team does not have, but that does not mean they can foresee the future.

This negativity, when presented regularly, destroys people’s willingness to contribute further. The leader that is constantly presenting the reasons why things won’t work, is not contributing to the solutions and usually didn’t take the time to properly analyze the idea and let it sink in before making a judgment.

You should be the one people feel anxious about sharing their ideas, not the one to avoid to keep oneself motivated.

Make questions that will lead people ahead

Instead of pinpointing problems in the ideas, you can encourage people to look into some blind spots and develop their ideas into a solution that you think will work.

If you found problems with the budget, for example, you may encourage the team to look into the sources of financing the project and analyze the cost-benefit relation of taking this route compared to the existing way of doing things.

Also, another strategy you can use if you feel the ideas are too far away from reality is defining premises and asking people to bring their project ideas regarding matters like budget, impact on clients services, increase of workload, impact on quality, and speed.

#4 – “If it wasn’t for John we would be doomed”

Praising too much someone that gave an idea when it came out of a brainstorming or other co-creative meeting, might be another way to undermine creativity. You might be seen as playing favorites. 

When you say this way, it may seem like the process the team went through together did not matter. I have witnessed many co-creative, collaborative meetings where an idea was given as the result of the conversations and debates that took place during the meeting.

No one gave the idea at the first round of individual contributions, but after questions and considerations were made a better idea rouse as the result of teamwork.

Believe In Collective Learning

If you believe in raising collective intelligence, then the merit should go for the team and not the one who came up with the final solution.

Make sure you value the process and the contributions everyone gave. You can also group people to develop the idea and reinforce the sense of cohesion in the group, stating how you see each one can collaborate.

Get involved in the creation process

If you, as a leader, get involved in the creative process you will be able to observe and manage teams into better innovation processes. 

For that to be possible, you must put aside any sign of superiority and understand that your role is to nurture a psychologically safe environment for mistakes and make sure everyone is heard.

Team members often complain that the leaders have the information they don’t have. When you get involved in the creation process you can answer their questions and speed up the solution significantly.

By adopting a host mindset instead of judging ideas people bring, you will become a facilitator and actually foster a productive, healthy, and creative environment.

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