‘The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.’
I came across this powerful quote by English creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson the other day and it stopped me in my tracks.
It brought me back to a time-honoured session that I would always roll my eyes at – the brainstorming sessions that no one wanted to be a part of. It’s when everyone is sitting around the table with their minds running at warp speed trying to come up with a ‘great ‘idea’.
Yet, this leader knew that this was the way that we are going to innovate. But he ignored the vast majority of ideas because they did not come from his most favoured people in the room.
There was a commercial years ago that played out this scenario: You had a room full of people all looking bored. There was one ‘slacker’ in the group that came up with an idea. However, it was as if he was not even in the room. Dead silence. No one listened and they basically ignored him.
But when the most chosen one spoke out with the same insight, verbatim, it was as if the river parted. The prodigal son has spoken. The leader went on and on about how brilliant that idea was. Meanwhile, everyone’s gaze went to the overlooked young ‘slacker’, and they all just shrugged their shoulders.
In real life, however, everyone can have ideas and they should be as valued whether you are on the lowest rung of the ladder, or up near the top. This new generation of worker has numerous ideas about the workplace that organizations should pay heed to.
As I give speeches to college campuses across the Middle East (I’m based in Dubai), I am amazed by what I hear in the Q&A sessions and the overall level of discussion. I always end by saying I can’t wait for them to infiltrate all these staid organisations because they will bring change. They will liven up any ‘BS’ session.
However, there is no need for these sessions if you keep your ear to the ground. One of the roles I always enjoyed at my former companies was to walk around the floor at 10am every morning and around 3 in the afternoon. Each day I would stop by someone’s desk to see what they were working on. This created a bond, and if they did not see me they would seek me out.
I had advance knowledge of many issues, and I got a ton of ideas about what we could do to improve the workplace. Was it called brainstorming? Absolutely not.
‘MBWA’ is not new. MBWA is managing by walking around, and it is the greatest brainstorming model ever invented.
I read about a company that would require all of its workers to spend one day in the call center. Whether you are the big shot Vice President or the help desk person, everyone spent time in the pit.
Another unique trait of this company was that the driver that picked up people at the airport for interviews was part of the decision making process. His opinion was sought as to whether this person coming in for an interview treated them with respect during their drive.
Was it all about them, or did they offer conversation and ask questions? In other words, did they connect to people regardless of their title?
It’s pretty clear: You MUST communicate openly with your team, both direct reports and co-workers, and that means recognising them for the good work they do. By creating this kind of atmosphere, you will improve their engagement with you as a manager.
Ron Thomas is CEO of Great Place to Work-GCC countries, based in Dubai. Prior roles include senior positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living. Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI’s Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia.