This isn’t the first time in history when humans have been forced into isolation because of an outbreak. In 1665/6, when the Bubonic plague spread throughout England, many people were quarantined. Sir Isaac Newton used his time wisely, studying physics and mathematics. During that time, when he had additional time and space to think, he developed theories on calculus, optics, and the laws of motion and gravity.

After this current period, what will we look back and say we achieved with our extra time? Will we let this opportunity slide by, or will we use this time to achieve some great things, both big and small?

When we emerge from this challenging environment, business will be different. You’re not going to be successful if your business practices remain the same. Dramatic change is needed and now it’s being forced. This is a unique opportunity to create the environment for you and your team to look at where the business may have been operating in a stagnant or complacent way and determine what is going to be needed in the post-Covid-19 reality.

You’re certainly being pushed to be more creative in how you think about the new future for your business, so how can you leverage this innovation to get your team to think differently about the business and about the future opportunities that you might not yet have imagined?

How to Seize the Opportunity Now to Lead Your Team to Innovate and Be Creative

To do so, it’s important to create the conditions for your team to be a high performing team. We define a high performing team as one that sets free the genius of its members to create the extraordinary together. 

How can you create the optimal environment to bring forth the innovation and creativity that may be lying dormant within your team? Well, our research shows that there are some specific leadership qualities that are particularly important for creating the right environment for innovation. Here are three of those qualities that leaders tend to struggle with the most.

1.   Helping Others to Appreciate the Positive Value of Conflict

At Bates we say that constructive conflict is the engine of creativity. And yet, this item is on average dead last out of 90 items on our ExPITM. Why? Leaders must truly model constructive conflict for others to perceive they actually do appreciate the positive value of conflict. Specifically, they must:  understand conflict, use it as a force for good, and help others appreciate the positive value of conflict.

Here’s how you can make conflict a safe and normal part of your team’s experience.

  • Explicitly communicate that you value constructive conflict to ensure the best ideas are generated
  • Invite idea sharing into all meetings
  • Encourage your team members to speak up by going around the room to hear from those who haven’t spoken yet and by holding yourself back to speak last
  • Listen to all ideas, being curious to hear what might be valuable in the idea/perspective
  • Hold your team to the standard of disagreeing with the idea, not the person
  • Schedule pre-mortems (not just post-mortems). Once your team has decided upon a course of action or an idea, discuss everything that could go wrong with the idea. Encourage everyone to participate and truly be interested in tearing apart the idea. This will ensure you have thought through it completely and have mitigated the risk associated with it.

2.   Demonstrating a Deliberative Style of Thinking

This behavior is about modeling restraint. You must not only have a deliberate temperament, you must demonstrate it in such a pronounced way that it serves as an exemplary model to others. You must be calm and have an approach that helps others to slow down to think things through, too.

You can model and encourage restraint by incorporating the ideas for constructive conflict listed above and by asking questions like these with a neutral tone and being very curious about the answers.

  • What is most concerning to you and why?
  • What problem are we really trying to solve here?
  • What criteria does a solution need to include?
  • What could go wrong—the probability and impact of some worst-case scenarios?
  • If we take that course of action, what outcome are we looking for?
  • Who will be affected by this decision, and have we sought their input?
  • What will be the downstream consequences of this decision, for better and worse?

3.   Providing a Consistent Source of Stability When Others are Flustered

This is about a leader’s ability to be the calm within the storm, to respond rather than react. This is particularly important because if you’re not the calm in the storm, people will hesitate to bring problems to your attention in a timely fashion. And, once you learn about the problem it may have severe repercussions. However, when you are open to learning about problems, you hear about them early in the game, and your team is not afraid to talk with you about what’s next. This opens the door to creativity and innovation because you’re able to get your team to focus on how to flex and think differently about solutions.

Because we are wired to sense the emotions another person is feeling and to automatically mimic others’ words and actions, your reactions can add gasoline to the fire. This volatility can then easily spread through the organization.

Here are some ideas for how you can demonstrate this level of composure.

  1. Respond, rather than react, by creating a gap between the stimulus coming toward you and your response. Taking a few deep breaths or counting to 10 when listening to the other person is a great strategy to stop yourself from reacting.
  2. Demonstrate concern, but not too much. Show that you hear what the other person is saying by using clarifying questions and active listening to make sure the person feels heard and validated. Then offer a bigger-picture perspective, and finally encourage the group to think about what action can be taken rather than pointing blame.
  3. Step out of the emotion of the situation by looking at it as a case study. Look at it as if it’s happening in someone else’s organization and encourage your team to think about what advice to give that organization.

When you put these three critical yet quite difficult-to-hone behaviors into everyday practice, you establish an atmosphere where it’s safe to raise thorny issues and where you encourage everyone to dig in to help solve difficult business challenges. You create an innovative and creative organization, which is absolutely critical in this time of great change and uncertainty, and most importantly will help you and your team pave the path to prosperity on the other side.

For more on leading innovation, click here.

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