Creativity, or cross-boundaries innovation has become one of the core competencies in today’s business environment. We have seen smart manufacturing in manufacturing industries. In highly regulated banking and financial sector, we have seen how fintech is transforming the entire landscape of competition. Mobile payment pioneered by the non-bank hi-tech companies would be an obvious example. Rules of the game have been re-defined by fierce competition. With the advance of AI, cloud computing, big data and blockchain, no banks or financial institutions can escape from this “revolution”. The coming of digital RMB will definitely accelerate the change management process. To stay competitive, companies need to retain their quality talents and engage them in offering value-added and innovative products, services or processes.
For past 1-2 decades, roughly after the Enron case in 2001 and Lehman Brothers case in 2008, we have seen many new leadership theories, such as authentic leadership, value-based leadership, servant leadership, resonant leadership, positive leadership etc,.
All these researches emphasize on one key element – affective side or emotional side of leadership. On the one hand, we need leaders with positive intrinsic values and integrity. And on the other hand, leaders should be trustworthy, so that they can inspire and empower employees during times of uncertainty to drive transformation and achieve tangible business results. Here, the term “leaders” do not just refer to the senior management. Rather, organizations need leaders at all levels to achieve business success in this ever-changing business world. Yes, I mean organizations need to have managers to lead at different levels in the hierarchy to think of value-added services and processes for customers and execute those solutions in an effective and efficient manner. Therefore, how to engage people and to utilize their potentials and strengths become the job of every good leader. Using the traditional command-and-control mechanism would not do the trick. Here, compassion becomes one of the key ingredients. Competitive edge is the result obtained from having creativity and staff engagement together.
One of my favorite simple equations of leadership amid uncertainties is: trust + inspire = leadership. During periods of high market volatility multiplied by diverse uncertainties, a leader cannot have all the answers to new and complex challenges. An effective leader is required to build trust among the employees and to aggregate all available intellects in solving eminent problems and identifying potential opportunities. Here, compassion plays an important role for a leader. Compassion helps build mutual understanding among people by showing empathy. Compassion also means appreciation and embracement of different viewpoints and ideas. We are used to talk about managing generations X, Y, Z (post 80s, 90s, 00s). Each generation has their own strengths and views of life. Building up a diverse team is a test on your leadership capabilities.
Leaders at different levels can use compassion to create a positive team atmosphere. Here, I prefer to use the term “atmosphere” instead of “culture”. This is because we usually talk about culture in a corporate sense, which is not easy to change by a single manager. However, creating a positive team atmosphere conducive to creativity and innovation is within the control of managers at different levels.
The following is a checklist of effective behaviors for managers to create an atmosphere conducive to innovation.
- Communicate your expectation on innovation, reiterate the message in daily interaction. This shows that you are not paying lip services, instead you are serious in innovation.
- Involve your team members in the problem solving and decision-making process. Set a challenging task that requires creativity from your team members working together. Competition is sometimes useful. However, innovation will be easier if people in the team are willing to share information and ideas with one another.
- Empower your members to solve problems by themselves. Allow them enough freedom to try. Avoid micromanagement. If you want to know more, try the “management by walking around” approach. Chit-chat with your team members, they will feel more relaxed and open to share more about job progress and their suggestions.
- Respond positively to suggestions and ideas from your team members. Your verbal and nonverbal feedback and reactions to their suggestions can determine the atmosphere in your team. A frown in your eyebrow versus a pat on their shoulders can create totally different atmosphere in your team. Use your compassion to appreciate and embrace different perspectives.
- Reduce anxiety and remove negative emotion during trial-and-error stage. There is one popular saying “get ready, fire, and then aim”. Tolerate mistakes and turn mistakes into a learning opportunity. That requires compassion from the leaders.
- Look for opportunities to praise your team. Some traditional managers are sometimes trained to monitor people and tasks. They are trained to catch people doing something wrong. This demonstrates they are the managers in control. However, this approach is not good in building trust with your team. It is also not effective in empowering your people with confidence and capability to solve problems. Try another approach with compassion – Catch people doing something right! People will gradually feel that you appreciate their abilities and they become more respectful to you.
At the corporate level, companies can organize formal recognition ceremony and some staff engagement activities. Here I can share with you one successful practice from a famous international insurance group. The company has a smart suggestion scheme that invites all employees to raise their suggestions on improving work processes and products to customers. A cross-department committee will scan all suggestions and make recommendations if these suggestions are worth following up. A presentation ceremony is organized every four months to recognize those staff who contribute ideas. All senior management team and representatives from different departments are invited to attend the ceremony. Every time, the Managing Director will take this opportunity to deliver “hard” facts on business progress and more importantly “soft” sides on values, own personal stories and his expectation on staff behaviors. This helps to create alignment from top to bottom. This gives the general staff a human touch on their senior leaders.
I hope this short article (sharing) can inspire you with some ideas on creating a creative atmosphere in your team. To use a metaphor, your people are the seeds. Seeds will grow and flourish in the right soil which is the team atmosphere. As a leader, you are the weather that provides sunshine and water.