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How to Cultivate Your Own Creative Career

More and more people whose likelihood depends on being creative and innovative continually are working for themselves. They’re freelancers, they’re consultants, they’re independent. But many can spend much of their time doing anything but creative work: drumming up new prospects, carving out time for administrative work, or getting up to speed on new projects. Freelancers also lack resources that their colleagues with traditional jobs may take for granted: team support, project managers, tech assistance, or training opportunities, to name a few.

Daniel Goleman spoke with Teresa Amabile in his Leadership: A Master Class video series about practical ways to cultivate your own successful creative career.

Skill Development

Pay attention to your skill development. Keeping your skills sharp is an important piece of creativity. Learning new things in your own area of expertise as well as outside of your strengths can spark new associations that lead to fresh ideas.

Get a Different Perspective

Engage with people who have different perspectives, or who come from different fields. That’s going to fertilize your creative thinking. Working with people who see things differently can also sharpen your problem solving skills by seeing new perspectives on challenges or tasks, forcing yourself to break out of mental habits.

Stay Motivated

Pay attention to your motivation. Try to feel excited about what you’re doing. If you find that your work is getting stale, look for new projects, new people to work with, or new things to do.

Small Wins

Focus on your daily progress. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind on our to-do list given a typical freelancer’s workload. That’s why it’s important to keep sight on your accomplishments – no matter how small they may seem. Keep a daily diary. Take two or three minutes at the end of the day to jot down what things you actually got done that day that moved things forward for you in projects that you care about. Maybe it’s something that you didn’t plan on getting done that day. But if it’s meaningful, if you can see your way learning, getting somewhere, doing something that matters to you or to people that you care about, keep track of it. Look back on your record of the progress that you’ve made and the enjoyment that you found in your work.

Become Aware of Obstacles

Take note of obstacles you encounter. Include mental blocks or moods. Find ways of overcoming them. Make a plan for the next day to build on the progress that you experienced the day before to refocus on your goals.

Learn More

Maximize your creative potential with proven-effective practices by Teresa Amabile, director of research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School.  Her insights are available in the following resources:

The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership examines the best practices of top-performing executives. It offers practical guidance for developing the distinguishing competencies that make a leader outstanding.

Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide offers more than nine hours of research findings, case studies and valuable industry expertise through in-depth interviews with respected leaders in executive management, leadership development, organizational research, workplace psychology, innovation, negotiation and senior hiring. Each module in the guide offers individual and group exercises, self-assessments, discussion guides, review of major points, and key actionable takeaway plans.

Create to Innovate details the latest research behind creativity and innovation and how leaders can drive these critical factors in any organization by creating and growing positive inner work lives for employees.

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The Dangers of Groupthink

Source: pixabay.com/pexels.com/CC0 license
Source: pixabay.com/pexels.com/CC0 license

Everyone one of us has blind spots. But we often don’t see them until someone points them out. As leaders rise through the ranks, the less honest feedback they receive from peers.

A high-level executive can become isolated. They surround themselves with people who won’t report negative information. They’re afraid to deliver bad news for fear of repercussions. Not knowing the reality of a situation means you can get into a distorted bubble. A lack of information can lead to poor decisions. You go down a path that’s a mistake from the get-go, but nobody tells you.

When Daniel Goleman spoke with Bill George for Leadership: A Master Class, they discussed what Bill learned from a first-hand experience with the dangers of groupthink.

“Early in my life, I worked in the U.S. Department of Defense as a civilian in the year of Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my life were at the high levels of the Pentagon. But toward the end they were walking off the cliff together. They suffered from groupthink. McNamara was so powerful. His team simply reinforced what he was saying. They didn’t take different perspectives.

Any good leader needs to have a reliable team who will ask tough questions, or poke holes in logic.

Another time one of my co-workers asked, “Do you think everyone agreed with that decision in the meeting?” I said, “Yeah, they all said yes, and at the end. We even voted.”

His response was an eye-opener. “Well, there were three people backing their managers that were so angry, they could hardly speak to you because you  blew over them, and forced them to say yes.”

After some thought I knew he was right. I had to go back, tail between my legs, and say, “I’m really sorry. I guess I didn’t hear what you were really saying.” That allowed me to be open to honest conversation.

I also learned that it’s not just looking for and appreciating feedback from that special trusted group, but bringing the attitude with you to the office. I now try to surround myself with people who have diverse viewpoints.”

Fine tune your executive management skills with Daniel Goleman’s video series, Leadership: A Master Class.

Additional resources

The Coaching Program is an online streaming learning series for executives, highlighting methods for enhancing any leader or manager’s effectiveness, creativity, and ability to connect with their teams.

The C-Suite Toolkit is designed for senior management (or those new to senior management positions) seeking a comprehensive reference library from the most respected business and leadership experts of our time.

The Competency Builder program was created to assist workers at all levels learn how to work more mindfully, improve focus, handle daily stresses better, and use these skills to increase their effectiveness. A great resource for any HR library.

The EI Overview provides easy-to-understand insights into proven-effective ways managers can best employ leadership styles, as well as develop the areas where they lack.

 

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Flex Your Mental Muscle

Think of your mind as a muscle: You need to keep it in great shape.

Adapted from Dr. Jutta Tobias‘s conversation with Elad Levinson, recorded for his online course Thriving on Change.

mental muscle
Image: Business Insider. DOTS App

Mindfulness training isn’t much different than muscle training. Just like working out regularly and consistently will show a gradual growth in your biceps and quads, the more you practice mindfulness the bigger your mental muscle becomes to approach situations differently and in a more open-minded way.

Working out your mental muscle and toning your mindfulness is a door-opener to endless beneficial skills for leaders, such a resilience, open-mindedness, self-control, patience, and regulating impulses. Being patient with yourself as you develop your mindfulness will indirectly slow down your impulse to judge situations quickly.

Think of your mind as a muscle: You need to keep it in great shape.
Credit: rgh.cc

If you wake up one morning after doing nothing but sitting on the couch and eating chips for weeks and decide to run a marathon, chances are you will not succeed. Similarly, you cannot wake up in the morning and decide, “Today I’m going to be in complete control of my emotions,” or, “Today I’m going to take total charge of my impulses.” In order to become directly in charge of your emotions, you must work at it indirectly layer-by-layer through training in mindfulness practice.

Emotions can be very fickle
Credit: entrepreneur.com

Emotions are fickle and sometimes can never be directly controlled. Because emotions are deeply functional and have been our survival method for millennia, your boss can’t simply approach you and say, “Just be happy now!” However, you can follow this “work-out program” to begin your journey to a happier, more mindful life.

  1. Focus your attention on the here-and-now. Really emphasize the importance of the task at hand.
  2. Focus on your sensory experience, and see if you can become aware of how quickly or rashly you might be judging situations.
  3. Become more adept at seeing multiple perspectives. Look at everyone involved in a situation and try to see it from their point of view.
  4. Attempt to see each challenging situation not as a daunting, impossible task, but as an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you can begin to grasp those concepts, you are taking the first steps to creating a link between mindfulness and resilience, and becoming an effective decision maker in both your personal life and within your organization.

Dr. Jutta Tobias has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing for her work on entrepreneurial and social change in Rwanda, received several academic awards (including the President’s Award from her doctoral alma mater, Washington State University), worked with clients such as Goldman-Sachs and the United States Congress, co-facilitated non-violence workshops in United States/United Kingdom prisons, and holds counselling qualification from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Tobais is also a contributor to our Praxis You course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit.

thriving on change

You’re invited to preview our new online course, Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit for free here. Module 1 is now available for purchase.

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IQ or EQ? You Need Both

IQ versus EQ

The CEO of one of the world’s largest financial companies told me, “I hire the best and brightest – but I still get a Bell Curve for performance.” Why, he wanted to know, aren’t the smartest MBAs from top schools like Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton all highly successful on the job?

The answer lies in the interplay between IQ and emotional intelligence – and explains why you need both for high performance.

More than a century of research shows IQ is the best predictor of the job you can get and hold. It takes a high ability level in handling cognitive complexity to be in a profession like medicine, a C-suite executive, or a professor at one of those prestigious business schools.

The more your job revolves around cognitive tasks, the more strongly IQ will predict success. A computer programmer, accountant, and academic will all need strong cognitive skills to do well.

Then why the dismay of that CEO?

The more your success on the job depends on relating to people – whether in sales, as a team member, or as a leader – the more emotional intelligence matters. A high-enough IQ is necessary, but not sufficient, for success.

Just as is true for IQ, there are many models of emotional intelligence. In mine there are two main parts: self-mastery and social intelligence. The purely cognitive jobs require self-mastery – e.g., cognitive control, the ability to focus on the task at hand and ignore distractions.

But the second half of emotional intelligence, social adeptness, holds the key to that CEO’s question. As long as those super-smart MBAs are working by themselves, their IQ and self-mastery makes them high performers. But the minute they have to mesh on a team, meet clients, or lead, that skill set falls short. They also need social intelligence.

Claudio Fernandez-Aroaz, former head of research at Egon Zehnder International, spent decades hiring C-level executives for global companies. When he studied why some of those executives ended up being fired, he found that while they had been hired for their intelligence and business expertise – they were fired for a lack of emotional intelligence. Though they were smart, they were bullies or otherwise inept at people management.

Along the same lines, my colleague Richard Boyatzis, a professor at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, has found that the vast majority of leadership competencies that predict the performance of sales leaders are based on emotional and social intelligence – not cognitive intelligence (like IQ).

Then there’s a brand new meta-analysis of 132 different research studies involving more than 27,000 people, which I heard reported on by a co-author, Ronald Humphreys, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. That yet-to-be published analysis concluded that emotionally intelligent leaders have the most satisfied employees – if you like your boss, you’re more likely to like your job (just contemplate the opposite, morbid reality).

And reviewing all peer-reviewed research to date, the same study says emotional intelligence has been found to boost:

And then there’s general life satisfaction and the quality of your relationships.

So even though some academic studies seem to show emotional intelligence matters little for success in a job like sales, I’m skeptical.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

LMC-TG-300x

Put theory into practice with the Leadership: A Master Class Training Guide. Each module offers individual and group exercises, self-assessments, discussion guides, review of major points, and key actionable takeaway plans. The materials allow for instructor-led, self-study or online learning opportunities. Includes over 8 hours of video footage with George Kohlrieser, Bill George, Teresa Amabile and more.

What Makes a Leader

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters presents Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking, highly-sought Harvard Business Review and Egon Zehnder International articles compiled in one volume. This often-cited, proven-effective material has become essential reading for leaders, coaches and educators committed to fostering stellar management, increasing performance, and driving innovation.

FURTHER READING

Let’s not underrate emotional intelligence

It’s not IQ part 2

Leader spotting: 4 essential talents