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Heart-Based Creative Leadership

What if there is an infinite supply of creative energy within each human being waiting to be tapped?

At the heart of every human being’s genetic makeup is the power to create, and that undeniable creative energy is not reserved for procreation. We have the power to make creative choices in every moment of our lives, creative decisions that could support our growth and evolution or diminish it.

This innate creative power is not exclusive to “the creatives” — artists, designers, singers, composers, filmmakers, writers, etc., who contribute their artistic skills to the world. It includes the single mother working two jobs to make ends meet and is still able to create a warm, nurturing, and engaging home environment for her family.

That said, creativity can be expressed through creative solutions to solve complex problems, relationship issues, and how we choose to shape and color our reality through an array of perceptual lenses.

The thousands of thoughts we have and the choices we make every day create an outcome. If we lack awareness, these thoughts and choices could be guided by social norms and indoctrination versus being generated by our conscious creative energy.

As children, we surge with a creative spirit. However, it quickly becomes suppressed in many of us by a well-meaning parent, teacher, society, or boss who reinforces how we should act and what we should do and say—shrinking the window that leads to introspection and diverse thought.

Is it any wonder that our organizations lack creative fire and passion, and most leaders are void of it?

What if our fundamental nature is to be creative? That’s who we are, and creative energy is what we are all made of.

If that is true, it seems evident that heart-based creative leadership would be essential and the only appropriate antidote to the mundane, self-oriented, competition-driven leadership style employed by too many leaders today.

By heart-based creative leadership, I’m suggesting that the next generation of leaders recognize that every member of said school, hospital, or government agency needs to have their creativity welcomed, enhanced, amplified, and rewarded. When facing challenges and hardships like the pandemic, heart-based creative leaders understand that we have collectively gone through all stages of grief, and we need to be nurtured, comforted, hugged, encouraged, applauded, listened to, valued, and loved.

Only in a safe, supportive environment can one’s true creative nature flourish, become grounded, and then be expressed. This is what the heart-based visionary leader does.

Leaders We Admire and Why

Our hearts warm to hear the names of people like Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Diana, Mahatma Gandhi…the list goes on. Historically, leaders and individuals who have been most admired were revered for their depth of courage, compassion, inspiration, inclusivity, flexibility, and perseverance—all traits we commonly associate with emotional intelligence and heart.

When you look at the life of Nelson Mandela, it would have to be considered a supreme feat of creative energy for him to be able to transmute aggression and hatred toward the white oppressors and his guards into forgiveness. This creative transmutation established the inspiration and foundation for a young nation to begin to “reconcile.” What I consider a remarkable creative act awakened the same power in millions of South Africans to create change that would have been considered unthinkable a few years before.

Creativity is an essential element of all great leaders. Outstanding leadership requires the ability to understand deeply the gravity and full scope of a moment in time. Rather than be ruled by historical dogma and rules, a great leader turns a seminal moment into a creative moment.

In more than forty years in various business leadership roles, including teaching leadership skills at the Stanford Business School, I have observed in myself and many others Five Catalysts that can awaken the necessary creative energy in an individual, a team, or an entire organization.

The Five Catalysts

Mindfulness is essential to creative awakening. It takes a measure of self-awareness, stillness, and clarity to identify blocks in any creative process, reflect on how to move them out of the way, and consistently fine-tune through ongoing feedback. Be still long enough to explore uncharted possibilities without the fear of what-ifs.

Movement is a catalyst for creativity and essential for flow, the state of creative inspiration where an individual is fully immersed and engaged in what they are doing. Movement is more important to creativity than is generally recognized. Many have observed that in the long periods of lockdown and work-from-home, our usual ways of moving and enjoying regular exercise were dramatically diminished. Simply getting out of the house, dancing to a favorite song, exercising, or taking a walk around in nature can provide a release of energetic fatigue, allowing creativity to start flowing again.

Nature is our tonic, elixir, and soothing bath when the soul is tapped and weary. We must protect Nature for the future of our species, but we must be grateful for Her many gifts if we are to take meaningful action to save her. Day to day, more time spent attuned to Nature yields a flow of creative energy, which is all around you when you walk through Nature listening to its creative life force.

Playfulness is our ability to be light-hearted and bring out our inner child. It’s the realm of imagination without limits. To tap into our playful side, we must feel safe and believe we won’t be judged or be secure enough in ourselves not to care what others think of us. All of us have a playful side, but few may see it. When do you notice you let your guard down and ‘let loose?’ Is it by yourself? With a significant other, friend, or sibling? How might you replicate the conditions or mindset to allow that playfulness to work through you in leadership?

The catalyst known as Artistic Expression demonstrates that attempting a new artistic practice of any kind “primes the pump” of creative energy in all ways, creating new neural circuitry gained during learning to draw, dance, sing, or take photos, to exercise virtually any artistic discipline—your neural circuitry and neurochemistry change as we attempt new artistic feats, no matter the outcome.

Heart-based creative leaders will embrace these catalysts, and their workplaces will honor them. They will align their cultures, values, missions, and visions to the pursuit of total creative capacity for each team member.

At times, the problems of our world can feel overwhelming and past the point of solving, but they are not. In the wise words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” By awakening “the creative” within, we can explore the world of possibility and play outside the perimeters of ‘the box’ that we’ve limited ourselves to for far too long.


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