Evergreen Leadership Blog


Leaders as Creators

In this series on creativity within organizations, I am reposting this blog post from 2015. In it, I describe the role of leaders as creators.

An artist looks at their work in a totally different frame of mind than a mechanic does. The artist sees infinite possibility. The mechanic sees a problem to be solved.

As a leader, you are often in the “mechanic mode”. People bring to you problems to be solved, work to be done, decisions to be made, dilemmas to be fixed, and that is a valuable and ever-present part of the role you play.

But how often do you play the role of creator? Of someone who can envision a better future and then find a way to make that vision a reality?

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Pre-enactment: A Way to Create the Future You Want

I am a big advocate of working forward rather than backward. I’ve transformed my life into one of meaning, fulfillment, and joy by using several methods of envisioning what I wanted to create in my life.

As such, I’ve journaled, created vision boards, set HEART goals, and created accountability systems to ensure that I acted unfailingly on those dreams. And, it’s worked.

Yet, as powerful as those techniques are, none are nearly as amazing as a way of envisioning (and then creating) a better future than one I learned from Joanna Taft, director of the Harrison Center for the Arts and visionary community leader.

Her question is this. Rather than reenact, why not pre-enact?

Learn more about pre-enacting by reading the full post.

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SMART goals or HEART goals?

Lately I’ve been wondering if SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based) goals only represent a tiny part of what really matters, what really makes a difference, what really makes for a life worth living. For I’ve seen what happens when we create SMART goals, especially when we are going to be measured (and rewarded) for them in a work setting. We think small – remember they must be achievable. We divide our work into small fragments, losing sight of the overarching purpose. We document the doable into a tiny time box.

I wonder what would happen if we also created HEART goals, ones that are: Holistic, Enduring, Aspirational, Really matter, and Timeless.

The reason SMART goals are effective is that they provide a way to break big things into smaller pieces that can be measured. However, you have to know what the BIG thing is. My suggestion: start with a HEART goal and then, and only then, create SMART goals in support of it.

Some examples …

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How to Cast Vision with Your Team

Hate to tell you, but if you are patiently waiting for upper management to proclaim their vision for your work and your team, it most likely is NOT going to happen. Or at least in the degree of granularity you might be hoping for.

We all want to have work with meaning – and as a leader, it is your job to help create that meaning. The good news is that each of us has the ability (and perhaps the obligation) to cast vision – for yourself and your team.

The notion of vision scares us at times. It sounds big. Pretentious. Unknown and unknowable. You might struggle with deciding what is “too big” and what is “too little”. I encourage you to acknowledge the doubts and plow ahead. I’d much rather put my effort toward a “too big” vision than none at all. And if you err by starting small, you will have at least started. Small steps are better than no steps. …

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Mary Parker Follett: Influential Visionary

I stumbled across Mary Parker Follett’s name about six months ago in the book, The Power of Collective Wisdom. My curiosity got the better of me – and I dug deeper. And what I found was the work of a brilliant women with great influence. Some call her the “mother of modern management.” How is it that I know her work and not her name?

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I honor this female visionary. Although I never knew her name till recently, my study of her work reveals just how much of my practice in leadership and organizational dynamics is influenced by her…

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Which is More Important – Dreaming or Doing?

Folks get tripped up in the dream/do cycle. There are two types of traps:

Doers who believe that dreaming is a waste of time. Far better to do something, anything. And oh, by the way, they are far too busy with all they are doing to take some time to pause, reflect, or allow themselves to imagine anything other than their current state of affairs.

Dreamers who believe that what they think up will magically manifest itself once they articulate the dream in some manner. They create the vision board, sit back, and wait for good things to happen.

Both are dead wrong.

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The Spirit of the Season – All Year Long

How would you be different if the spirit of this season lasted all year long? As you pause, cease your paid labor, gather with friends and family, take a moment to reflect on the messages that this time of year brings, and determine what parts of this holiday you’ll carry forward. You can be a light in the darkness, you can bring hope to those in despair, and by caring for others you’ll find you’ve cared for yourself.

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My Wabi-Sabi Life

I’ve worked hard to overcome “the prison of perfection” – which had, in the past, resulted in me never being happy with excellence, which had caused me to stall way too many times in quest of the last incremental improvement, that had stoked fear that someone would notice the slightest imperfection. And it was good to let go of that.

Wabi-sabi, as defined in Wikipedia, is a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. However, the notion of wabi-sabi is deeper than just being OK with imperfection. …

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Ambiguity Abounds – A Simple Model to Deal with it

There are bucket-loads of reasons we are faced with more ambiguity than ever before. Here is a short list:

  • Change is accelerating. What is new is ambiguous by its nature.
  • How to work effectively across cultures has no clear answer.
  • New knowledge. Information is doubling every few years in technical fields.
  • Startups, shutdowns, mergers and new partnerships. And with it the accompanying strategic, cultural and leadership upheavals.

Add to that the more mundane causes of ambiguity, such as lack of clear direction from the top, changing priorities, and difficult and complex situations – and your natural tendency may be to do one of these things:

  1. Wait for direction
  2. Stall and hope clarity emerges
  3. Complain a bit
  4. Carry on as usual

I hate to break it to you – but all four approaches are doomed. Which leaves us in a bit of a conundrum: we need to DO something, but WHAT? The EAA process (my term – named after the vocal sounds I tend to make when challenged with ambiguity) may help you sort things out.

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Another View on Sustainable Business

In my final post in this series exploring the question of sustainability – of our organizations and the larger world in which those organizations exist – I’ll examine the notion of “constructive capitalism”, a way in which companies can create enduring, meaningful and sustainable advantage that also benefits society.

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