Creativity First

Leadership

Good ideas require creative thinking. Creative thinking requires time, the right mindset and usually a problem. We always have problems, but we do not always have the right mindset or the time.

You would not throw a child into a pool of water if they did not know how to swim, but yet, here we are, throwing our teams into a pool of water knowing they can’t swim. The innovation pool that is. To become an innovative culture requires us to challenge and change our current adaptive culture. How are we preparing our members to switch to an innovative mindset? Most people dislike change. A battle of its own. What about mindset? Thinking out of the box requires a change in mindset. How do we change a culture to include mindset? The idea of innovation poses more questions than our plan describes. Why the emphasis on innovation? Is it to save money, time, resources, and manpower? All great areas to ‘save,’ but are we being intentional enough about it or taking a big shot in the dark hoping to hit somewhere on the target of innovation. We must be deliberate about which areas we need change.

Technology is advancing, as is our heavy reliance on it. We have simultaneously hit an era of business with higher demands for saving time, resources, money and manpower. The consistent problem with leveraging technology to our advantage is that as technology advances the cost increases. Another problem begins, but let’s take a look at the precursor to innovation.

“Innovation in the military, as in other sectors, seems an isolated event only when we intentionally separate the culminating breakthrough from the sequence of preceding events.”

“If we view history with this restricted view, then Edison’s light bulb and the Wright brothers’ aircraft appear as dynamic manifestations of inspiration. Conversely, if we view these innovations as products in their full context, then we begin to see innovation as the consequence of creativity and effort applied over time.” 1

Innovation is a result of creative thinking and implementation. It must be looked at as the product we get from how we solve problems. We solve problems by being creative. The path from problem to solution is creativity. If we want to improve our organizations beyond our current state we have to focus on the driving force of innovation which is creativity.

Creativity is process for generating ideas to solve problems. It is also the catalyst for adapting, changing and making our processes better. Innovation is the level of change from creativity. If you reference Kirton’s Adaptive Innovative theory, adaptive thinkers improve the system while innovators change the system, but both begin with creativity.

“We tend to treat innovation with reverence. We have romanticized it, and we are always chasing after it, as if it is some holy grail.” Although this notion may seem counterintuitive, given all of the rampant advocacy for innovation, Quinn argues that a clear, negative side exists to having too much of a push for change: “Innovators, for example, can be creative, but if they push their inclinations too far, their behavior leads to belligerence, chaos, disastrous experimentation, and unprincipled opportunism.” 2

The negative side effects of forcing change can lead to unnecessary risk. In most instances, we are not ready for risk. Risk is challenging. What are we willing to risk for innovation? Since culture is born through actions and we’re giving everyone the green light to “fail forward,” then at what point, if not successful, do we become a culture of failure, not a culture of innovation? Are we willing to bet our culture on it?

“To capitalize on this opportunity, senior leaders must promote a clear understanding of innovation and work to shape the military’s culture of compliance into one of disciplined creativity.” 3

Above all, creativity breeds opportunity for change. Change is required as we move forward to become a better Air Force. To capitalize on the efforts to innovate let’s focus on solving problems with creative minds. If we’re creative enough we may just innovate. If not, then at least we’ve solved a few problems.

Notes

1, 3 Colonel John F. Price Jr., USAF, Fostering Creativity in a Culture of Compliance, Air University, Air and Space Power Journal September-October 2014, Volume 28, Issue 5

2 Robert E. Quinn et al., Becoming a Master Manager: A Competency Framework, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996), 62, 61

Mentorship

Leadership

Many people go years without having a mentor. What’s the point of having a mentor? To tell you what to do? To tell you what you are doing wrong? In a subtle way, yes. They are there also there to help you progress and grow professionally and personally.

It is important that you look at a mentor as a guide. A person to help you navigate through foreign terrain and help you reach destinations you would never otherwise reach on your own. In other words, mentors are there to help you reach your goals and your potential. Along the way you’ll gain knowledge, perspective and learn things about yourself that you, yourself haven’t realized. I like to think of mentors as navigators on the roadmap to success that you can’t find on Google. Everyone’s experiences variable change in their career, thus, a strong navigator is essential.

Do you have a mentor? Are you looking for a mentor? I highly recommend utilizing experienced personnel that may have had a similar path that you are currently on. You will need someone that can understand your aspirations and career path. Someone that has been there and done that.

Finding a mentor can take time. I have had a few mentors in my career and still have a few mentors I go to. As I reflect on the mentors I have and had, I believe mentors are meant to do three things. They listen, provide feedback and provide advice. I will break them down.

First, the mentee/mentor relationship, just like any relationship, begins with communication. A mentor will not able to help if they do not listen first. Listening is the basis of all communication. Mentors listen. The mentor will not be able to help you if they do not get to know who you are, what you have done and where you wish to go. The only way to get to know that information is for them to listen. Listening is key to building a relationship. For the mentee/mentor relationship to build, grow and thrive, listening is the most important factor. As communication is a two way street, you must also listen. You must listen to what your mentor has to say because mentors provide feedback.

Feedback is mentorship. It is critical that you know and understand things about areas you are doing well in and what areas need improvement. Feedback will provide you with this information.

Feedback plots you on the map of where you are going and how much fuel (development) you will need to get there. Through feedback we learn about our self. We become aware of what we’re good at and what we need help with. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to show us what we really know or don’t know, but more importantly what we need to do. This cannot be done without feedback and mentors are great at providing the feedback necessary for your advancement.

If feedback plots you on the map, then advice is what provides you with a direction to move in. To understand where you are is one thing, to understand where you are going is another. This is why receiving advice from a mentor is important. Feedback is data from the past and present. Advice is for future use. We must have a clear path for reaching the next checkpoint on the journey in our career and in our personal development.

When mentors provide you with advice, they provide you with the best possible path when you are uncertain of what to do or where to go on your map of growth. Mentors can assist with a new direction when circumstances change, when the road all of a sudden becomes blocked, or when you are experiencing rough terrain. Advice is a course of action.

As advice provides you the direction, your action to that advice moves you along the road. All of the words mean nothing without action. Mentors will provide the necessary feedback and advice, but it is up to you to take it and put it into action.

In closing, here are a few questions to challenge you to think about how a mentor could help you reach destinations you want to reach.

Without a mentor where are you now?
Without a mentor where will you be in the future?
With a mentor where could you be?
With a mentor where will you be?

Resiliency Time

Leadership

We’ve all heard people we work with say, “I’m going to PT.” That’s when they pause from work and use their allotted time to do a workout of some sort.  There are many squadrons that allow PT during the duty day, but some members are able to workout individually.  After all, it is part of the mission, we must include it in our mission time, right? Unfortunately, there are some that aren’t allowed time during the duty day. (sorry folks)

I typically have physical fitness time three days a week if I’m able to finish up and head out of the office. Lately, I haven’t done it as much as I’d like to, but that’s okay.  Some days are busier than others and the work has to be done. This has been the normal for the last 7 years of my career. Although, I’ve done it as a squadron during the duty day, as an individual during my lunch break, and sometimes at the end of the duty day when I’m finished with my work. 

Many other people take PT time during the duty day as an individual or with their office or squadron. It’s great! We need to be fit, right? It’s a part of our mission! It’s necessary that we are able to invest in our fitness wellness. 

Today, I finished up what I needed to and since it was my ‘PT’ day, I left the office to get a run in. That’s my go to workout. I love running! I got home to change into my gear and thought to myself, “I ran Monday, what I really need is mental time.”  I felt I needed time to gather my thoughts and emotions.  Have you ever felt that you just needed time to think?  It was one of those moments. 

This sparked another thought. “What if I needed spiritual time? What if I needed social time?”  Why is it always PT time and not other parts of resiliency? Perhaps we can, but we just need to be deliberate about it.  And I’m not talking about whatever classes your base offers that require you to sit and watch a powerpoint.  That’s extremely formal and almost seems superficial. 

I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’m going to mental, spiritual or social time,” during the day and I believe it’s because our culture has bred the idea that it’s only about PT during this ‘free time.’ 

“Cultivate resilience.” – Brene Brown

I want to challenge you, as you use your ‘PT’ time and think about the other areas of resiliency that we typically don’t set time aside for like we do PT.  We all need to be at the top of our game and to be well rounded we need to build our strength in our physical, social, mental and spiritual areas. So if you are good in your PT area for that time, think about other areas you could spend time on in order to build up your resiliency.  After all, isn’t resiliency a part of the mission too?

Let’s not neglect the other areas of resiliency just because the standard has been taking that specific time for PT only.  If we want stronger team members, we need to change how we look at PT ‘time’ and make it ‘Resiliency Time’ so you can focus on whatever area you feel you need that day or that week.  Maybe you need to work on more than one area during that time.  Doing PT is great for PT, but let’s not forget the other areas that make us resilient too! The cultured approach has to be challenged and perhaps, this is how we build a culture of resilient team members: by changing how we think about that ‘free time’ we get in the week to ‘work out.’ 

Leaders are not dealers in hope

Leadership

One of my Twitter followers shared a quote the other day by Napoleon Bonaparte that says,  “Leaders are dealers in hope.” It even had a nice picture with it.  I thought quite a bit on that quote and I have to respectfully disagree.  Leaders are actually not dealers in hope at all. 

Hope can be defined as wishful thinking.  A feeling or an expectation of a desired outcome.  Though the idea sounds good, it can be quite dangerous to give someone hope when there is no data to back it up.  It can also be a hinderance when you hope someone gets something done and then they don’t do it. 

Hope involves too many what ifs.  You wouldn’t lead your team with what ifs, would you?  I wouldn’t. 

Risk is similar to hope.  It’s an uncertainty, but risk can typically be measured.  Hope is not measurable. 

As I was reading The Culture Engine by S. Chris Edmonds, I came across a few quotes that I felt are powerful. 

“Hope is not a sustainable strategy.” – S. Chris Edmonds, The Culture Engine

We can’t create a strategy with hope as our driving fuel.  We don’t have the time, resources, or manpower to take chances on such outcomes.  Putting your strategy on hope is foolish and a gamble.  Leaders do not gamble outcomes nor do they gamble their team’s future.  People are too valuable for wishful thinking or planning. 

“Make the goal expectations specific, measurable and trackable.” – S. Chris Edmonds, The Culture Engine

Leaders do, however deal with goal expectations that are specific, measurable and trackable for the positive growth of their team, organization and culture.  Don’t give your team a false sense of outcomes.  We need to give them clear visions(goals).  If you gave someone hope and that hope didn’t play out like you expected, what would that do to the trust they have in you?  Give people visions(goals) that are reachable and realistic in order to help them be better, do better and know better.  At least that way, if things fail, the path is trackable to know where things went wrong. 

The Risk of Leading

Leadership

Failing the mission.  Team disfunction.  Loss of resources, time, money, and people.  These are all outcomes when leading.  It’s scary to step into the role of a leader.  Once you have decided to care for others the people and the mission become your responsibility.  It’s terrifying knowing that the decisions you make could hinder the mission or the people around you.  And if everything does go south, all fingers could point to you.

There is risk in leading, but that’s what makes a leader a leader.  They understand things may not always work out and that the outcome is never guaranteed.  Leaders take on the risk in order to achieve success, but they make decisions using their knowledge and experienced combined with the team’s knowledge and experience to make wise decisions.  Leveraging the power of the team is necessary to reduce the risk.  Leaders do this constantly and consistently. 

Bottom line, it’s going to be scary.  It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be tough.  There is no avoiding it.   The greatest part about risk is that when it works right everybody wins!  Innovation requires risk and without leaders pushing the boundaries of the line between failure and success innovation will not occur.  

There is purpose to why we spend so much time developing our leadership abilities.  The more prepared we are the higher chance we have at succeeding.  The approach to risk always has the same liabilities, but the action to challenge it gets easier every time you take risk.  It’ll never feel perfect or guaranteed, but the fear, the uncertainty goes away because you know it has to happen.  People need to grow and the mission needs to be accomplished.  We can’t halt everything just because we have to face a decision with risk.

Keep in mind risk will come in many forms, but don’t approach it alone.  Use your team, the mission and the values that guide the culture to overcome it.  

5 Ways You’re Failing as a Leader

Leadership

We all know a bad leader from a good one.  It’s like a superpower.  We just know.  How well a leader leads can sometimes hinder the culture of the organization and or performance of the team. 

How often do we call out what leaders are doing wrong?  How do we know what to look for?  It’s tough to identify every detail leaders do wrong, but there are some more common than others.  

As a leader you have to evaluate how you’re leading.  The more trust the team has the stronger the team is.  If you were to fall, you would want someone there to pick you up, right?  If you reach your hand out, would your team be there to lift you up? A successful team works together and you are a part of that team.  Here are what I feel are five ways you could be failing as a leader.

You devalue your team members.  Every team is diverse to some capacity.  Each person brings a set of skills and experience to the table.  A bad leader overlooks talent and experience and undervalues their team members.  Teams are not things.  They are people.  You can’t see people as objects.  They hold a different value.  They are the life force of any organization.  Never underestimate the power of your team.  Diversity is a great team asset.  Teams work best when they are used to the best of their abilities.  A great leader values  the abilities of their team members.

It’s your way and only your way.  This aligns with the value of the team.  Plain and simple, not every decision has to be made from you nor does every idea have to generate from you.  Part of a leader’s job is to grow others into leading.  You can’t do that when you’re the only person making decisions or providing ideas.  You have to allow others to contribute as well.  If you don’t use your team you will end up losing your team. A great leader provides the opportunity for others to contribute. 

You don’t listen. Communication is a two way street.  Your team members may have great ideas and solutions.  Sometimes the best solutions come from those around you, but you’ve got to listen.  Listening is crucial to interacting with your team.  Someone may be having a bad day and it’s your responsibility as a leader to help them bounce back.  Listening isn’t just an audible action, it’s also a visionary action.  Body language, moods and performance can be seen and interpreted.  You’ve got to listen to what others are saying even when they’re not actually saying it.  Leaders listen. 

You’re looking out for yourself above others.  Nothing disconnects a leader more as to when they’re only looking out for their self.  Being a leader is putting others first.  Leaders give team members the glory and the recognition.  Your team won’t succeed if you only look after yourself.  Leaders look out and help their team rise to success.

You don’t lead by example. One the most powerful ways to lead is to lead by example.  If you enforce a standard for the team, but you’re not following it, then it just shows that you are above the standard and them.  Just like a child mimicking their parent, a team will mimic their leader.  What you do, they will do.  What you tolerate becomes the normal.  If you have bad habits, they will adopt them because that’s the culture you have allowed to take over.  Before you expect others to act the set standards be sure that you are doing so as well.  Leaders lead by example.

Leading Millennials

Leadership

I’m a millennial and all of the stereotypes you hear about us being entitled, selfish, lazy, uninspired is quite well, I guess you could say “doesn’t apply to all.” Maybe it does apply to some millennials.  Maybe even most, but could it apply to other generations?  Yes, it could. 

I believe millennials want to see purpose in what they’re being told to do.  They want to remove the “do more with less” mentality.  Why is it always more with less?  Why can’t it be do what’s possible with what you have?

Do millennials question what they do?  I believe so.  I certainly do, but it’s not to avoid doing it.  It’s to question why it’s done this way when perhaps another way could be better.  Easier.  More resourceful.  I mean, isn’t that what innovation is about?  After all, didn’t that mentality birth the technology boom?  

My work ethic is found on the same values of many previous generations.  I believe in working hard for the things I want and deserve.  I believe in contributing.  The world doesn’t owe me anything.  I owe it.  Why?  Because we were never born to work individually.  We were born to thrive as a team and with that, my attitude, my purpose is to help others be better, do better and know better.  Life isn’t about me.  It happens because of me and selfishness is not a normal operation of our hearts.  It’s created and cultured from people who think of only themselves first.  A toxic way to live.  My children will learn to put others first even when others’ desire is to take, take, take.  When my eulogy is read I will not be known as the dude that only thought about himself above others.  What a horrible way to be remembered, but yet, there are those who choose to live that way. 

What does this have to do with millennials?  Perhaps we’ve been trying to contain them into a society that doesn’t want change.  A culture content with how things are.  Perhaps the millennials have it right and the rest of the world has it wrong.  We’ve evolved this far.  Why stop here?  Millennials are the future leaders.  Regardless if you think they feel entitled, you have to lead them.  YOU have to be selfless and help develop them to be successful when they do transition into leading.  When they question things, educate them.  When they have ideas, listen to them.  When they challenge the status quo, learn from a viewpoint that isn’t yours.  Use their perspective and strengths to mold them into leaders.

So we have some, maybe most, that really do want bean bags in the office and free stuff, but their capability is no different than any other generation.  I’m not trying to justify those that really do act selfishly and feel entitled, but there are some us that don’t act in ‘that’ way. 

Leadership is universal.  It applies to every generation and no matter what a generation is like, leadership could be the answer to moving them forward.  So lead well. 

5 Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization

Ask any person walking with a cell phone who Steve Jobs is and they’ll tell you.  They wait in line for hours to buy the next IPhone.  They hear smartphone and IPhone is the image that comes to mind.  Steve Jobs left the world with a product that is now a part of every day life.  

Most people are aware of his innovative approach to technology, business and how he made people better.  I find Steve Jobs to be one of those most influential, inspiring and innovative people in this generation.  I have listened to Steve Job’s Crazy Ones speech at least 500 times.  It gives me purpose.  It inspires me.  It opens possibilities that we are all better than we allow ourselves to be.  

As a leadership enthusiast, I want to point out some of my favorite quotes from Jobs that have inspired me to be a better leader.  We need to understand that Steve wasn’t just a brilliant innovator, but he was also a leader.  

“What leadership is is having a vision and being able to articulate that so that the people around you can understand it.” – Steve Jobs

If anyone is going to make that first step into leading, they MUST have vision.  Leaders must know where they’re taking their team.  Leading people implies we are going somewhere.  Leading implies we have a goal/objective to accomplish.  Leaders must create a vision to accomplish that goal.  Call it a plan, a path, an idea, but communicate it in such a way that your team can see what you see.  Communicate that vision clearly, concise and easy enough for their followers/team to understand. It’s one thing to know, it’s another to understand.  When we understand things, we get the full spectrum of what it is we’re about to do.  Thus, a leader must paint a vision so that their team can see it too.  

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders invest in people.  That’s what they do naturally.  They make people better.  Steve Jobs nails it.  A leader’s job isn’t to be easy on people, it’s to make them better.  If we’re going to invest in people, let’s make it count for them.  A leader must be honest with their team.  If a team member needs a wake up call, hold them accountable to the values and standards that are set in place.  It’s a leader’s job to coach, mentor and guide their team members to not only be better, but do better and know better.  Don’t forget that a leader focuses on people.  They are in a way, our soul purpose for being a leader.  We don’t just want to make them better, but also want to make them leaders.  

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders want to know that what they’re doing is working.  They want to know that their leadership is effective.  They want to know that their vision is being carried out and that progress is being made.  There is only one way to check how you and your team is doing and that’s by stopping to assess where the team is and how they have been performing.  You can’t look forward to see that, you must look behind you to see how far the team has gone.  Looking back provides an opportunity to grow from your experience, the failure, the perseverance, the challenges you’ve faced and so on. It’s important that we look back to connect the dots, but don’t forget that more dots need to be made.  Don’t focus too much on the past, but look to the future.  Leading is about where we’re going, but we must learn and progress from where we’ve been.  

“Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs

Think from the follower’s perspective.  Followers want amazing leaders leading them. Leaders must be that quality that followers are looking for.  I’ll say this in the nicest way, but followers don’t need a half-ass leader.  They need someone who is of the utmost quality.  The quality of the leaders depends on the follower’s development, progress and effectiveness.  Leaders will always have a high standards of excellence for their team and their work environment.  A leader cares about how things are done.  They expect high quality results.  They expect high quality performance.  As a follower, be selective on who you follow.  Who you follow is not only important for the objectives and goals, but also important for the followers.  A leader will raise the bar for the benefit of their followers. They see your potential and will ensure that you are growing to meet it. 

“Innovation distinguishes between and leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs 

This may be one of those most recognized quotes from Steve Jobs.  Some people have yet to understand the correlation between innovation and leadership, but it’s quite simple.  Innovation isn’t just an action, but being innovative is seeing outside the box.  Like innovators, leaders also see outside the box. Leadership and innovation are actions of a decision to not accept the normality of how people and products are grown. Leaders see around corners in ways that others don’t see.  They are strategic, they are creative, they are risk takers and they certainly don’t fear failure. It’s very important for leaders to see things in ways other people don’t.  A leader isn’t a leader because they have all the answers; a leader is a leader because if they don’t know an answer, they find or create their own solution to any challenge or issue. 

Develop your Team

Leadership

If you could strategically pick people to create the ultimate team would the people on your team now make the cut?  If they would, why would they?  If not, why wouldn’t they?  If they could do the same, would you be on the team?

Teams are the life blood of organizations.  They provide results, growth and function.  We often don’t assess the team as if it’s a one person with many different abilities. We identify a team as a group of individuals with many talents.  Most people on the team will play to their strengths.  It’s natural that we step forward when we are familiar with something that we know.  Our weaknesses on the other hand often go unplayed and undeveloped.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “A team is strong as its weakest link.”  Another way to look at it is one person’s weakness becomes the team’s weakness.  

Sometimes people don’t know what their weaknesses are.  It takes feedback from others to point them out.  How well do you provide feedback as a team?  Have you sat collectively as a team and talked about your weaknesses? If not, why not?  Every team needs to have a 360 degree view of what they’re capable of being. 

The only way to grow as a team is to learn as a team and develop as a team.  Sure, it does take individual parts to move and do so, but above all, if you’re going to be a team then develop as a team.  Growing together strengthens the team.  One of the hardest things to do is take a diverse group of people and work together in one direction.  A successful team crosses the finish line together.  Win or lose. 

As a leader, what are you doing to help develop the team?  Are you providing feedback when necessary?  Are you not only improving weaknesses, but identifying potential?  Leadership is essential to the progression of any team.  Without even saying it most people know the leader on their team.  Are you that leader?  If so, what are you doing to help develop your team?  It would be awesome to be able to strategically pick your ultimate team, but you don’t need to in order to have a great team.  You can create the ultimate team by investing in your current team’s development!