Today’s world is powered by the most diverse workforce in history. Businesses, non-profit organizations and institutions of all shapes and sizes are experiencing dramatic change in the composition of their workforce – due to alterations in the economic landscape, technological advances, globalization, and – for the first time - members of five generations working, competing, learning and leading together. The very nature of our work has changed with the continuing rise of the “knowledge worker”. In the 21st century, knowledge now moves at the speed of light, and the challenges to the modern worker are historic.
In addition to posing challenges, these changing demographics present tremendous opportunities for today’s organizations, and companies that grab a hold of their diversity can do much more than simply “accept” or “embrace” it; they can actually leverage it as a competitive advantage.
To do so, today’s leaders must set aside old practices and create new ways to lead, and some of our most valuable lessons around creation of new realities can be derived from the arts.
Creative writing has always intrigued me – and its lessons continue to play into my leadership style. In this essay, I will explore the following leadership lessons, internalized through my toils in creative writing, and explain how these learnings can help today’s uniquely challenged leaders create the future, versus simply trying to predict it:
- Lesson 1: Unlock potential through empowerment
- Lesson 2: Move away from linear thinking in employee development
- Lesson 3: Experiment, Experiment, Experiment
- Lesson 4: Find your authentic voice
LESSON 1: UNLOCK POTENTIAL THROUGH EMPOWERMENT
Today’s leaders must move away from “I” and towards “we” and empower their diverse workforce to self-organize and own both their products and their careers. Without doing so, the opportunity brought along by diversity can be lost.
Creative writing holds some strong lessons in empowerment.
The idea of being able to create, from scratch, a glimpse into a world of your choosing and control every last detail that goes into it, every last thought of each character – even bringing in new characters on a whim, or eliminating others if they didn’t quite fit the story – reeks of raw power and first attracted me to the creative writing process.
But upon diving – or “belly flopping” - into the process, I’ve realized that in any good novel the author is not the one who holds the true power at the end; for he or she has slowly given away that power, through each chapter, until at the end all that is left is the story and its reader. Or so it appears to the observer.
Leadership can be quite the same.
The best sign of good leadership is the success of the team or project after the leader has moved on. And, as we know, most good leaders are constantly moving to the next challenge.
The power of a leader lies not in how much he or she controls at any given time but how he or she empowers the workforce in order to get the most from it.
With a tremendously diverse workforce, harboring many different talents, ambitions and needs, true workforce empowerment is now more important than ever. Leaders must not fall into the trap creative writers sometimes do when they insert their ego into the story they are writing.
Traditional empowerment scenarios have focused on allowing employees to have larger spans of control and greater trust to experiment within their specific roles. In these evolving times this empowerment needs to stretch beyond role and allow employees to self-organize across verticals as well as to own their careers. The workforce is simply too diverse for leadership to dictate versus empower, without missing opportunities.
One inspiring example came from a colleague of mine, Ross Smith, who experimented with a new program he called “We-Org”.
Real example – Empowerment through “We-Org”