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Let’s Stop Underestimating What Others Can Do

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“I have to hold their hands.” “They need constant supervision.” “They don’t think!” “They aren’t creative.” Have you heard leaders and managers pass these kinds of judgments on employee abilities?

Frequently, as I conduct employee focus groups or review 360 results, leaders who make these kinds of statements receive the following kinds of comments: “What a micromanager!” “Constant meetings and checklists and interference keep us from our work.” “We’re treated like children!”

“But I tried giving more autonomy and it was a disaster,” many leaders say. Frequently, they provided autonomy without clarity of goals or the benefit of wisdom learned from the past. There’s a happy medium of structure AND autonomy, a polarity that leads to results AND happy employees!

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Three Real Reasons to Read Fiction

I read everything. The best in every genre has something to offer, even if the overall genre doesn’t match my core tastes (after all, at its heart Anna Karenina is a romance novel…). Thus it always surprises me when people proudly say, “I only read nonfiction.” The result of bad experiences in high school English courses? Perhaps, but I also wonder whether they’re aware of what fiction has to offer:

  1. The Truth.
    I once had the great privilege of attending a writing seminar taught by Madeleine L’Engle. Perhaps best known for A Wrinkle in Time,she won awards for both her fiction and nonfiction books. She pointed out that often through fiction, the truths about human motivations and the causes of events, both personal and historical, can be much more deeply explored and conveyed than in nonfiction. Nonfiction, remember, is written from a point of view that doesn’t convey all sides of an issue, event or idea. If learning truth from fiction seems crazy, try The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It’s a deep exploration of the mindsets, motivations and emotions of the generals on both sides at the battle of Gettysburg.
  2. Emotional Intelligence. Studies are showing that reading fiction increases our ability to empathize with others, one of the key components of emotional intelligence that is tied to overall leadership success. Fiction helps you step into other people’s shoes and understand why they did what they did. As more research concludes that the “soft skills” of leadership are truly the hardest to learn, adding high-quality literary novels to one’s reading list may make more sense than another tome on leadership (the ones I’ve written being an exception, of course!)
  3. Creativity. Let’s trust Einstein on this one–he recommended that to develop a scientific mind, children should read and reread fairy tales. Why? Because true science requires imagination, creativity, and a drive to understand, all of which are found in fairy tales. You’ll be hard-pressed to find careers that don’t require creativity these days–even assembly line workers are encouraged to and rewarded for finding ways to improve systems and processes. Fiction allows you to envision what might happen, what might be, and other big what if’s in ways that nonfiction can’t.
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Get Creative? Why Not!

P1040304This month’s Scientific American Mind has a quick article on being a better artist (January/February 2014, p. 200) with four easy ways to make sure it’s easy for you to be more creative. How might you

Get outside more. In one measure of creativity, those who went backpacking did 50% better than those who didn’t. It turns out that nature makes us more aware of patterns, forms, and other elements that add to creativity. Oh, and it’s a stress-reducer. Stop telling yourself you don’t have time and get outside to spark better ideas!

Embrace your own weirdness. People who aren’t ashamed of their quirks–who talk to themselves or admit to knowing the name of every Star Trek episode or who have to win a game of Spider Solitaire before opening their research files–come up with more creative ideas.

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