Here’s the “Secret” Ingredient of Creative Leaders

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Synopsis

There is a secret ingredient that spices up your teams creativity. It's so simple, you probably won't believe it. (but it's true)

My wife had just celebrated a milestone in her music educational career and we decided it was time to celebrate. As we began our routine “I-dunno-what-do-you-want” discussion, my wife made a surprising suggestion. She wanted to give an old downtown restaurant a try that we hadn’t been to in years. I was a bit surprised. Many years ago, they had started strong, but as their popularity increased the quality of their food mysteriously decreased. Why did she want to go here all of a sudden, what changed?

A few weeks prior one of her college friends was in town and wanted to try this very place we had long crossed of our list. It makes sense: the ambiance is great, the location desirable, and the menu looks great, so they went. The report back was positive. Perhaps this restaurant had found themselves again? “Ok” I said to my sweetheart, “let’s give it a shot.”

Arriving, the hostess led us to our table through a thicket of quaint square tables draped with white table cloths and old retro posters, sitting us at a cozy table near the kitchen. We ordered drinks, and going over the menu, we both decided to try the very dish that won her heart back. 

It felt good to be giving this place another shot, we were having a great time. Our server arrived with our plates, and with a highly anticipated first bite our excitement faded faster than sidewalk chalk art on a rainy day. Our plates were bland, lifeless and boring. It seemed as though all the ingredients were there, but something just wasn’t right. What had been a delicious masterpiece had transformed into a cheap knock-off. How can the same dish, less than a week apart be so different? 

It may sound cheesy, but the big difference is love. I’m not talking about a 1970s flowery song, but the love of your craft. The chef that had made my wife’s dish was obviously in love with his craft, but the next guy was likely working there just to get the bills paid. You may not think that makes a difference, but ask any chef and they will tell you two people can make the exact same dish, using the exact same ingredients, in the exact same manner and produce two very different plates. How’s that?

Consider following a recipe of one of your favorite TV chefs like Bobby Flay. Chances are you can follow Bobby’s recipe down to the most basic detail, but no matter how hard you try, it’s not likely to taste like his version (or maybe just plain awful) at least not on the first or tenth try. Why? Because you don’t truly love the recipe. You have a more utilitarian relationship with it, specifically, the one with your stomach. Also, there are so many subtleties that Flay is looking for and tweaking that simply cannot be written. Maybe he reduces the heat at just the right moment, maybe he ads the ingredient a specific way. Perhaps the humidity or temperature in his kitchen makes him subconsciously make changes. We may never know.

The same principals apply to us as leaders in our organization or company. Our creativity is severely limited when we simply follow the recipe. We can’t read books, model our companies after the super star CEOs and assume everything will be ok. Yes, the things they write about are accurate, but it’s a cart before the horse problem or as Gary Erickson of Clif Bar calls it "bottom line thinking". 

"Businesses often talk about taking care of their people. In reality, they see this as a means to an end: The better you treat people, the harder they will work. In my opinion, that's just bottom-line thinking" says Gary in his book Raising The Bar.

Love must come first. We can’t try all the new management tricks, and implement new techniques we read about and hope for a miracle. It's bottom line thinking, and guess what, it never ends up working. Something just won’t taste right, and your team will notice. 

There is no shortcut to cultivate a creative team. You must first love your team. If this sounds hocus-pocus to you, understand you're part of the problem and change your perspective. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Listen to their every word. Empathize with their situations, backgrounds, cultures and lives. Trust them. Only then, seemingly without any effort on your part, will your plate be rewarding, flavorful and full.

Justin Brady likes to write, speak and work with loving leaders on how to organically cultivate creativity in their organization. Find him on Twitter @justinbrady. This piece and others like it can be found on his blog.

Tags: creativity tips, justin brady, leadership, love

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