Sunday, December 27, 2009

A New Year's Challenge

Are you thinking about a resolution for New Year’s? Many of us say we don’t, but we still think of the new year as a chance to change things, to get things right, or do things differently. We say we don’t do resolutions because we never keep them. Usually, of course, the problem is that we have too many resolutions because we’re going to ‘fix’ everything this year.

But I have a suggestion for you as a way to support any changes you do want to make this year. It’s something from Julia Cameron’s books and it’s a simple tool though it does take a commitment. The tool is called ‘Morning Pages’. All you need is a spiral notebook or blank filler paper and a pen. Each ‘morning’ you sit down and write out long hand (no computer) until you fill three pages. Fill three pages with what you ask? It doesn’t matter. Just write. About anything, anything at all. It’s whatever is on your mind. Keep your pen moving until you’ve filled through pages.

For some of you the idea of writing like this will make you a little crazy. For folks like me the idea of getting up a half hour early to fit this in will be the stumbling point. But I’ve been doing this for seven or eight years. I haven’t been constant. There have been long stretches of time when I didn’t want to mess with it. But I keep coming back to writing my morning pages. Here are some of the benefits for me when I do Morning Pages faithfully.

  • A better start to each day.
  • I feel more grounded.
  • I accomplish more over time.
  • I find answers to questions and solutions to problems.
  • I’m more creative.
  • I do my job better.
  • I live my priorities better.
  • I live my values more clearly.

It isn’t really magic, but there are times when it feels as if it were magical. I know that I miss doing the pages when I don’t do them for some reason. I know the ups and downs of life are easier to manage when I am doing them. And I know that I am braver in both my leadership and my creativity when I do my morning pages regularly. If you are looking for a way to keep yourself going on your resolutions or if you want a way to be a bit more creative or any other change you want to make, I have no doubt this tool will help you.

If you are interested in learning more, here’s a site that will help explain it. This is one of those things that you have to try in order to understand, that you have to commit to for a while before you experience the changes. But after all that’s true of any change we want to make isn’t it. It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t hurt, and you don’t have to give up much (just a little sleep) to start. Already that makes it better than most New Year’s resolutions, doesn’t it? Good luck if you decide to give it a try and either way I hope you have a very Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Planning vs. Creativity

For years I was a planner; planning is my natural tendency, but my work also required orderly thinking and the ability to manage and design processes. It was important for me to know that I was going to end at point X and to know all of the steps along the way. Then I began to read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. As I read this book and others I began to broaden my definition of creativity and to understand how the need to plan every detail got in the way of my creativity on two levels.

A breakthrough came when I had the notion for the Creative Leadership Workshop. I had this cool idea for a 12 week workshop for students modeled on The Artist’s Way, but with a different purpose. I wanted to find a way to combine what I was learning about creativity with leadership. It was early August and classes started in just a couple of weeks, so I could work on it during the fall semester and offer the sessions in the spring.

And that’s when I had the truly radical idea that instead of waiting I could do it now! Of course, the planner part of me kicked in with all the reasons that it wouldn’t work to do it this semester, but for once I ignored them. I sketched out the basic ideas and went back to the office ready to try it. So I invited a group of students to participate and 20 of them were brave or crazy enough to give it try. When we started, I had an outline of what we would do though I had no idea which things would work and which were too crazy. The workshop turned out to be an incredible experience and the list of things we all learned is much too long to share here, but part of the reason it worked so well was because there was room for new ideas as we went along. It’s also true that my idea of success was much too limited for what really happened.

So that was the first level of learning – it’s possible for things to work without a plan. Having the outline but not the plan allowed for more learning than I could have imagined.

The second level came when I offered the workshop again. I’ve offered the full workshop three other times, once for staff and twice more for students. The staff group was a great event, but the second and third sessions of the student version were never as amazing as the first. I think it was because I now had a lesson plan; I was reaching for a specific result now. I had told the first group that we were making it up together and that they were part of the creative process so they approached it in that way. It was a truly participative experience. Not having a complete plan allowed others the freedom to be creative too.

Creativity – it takes an odd mix of planning, freedom, openness to other’s ideas and to the possibilities of the moment. So what event might you chose not to plan?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Making Time

This weekend I’ve already made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies and the plan for today includes a double batch of thumbprint cookies – the kind you put jam in. If you know anything about my domestic inclinations (they are few in number), you know that cookie making signals the end of the fall semester. It’s the one time of the year that I find time to bake.

‘Find time to bake.’ It’s such an interesting phrase isn’t it? Equally intriguing is its cousin ‘to make time.’ We hear people wishing for more than 24 hours in the day or saying they don’t have enough time to accomplish everything on their list let alone add something. We also know people who seem to have more time than others, at least based on what they accomplish, and we wonder if they ever sleep.

One of the realities about time that I’ve learned over the years is that we find time for the things that are important to us. But that only works when we are clear about our values, and yes, when we exercise a little self discipline. I have a busy schedule and a long commute and yet you’ll see a dance lesson on my weekly schedule and frequently time out dancing with friends. Dancing is important to me. Reading is important which is why you might find me reading while I blow dry my hair in the morning. My work consumes many hours and time with my husband is important so I try to be sure we find time to do things together even if it’s running errands.

What’s important to you? Do you make sure it fits into your week? Spend a little of that precious time reviewing the way you spend your time and be honest with yourself. When you look at the list, do you say ‘yes, my actions match my values’ or do you realize instead that what you say is important doesn’t match where you spend your time?

Now, what do you want to do about it? What are you willing to change? Where are you willing to ‘make’ time which really means where are you willing to change how you use your time. If you say you don’t have time for exercise, maybe spending less time on Facebook will ‘make’ time for exercise. Spending more time with family could create opportunities for exercise if you spend that time on a bicycle or a walk. At work, you may find that the way you are answering e-mail gets in the way of reading new information on-line. It is different for each of us and does indeed take creativity to make it all work.
Take a little time to make a little time next time you hear yourself saying you can’t find time. While you may not find all the time in the world, you may find you have time enough to do just what is important to you.

Keep making time,


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Easy Does It

Nearly four years ago, I had an idea for a book. I loved this idea – it brought together many things I enjoy and am interested in. As an added bonus, it let me talk with my colleagues all over the country and learn from them. It’s a good idea for a good book, if I do say so myself. I invited 50 people to talk with me and 30 of them said yes. So, in the summer of 2006, I interviewed them and during the summer and fall I transcribed the interviews. I was on a roll. Then in December, I accepted a new position. We moved in January and I started the new job in February. And the work on the book slowed down – imagine that.

But I keep coming back to it. I still love the idea. I have a complete draft now and this fall, I’ve been brave enough to let some people read it. They tell me two important things I need to know, both of which I know in my heart of hearts but need to hear from someone else: ‘It’s good. Keep going.’ and ‘It needs work. Keep going.’

I find the editing and rewriting part of writing part of a book to be the hardest part. It feels overwhelming. I’m very lucky that the people who have read it have given me concrete suggestions both large and small. The task for this weekend was to get started on ‘fixing the book’ and it’s now 5:00 p. m. on Sunday and somehow, I’ve been busy all weekend!

Finally, I remembered what I know, something I’ve learned from many talented people – pick one task and do it. I wrote about this last week as a way to cope with a limitless list. This practice is at least as important as a way to make progress on a creative project. In the same way a list that’s too long can be managed by focusing on one task, a project that is too big can be started by picking one little part to work on.

I can’t find the citation, but I’m certain it’s Julia Cameron who wrote that we misunderstand the phrase ‘Easy does it.’ We use it to mean take it easy. But when read literally, it means that easy gets it done. We don’t have to cart the entire wheelbarrow full of our project all the way up the hill in one trip; undertaking a few little pieces of the project at a time will work just as well.

I don’t have to rewrite an entire book this weekend, I just have to find one piece and take care of it. Easy does it. Easy will get it done. What great idea are you ignoring because you don’t have time to get it done today? Where might you make some progress if you gave your self permission to take it easy?

Take care,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lists, lists, lists.

So, what’s on your list? I know you have one. We all do. Some of us are list-makers; we like everything written down so we don’t forget something. Even more we like the feeling of accomplishment when we check something off or draw a line through it. (There are even a few of us who upon completing a task that wasn’t on the list will add it after the fact just for the pleasure of marking it done!)

Ok, you’re not that crazy. In fact, you don’t like to write down a list, too stressful to see it all in one place or maybe too confining. But admit it, even if you aren’t a list-maker, you have a list. It may be things you’d like to do sometime in this lifetime. It might be your New Year’s resolutions. It might be a ‘should’ list of things you ought to do someday like clean out the garage. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, we all have lists of some sort or another even if we call it our kid’s social calendar. From mid-November through the start of the year, those lists can be particularly full and crazy-making.

My original ideas was to write something about planning as a leadership skill, as a way to make things a little less hectic. It’s true that planning can help, but the reality is that no matter how well we plan, some days it doesn’t help. Whether it’s someone else’s poor planning, a traffic snarl, or the slow cashier, there are things outside our control, beyond the reach of our wonderful plans and it can all go awry.

Therefore, instead of talking about planning, here’s a reminder from Leadership Yoga – it’s not so much what we do as how we do it. I had a list for today and I’m off schedule. I could choose to rush through things feeling frazzled – that’s the way to a cut finger while slicing vegetables. Or I could choose to chop vegetables with my full attention, carefully, easily, enjoying the smells and colors and textures. Full disclosure here, after chopping two onions had me in tears, I asked my husband for help – also an important lesson in getting things done. After the onions, he kept on with the celery while I peeled carrots and it turned in to the fun of cooking together. If I’d been feeling harried and sorry for myself I would have missed out on that moment.

So, the next time your list is overwhelming, or you’re feeling frazzled, quit worrying about getting it all done and start paying attention to how you’re doing the one task in front of you. Take a deep yoga breath and let it out fully and see what there is to enjoy in the task, even if it’s just that when you’re done you can cross it off the list.



Sunday, November 22, 2009


Recently, instead of asking a large group to help develop a theme for our division’s first annual report publication, we asked participants to tell a story. Actually, we asked for a fable, complete with moral. What we got was amazing – creativity, heart-felt stories, even a few fears and worries showed up. What didn’t show up were technical definitions or laundry lists of tasks, duties and activities. Staff members used a variety of ways to tell the story; there were different levels of detail, but it was very easy to understand what people cared about.

Reading the blog of the Center for Courage and Renewal, my attention was caught by Parker Palmer’s response to a commenter. Palmer wrote that people who start on the opposite sides of difficult issues like abortion can find common ground. They do so not by explaining all the rational reasons for their position, no technical reasons, nor laundry lists of higher authority. They find common ground by telling the story of the experiences that led them to their position.

But how do we create places for people to be able to tell their stories and for people to be able to hear others’ stories? In my comment to the Courage and Renewal blog, I wrote that I thought one problem with our public discourse these days is that the town hall meeting model is based on a traditional form of leadership and power – a few leaders, everyone else follows. Perhaps early on the town hall meeting was a form of community leadership, but now that are communities are so much larger and diverse, it seems very different. Now, a group of ‘officials’ are seated up front, usually on a raised platform and their role is either to talk to or listen to everyone else. In recent years this model has become more talking or even yelling at rather than talking to each other. The idea of talking with each other doesn’t seem to be in the equation at all.

There are many models of inclusive conversation to be found these days and most, if not all, involve being seated in a circle. The way you know you have managed to create a circle is that every person there can see the face of every other person. Immediately you have a different relationship among participants than when everyone is seated in the lecture format. (Even the name of the chair set up sets the tone, doesn’t it?)

I wonder what would happen in a town hall meeting if the leaders came down off the platform and sat in a circle with participants. It’s not easy for the person who has the role and responsibility of leadership to step out from behind the desk or to come down off the dais, but it’s important. It’s not easy to listen to the story of someone’s pain as they tell you what went wrong in their interaction with your office or organization or with you, but it’s an essential part of being an effective leader. I wonder what kind of conversations we would have if we asked people to tell their stories instead of just asserting or defending their positions. I wonder what might happen in a staff meeting about a difficult subject if we asked people to tell their stories. I know we would have different conversations and sometimes that in and of itself can be enough.

Where in your world might it help to tell or listen to a story?

All the best,


Circle Resources
Center for Courage and Renewal
Peer Spirit
The World Cafe

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Coloring Between the LInes

When I lead a workshop on Creative Leadership, one of my favorite exercises is one that often perplexes people at first. I spread out a selection of mandalas, ask them to choose one that interests them and take it home to color. [“Mandalas (the name comes from the Sanskrit word for circle) are symmetrical geometric designs, usually enclosed within a circle, a square or a rectangle, that serve as…focal points for meditation.” Mandala Designs by Martha Bartfeld.] Workshop participants take their choice home and color it. It’s fascinating to see the varied reactions to this assignment. Some are gleeful – the idea of coloring takes them right back to happy memories. Some are skeptical – why in the world should they find time to color. But the exercise does have a purpose and many potential benefits.
If people are asked about being creative in their work environment, my experience is that they give many reasons why it’s not possible, but the most common is some variant on 'it won’t work': bureaucracy, rules, time, money, an entire list of constraints that make creativity impossible. Of course all those constraints do exist. No matter the size of the organization, mammoth bureaucracy or mom-and-pop shop, there are constraints. Outside of work, there are just as many barriers: time, family, chores. The list can feel endless and it’s real; the sky is rarely the limit. There truly are always constraints. And that’s the point of the mandala exercise – to practice creativity within the barriers, to color within the lines.

Piers Ibbotson in The Illusion of Leadership: Directing Creativity in Business and the Arts says it this way, “Necessity is the mother of invention; if we are not working up against some resistance, if we are not up against some sort of boundary, then we are not creative.” In fact, according to Ibbotson, defining those boundaries is a critical leadership task. “Creative leaders need to be able to identify, articulate and express constraints that provoke the team to creative responses….Describing the nature of the boundaries in the right way allows us to control the direction of the effort while allowing sufficient space for the unexpected or the superb to emerge.”

The mandala exercise has several purposes. On one level it is to encourage workshop participants to remember how it feels to be childlike in the sense of being open to new ideas and willing to try something without worrying about the result. There’s no 8right or wrong and no grade or evaluation. On another level, when participants are willing to spend a little time on this, it is a door to some quiet time in their busy lives. Most of all though, this exercise is an illustration of Ibbotson’s point and as participants see the amazing results of their work and that of their colleagues, it becomes clear that great creativity, in some cases great beauty, can appear in spite of and because of the constraints defined by the lines on the page.

So, the next time you hear yourself complaining about the limits you face, stop for a moment and reframe those limits as opportunities for creativity. If you can’t do ‘this’, what might you do instead to reach your goal? When the rules won’t let you do ‘that’, what might you do within the rules to help you attain your purpose? If you are in a leadership role and have to enforce the rules, your task becomes finding a way to help people see the opportunities for creativity. Coloring between the lines doesn’t have to be limiting, it can be the basis for great beauty, for “the unexpected or the superb to emerge.”

Keep coloring,

The mandalas at the top are some I colored several summers ago. They are from the book Mandalas for Meditation edited by Zoe Frances.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Valued Leadership

“Let’s not just talk about our company values, let’s put them into action. Let’s not just memorize them, let’s live them.” Ron Kendrick as quoted in Everyone Leads: It Takes Each One of Us to Make a Difference compiled by Dan Zadra

Recently in a workshop, a participant wondered why her department’s leadership team was comprised only of people with the top titles. Her point was that there were administrative assistants in the department who had good ideas so why not include them.

Her question points out the important difference between leadership and role or position. In most organizations, there is a group which may be called the leadership team or the executive council, or the cabinet. But no matter the name, the group is composed of the people with the top titles who are charged with the responsibility of running the organization. If the organization is a strong one, that group is also composed mostly of leaders. And, in the best situations the leadership group understands there are other leaders in the organizations and fosters and supports leadership in all its facets.

The hard reality is that it is just not possible for people from all levels to serve on the formal leadership team, whatever it is called. The people who serve on the formal leadership team have specific responsibilities to the organization that can not be shared. Sometimes this is a matter of law, sometimes of internal regulations and sometimes it is simply a matter of practicality. Conversely, there are leadership issues that would benefit from the widest possible input and are appropriate for the inclusion of people from all levels of the organization. When that is that case, there is an opportunity for different kinds of leadership teams.

But what if your organization doesn’t create these kinds of leadership teams? I still think there is a way for everyone in an organization to start exercising leadership today. Look at your organization’s stated values. There are values for both the larger organization and for your specific department. Take some time to really study those values and think about how they apply to your work and the ways you interact with everyone. Now, start living them – all day, every day, in everything you do. Do your best to make every task, every conversation, each interaction, every question you ask in line with those values. Be intentional about it and, when appropriate, talk about it. If these are the true values of your organization, you will be exercising leadership and over time it will make a difference and be recognized.

If, as can happen, the lived values are different than the espoused values, that will become clear. Or you may begin to see that your personal values don’t match the organizational values. In those cases you may face some hard choices if you want to be a leader in your work organization. You may have to find another organization in which to lead.

However, in my experience, even though we don’t all hit the value standard perfectly every time, trying to live up to the values of a successful organization is an effective way to become a leader. So, don’t wait to be acting on your values and those of the organization and leadership will happen.

Best wishes,


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leadership - Not a Spectator Sport

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement (sic) will be surer;…. Go some distance away because the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.” Leonardo Da Vinci as quoted in Wisdom of the Ages: 60 Days to Enlightenment by Wayne Dyer

Leadership is a participative exercise, not a spectator sport. There's really only one way to learn and grow as a leader and that is to get out of your chair and do it. And then pay attention to what happened and try again. It's the only way to learn what really works and the only way to develop your own style of leadership.

One component of leadership is balance though there are many different balancing acts that leaders must learn through experience. Below are three stories that have helped me work on one specific balancing act.

*Early in my career on two different occasions I found myself cleaning residence halls. My title at the time was Associate Dean of Students and it had not occurred to me that ‘other duties as assigned’ included scrubbing the bathrooms in one hall one year and sweeping all the rooms and hallways in a different hall another year. However, the issue was simple in both cases; if I wanted the residence halls to be ready for Move-In, my participation was required.

*On another occasion, my title was Director of Alumni Services and I was part of the Development Division. I was working with several women, all of whom had a secretarial title, to complete a large mailing for the Annual Fund. A colleague who also had a ‘big’ title came through, observed for a moment and then said, “Well, Gage, it’s good to see you can do menial labor too.” I was appalled. The others were not surprised. None of us made a comment.

*I listened to a conversation between two colleagues. Colleague 1 was my peer, an Associate Dean responsible for a large, complex department. She was the most egalitarian person I’ve ever met. She, quite literally, wouldn’t ask someone to do something she wouldn’t do. Colleague 2 was our boss and she was frustrated with the amount of time Colleague 1 was spending at the copy machine. Her comment was “I’m not paying you the amount you earn to make copies. Other people should be doing that.”

Together these form the outlines of a lesson on balance. Sometimes leaders need to pitch in and do the dirty work. We should never be above moving the tables, stuffing the envelopes, or when necessary cleaning up after, or before, the event. And yet in a leadership role, we are in fact paid to do, or assigned to, or have taken on, a different set of duties We have to find a way to be part of the work that is being done and yet not forget that we have a responsibility for the bigger picture.

I’m pretty sure there’s only one way to learn this lesson and that’s to get in there and try to figure it out. And then to step away and see if we got it right. And then to try it again. Definitely not a game for spectators.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

If It Is True

If It Is True
If it is true,
(and I believe that it is)
that we can all be leaders,
then our organizations are healthiest
when we all choose to lead.
If it is true,
(and I believe that it is)
that leaders are learners,
then our leadership is strongest
when we are willing to be taught.
If it is true,
(and I believe that it is)
that we are all creative,
then our organizations are most original
when we embrace new ideas.
If it is true
(and I believe that it is)
that we lead from who we are,
then our leadership is truest
when we are true to ourselves.
If it is true
(and I believe that it is)
that we want strong leaders and dynamic organizations,
then we must choose to lead,
we must be willing to learn,
we must embrace new ideas, and
we must be true to ourselves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual..."

"The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community." William James

This past week, a group of staff came together to put on a talent show for UTSA. Some people might see such an event as frivolous, not worth people’s time and yet this gathering was important for the organization in two ways.

In thinking about what happened, I have come to understand it as an act of leadership on the part of the participants. I doubt any of them decided to be part of the talent show to be leaders or even thought of it as leadership. But I see leadership occurring on two levels. One element of leadership is the ability to take a risk. We would usually define risk taking as trying a new program or idea, or making a significant change, or any number of highly difficult and major actions.

So how does participating in a talent show constitute a risk? To my way of thinking, and I was a participant last year, one of the toughest audiences to perform for is a group of peers and colleagues from one’s work organization. No matter how confident you are in your talent, there’s always the possibility of looking foolish and looking foolish in front of supervisors and perhaps the people we supervise is an unpleasant idea for anyone. I think this fits the definition of taking a risk.

The other reason I see this as leadership is due to one of the results of their actions. By their willingness to take this risk and perform in the talent show, they created a shared experience for members of the organization. I believe that shared experience leads to community and a sense of community makes it more possible for individuals to come together around shared ideas, values and purposes. All of these ways of working together help us solve the problems we face, help us bring our different perspectives into the mix and help us bring the best of everyone into our work.

And so Friday afternoon, several hundred people took the time from work to go to a talent show. Seems a frivolous event. Many people chose not to go, perhaps thinking it was not worth leaving the work of the organization. However, people were in fact exercising leadership. By engaging in the leadership and by coming together in community, they made a difference.

Leadership and community. Two important elements for an organization. Two critical aspects for making a difference in an organization. Two fundamental ways to help individuals celebrate the human spirit in our organizations. Two ways to help all of us have a better experience in our work life. All that from a talent show. That’s not frivolous at all.

And yes, some of the participants were also dancing,


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Putting your best foot forward

Most first lessons in ballroom dance begin the same way - the leader, traditionally a man, learns to start on the left foot and the follower, traditionally a woman, learns to start on the right foot. This very basic concept is of critical importance to the health and safety of the dancers’ toes and essential in the development of a smoothly functioning partnership. Those first lessons set up what seems to be a very rigid, hierarchical, and traditional leadership dynamic – one leader who always leads and one follower who always follows with ‘back leading’ by the follower a serious faux pas. The leader is assigned full responsibility for success.

But as is true with many things, initial impressions are misleading. The reality is that this pairing is a true partnership. Each partner has a specific role, but both are essential to the success of the whole. The strongest most talented leader in the world can only go so far with a follower who doesn’t want to dance. And the better a follower can follow, the better the leader can lead and the smoother the dance will become. And, of course, the opposite is also true – a talented follower won’t look good with a leader who only knows two or three basic steps and never gives followers a chance to reach their full potential as a dancer.

As the dancers learn more, it becomes even more complex. Sometimes the leader leads, but sometimes the leader’s role is to get out of the follower’s way. In that situation, followers have to know what to do on their own within the structure provided. Sometimes the leader provides the momentum for moving around the dance floor. However, there are situations for which the follower must provide that energy and if that transition of responsibility isn’t smooth, progress stutters. Dancing is truly a partnership; it is not just a leader leading and a follower following.

And the ideas hold true away from the dance floor. Think about your organizations and their leaders and followers. Identify a department or committee, whatever makes sense in that organization and analyze the ‘footwork’ of the members. Are the leaders and followers in step or are they both trying to start on the left foot? Does the leader give clear directions, help the followers know what they need to do, and guide them in learning new moves? What about the followers? Do they take responsibility for their roles and provide energy and momentum to support the partnership or are they waiting to be pushed around the floor?

Great followers make a good leader better just as great leaders lift followers to new heights. The responsibility for success in our organizations belongs to each of us no matter our title or our role. The responsibility for momentum and forward progress belongs to all of us. Our dancing and our organizations work best when we use the best talents of everyone no matter what role they have. Remember “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.”* Now that's putting the best foot forward.

Keep dancing,


*I've found this quote attributed to Faith Whittlesey, Ann Richards and Annonymous.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Curiosity is the key to creativity." Akio Morita

Last week I wrote about curiosity. Over the past few years, I’ve come to understand that curiosity’s companion, creativity, is also an essential part of effective leadership.

I know how some of you are reacting as you read that because I’ve seen and heard so many reactions in workshops when I bring up this topic. And, to be honest, those scoffing noises would have been coming from me not so long ago. Some time ago I said to Peter, my husband, that I was not creative and he looked at me in surprise, saying ‘when someone brings you a problem you come up with 15 different solutions; you’re one of the most creative people I know.’ My response was that’s not creativity, that’s just problem-solving. Of course, what is obvious in this story to everyone but me is that we have to be creative to solve problems! I share this story now, and when I teach my workshop on Creative Leadership, because it is just one example of the many ways we define creativity so that it doesn’t apply to us.

Thanks to Peter’s insights and the many books of Julia Cameron, I’ve come to understand creativity in a much broader way and to agree with Cameron that all of us are creative. Some of us squelch aspects of it, some of us nurture it, but all of us have creativity, are creative. In her book Walking in the World: The Practical Art of Creativity, (notice the word in the subtitle, Practical, that’s putting creativity to work), Cameron says this, “Creativity is inspiration coupled with initiative…”* Sounds like another good definition for good leadership.

Like curiosity, we need creativity in our organizations. We need people to wonder, we need people who are willing to imagine new ways to do tasks, new ways to be together, new ways to serve. Part of the job of a leader is to imagine the way things could be – we usually call that having vision – but it sounds like creativity to me. Part of the job of a leader is creating (there’s that word again) an environment that encourages curiosity and imagining and wondering. Instead of finding that scary, a true leader is willing to put some energy behind new possibilities. A true leader might even get out of the way and let others initiate change.

Have you felt an urge to be creative lately? Did you squelch it or nurture it? If you find yourself squelching your creativity, Julia Cameron suggests we try one little change that we’ve been wanting to make. It could be a new picture in your home, a new color in your wardrobe or a new way of organizing your desk. It’s all creativity. Remember what movie director Frank Capra said, “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” So next time, listen carefully to what your creativity is trying to tell you. I truly believe that bringing our creative selves to our organizational life will, over time, improve life for everyone.

Keep dancing (and creating),


*Walking in the World: The Practical Art of Creativity, Julia Cameron, 2002

Monday, October 5, 2009

Curiosity as an essential leadership trait.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. …Never lose a holy curiosity." Albert Einstein

In writing for the UTSA Student Affairs Newsletter last week about my experiences with Facebook, I began to think about the importance of curiosity in effective leadership. I realized that I had not been curious about social networking because I had made assumptions about its usefulness, or lack thereof in my life, both personal and professional. Those assumptions made it easy for me to ignore any social networking. Once I was pushed into joining Facebook, I found that I enjoyed it on a number of levels and realized that I was wrong in my assumptions.

It may not have been social networks, but I suspect most of us have something that we have ignored, failed to investigate, or even sneered at because we didn't understand it and we didn't investigate because those assumptions led to a lack of curiosity. And that has implications for our leadership work. A failure to be curious means that we aren't engaged in the world around us. It can lead us to write off someone's new idea, or decide that a new theory has no relevance to our particular area, or be bored with someone's newest enthusiasm. As a result we don't support others in trying new things or putting old things to new uses and that is a failure of leadership.

A 2007 article on a website called Lifehack,* written by Donald Latumahina lists four reasons why curiosity is important: 1. Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive, 2. Curiosity makes your mind observant of new ideas 3. Curiosity opens up new worlds and possibilities, and 4. Curiosity brings excitement into your life.

When I read those four reasons, I begin to see curiosity as an essential element of leadership. Try it. Substitute the word leadership for curiosity in those four sentences. It transforms curiosity into an essential component of effective leadership and one that I rarely, if ever, see listed as important. So, as I said in the Student Affairs newsletter, if you ever hear yourself dismissing a new idea or technology or a new application of an old one, I hope you'll stop and be curious.

Better yet, what are you curious about? What might happen if you investigated it? It doesn't have to be obviously related to your work. Curiosity, like so many things, is a habit. And while the adage says that curiosity killed the cat, it seems to me that it's more likely that a lack of curiosity can kill your leadership.


UTSA Student Affairs Staff News

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery." Martha Graham

The more I study, and write about, and think about, and try to practice leadership the more I see the ways in which leadership is a form of dancing. We use many of the same words, leading, following, partnership just to name a few. The quote above is just one about dancing which works equally well when the word leading is substituted for dancing. - Leading is just discovery, discovery, discovery - discovery about organizations, about people and most of all about oneself.

When I facilitate a workshop on leadership, I start by explaining the basic concepts that inform my thinking about the topic, so it makes sense to start this blog in the same way.

1st - Everyone has the potential to be a leader. Some of us seek it out, some of us are asked to take on the role, but for all of us when there is something we care about, some way we see the chance to make a difference and we decide to try, we will begin to realize our individual potential for leadership. Some of us come to it more easily than others, and we all can work to learn and improve our skills, but all of us have the potential for leadership.

2nd - Leadership is a relationship not a job or position. Leaders need followers or there is no one to lead. Therefore, contrary to some opinions, followers aren't sheep or drones but are an essential part of effective leadership. Additionally, all of us serve as followers at times no matter what titles we might have. The interaction between someone acting as a leader and someone acting as a follower is leadership as a relationship.

3rd - Healthy organizations have leaders throughout the organization. Leadership is not dependent on title or position and a healthy organization supports and develops leaders continually.

4th - All of us are creative beings. Creativity is an essential skill for leaders and it is at least as important to foster and support creativity as it is to develop leadership.

5th - It's possible to create healthy organizations that support leaders, followers, creativity and the human spirit and fulfill the purpose for which the organization exists.

In my work, my teaching and now in this blog I enjoy exploring the many ways in which we can grow healthy organizations, develop effective leaders, support strong followers, foster creativity and engage our spirit in all that we do. I look forward to hearing what others have to say about these ideas and hope together we can improve organizational life for all of us. After all, the reality is that everything we do is "just discovery, discovery, discovery."

Keep on dancing,