Do you know how to generate enthusiasm and creativity in other people? Let's start with a story.
A young woman I will call Sharon stood in front of the carefully-selected team she assembled for her new project and explained in some detail what she wanted the team to accomplish.
She knew collaboration was important, and she promised her board she would gather input from the team before they began working. She also knew her leadership would determine the project's success.
Before the meeting, Sharon prepared an agenda and set up the room for collaborative work. After introductory remarks, Sharon asked for ideas about how to proceed.
There... was... only... silence.
After a few seconds, she asked a more direct question. "What strategies should the team use?"
Someone reluctantly replied that they could use focus groups to gather information. Someone else said the team could do an online survey. No one offered additional ideas. The room seemed lifeless.
The discussion dragged on as the group offered only a few uninspired thoughts. There was no synergy and no creativity. After a few more uncomfortable minutes, Sharon moved to other topics on the agenda, set up a new meeting time, asked everyone to continue thinking about strategies, and adjourned the meeting.
Afterward, Sharon met with her mentor Diane to discuss the results. Sharon mentioned her disappointment and asked Diane, who attended the meeting, what she could have done to encourage interaction.
Diane thought for a minute and asked Sharon if she had considered her own attitude and physical presence. Diane suggested that other factors could have been at work, but she wanted Sharon to think about how intentional physical presence could make her more successful in this and other situations.
Eventually, Sharon agreed that she had been tense. She knew how important this meeting was and she let that get in the way of connecting with her team. Thinking back on her performance, she recognized that her voice was stern and her body was rigid. Her face showed the determination she felt to complete this project.
She was very focused on getting results, and she wanted to be sure everyone saw the enormity of the project. Even though she asked questions, her presence did not encourage creative or thoughtful answers.
This meeting, like many others, called for a Stance of Leadership that is difficult for many very powerful leaders to assume. It required lightness and engagement with the group. It required what I call the Stance of Flexibility, which supports creativity and interaction.
The Stance of Flexibility represents a sense of wonder and openness to possibilities. Looking up and around with anticipation, a leader shows willingness to learn from and share with others.
Eyes are wide open, seeming to look at everything at once. Hands may be raised with fingers extended. An eager smile is usually part of this physical presence.
A leader who demonstrates the Stance of Flexibility actively and excitedly looks for ideas and inspiration. Energy goes out and returns from all directions. At the same time, a Flexible presence looks inward, surveying all possibilities.
Sharon and Diane discussed different Stances of Leadership and decided that rather than showing flexibility, Sharon had embodied the Stance of Resolution. A different stance and a different attitude could have generated more enthusiasm and collaboration both for Sharon and her team.
Diane explained that the Stance of Flexibility encourages others to relax and make personal connections. It encourages creativity and abstract thought. Diane also talked about how a leader’s emotions can affect the emotions of others through a physical and mental process called Limbic Resonance.
Then they discussed the importance of Lightness, the ability to get out of the sometimes overwhelming pressures of work and take time to relax and enjoy a particular time and place in a very real way. Lightness increases interaction, creativity and relationship.
These are some practices that allow a leader to easily assume the Stance of Flexibility. First practice alone and then with other people:
- Relax your body and center.
- Take a deep breath.
- Check you attitude. Be open to possibilities.
- Smile. Allow your face to show enthusiasm.
- Look around as if sensing everything in your surroundings.
- Breathe everything in.
- Raise your hands as if realizing that ideas and opportunities may come from anywhere.
- Ask questions. Make your voice light and animated.
- Listen to ideas and thoughts of other people.
- After practicing alone, practice this stance while enthusiastically reading a story to a child or asking a friend to help plan a party.
For leaders who are used to a solemn and completely serious demeanor, this stance can be uncomfortable. Initially, it may feel contrived or inauthentic. The key is to connect with other people and to be open to new ideas and new possibilities. With practice, it becomes natural and even fun.
This article is adapted from CONNECT: Affective Leadership for Effective Results with permission.