Your Whole Brain
Cultivate the creative right side.
Have you ever had experience of interviewing someone for a position and not listening to yourself? The individual looks good in all the objective metrics — resume, core competencies, recommendations, intelligence — and so there’s no real reason to have any hesitation about hiring him. Except something inside you is guarded or reserved. The person simply doesn't seem right. However, you override the internal voice and go ahead with the hire. Within a few weeks or months, you discover what you were telling yourself that you were ignoring: the individual has some character problem, or is irresponsible, causes team and culture problems, and the like. The override was a mistake. This incident illustrates a point: it is important for you to pay attention to the other side of your brain — the right side. You likely have extensive training and experience in analytic functions: judgment, observation, decision-making, and evaluation of data and trends—using the left side of the brain. The right side of your mind has to do with more subjective processing of information.
In these difficult times, you need to develop yourself as a productive asset to the highest degree that you can. Reality, whether it be financial or emotional, is reality. Reality reigns. Your best scenario is when the objective and the subjective agree, then you come close to what is real and actual. The more you are able to lead others from both sides, the more equipped you are to succeed.
Here are the subjective abilities you can develop, and how to do that.
Intuition is knowing without knowing how you know. Intuition is your “gut response.” Science is still discovering the breakdowns of intuition, but somehow the mind is able to instantly process information and come to a conclusion which has a very high hit rate of correctness. The most successful and high caliber leaders listen to their intuition about a person or a situation at least as much as, or even more than, they do their objective abilities.
So how can you develop your intuition? I have two suggestions. First, intuition seems to be correlated with experience. That is, a radiologist will make a diagnosis on an x-ray of your leg bone in an instant because he has looked at thousands of x-rays. The better you know something, the better you train the intuition. So be a person who intentionally drills down on core competencies and expertise. Be a leader who can not only lead, but also has a deep skill set. Secondly, take time to listen to yourself when you are thinking about a situation. Ask yourself, not only what do I think, but what is my gut telling me? Simply giving yourself that attention and permission will help you pay attention to what is important.
Highly validated these days, the ability to understand what you are feeling is vital for the leader. Emotions have a primary role or function for us. They serve as a signal about something going on that we need to pay attention to. In the same way that the warning light on your car’s dashboard tells you that your oil levels are low, emotions alert you about something significant. Anxiety, for example, is telling you that something potentially dangerous is ahead. You may need to avoid it, but you must not ignore it. For example, I was on a board that was facing a large financial commitment for the organization. The numbers looked promising, but a couple of the members said, “I’m anxious about this, beyond my normal anxiety.” They weren’t afraid to be afraid. Their concern caused the rest of us to be more careful in our due diligence. Ultimately, we walked away from the deal, and it proved to be the right decision.
Another key emotion is anger. When you are frustrated or angry, often you need to face and solve a problem. Your anger gives you the energy to have courage and do the hard thing. For example, I was coaching one executive who had an “anger issue” with one of his direct reports, a manager. He wanted to get rid of the angry feelings, because he saw them as a problem. However, the manager tended to blame and excuse his poor performances, never taking ownership of his mistakes, and therefore never changing his behavior. This attitude would make any normal person angry. So, the manager was shifted to another position (and ultimately left). The exec’s “anger problem” went away, because it wasn’t a problem. His anger was his friend, a signal that something was awry.
Here are two to-dos: first, begin to ask yourself “How do I feel about this situation or person?” That is, be focused on your emotions. Attunement increases to the level you pay attention to it. Secondly, have some “feeling conversations” with a friend or two who is familiar with that world: your spouse, an attuned colleague, your coach. Being with a person who is comfortable with emotional language will help you pick up nuances you may be missing.
During these times, creativity is a prized ability. When the old paradigms are no longer working, new ones must come in from all sectors of work: sales, marketing, accounting, administration, and HR. Creativity is simply rearranging elements in a way that provides a new solution or opportunity. That is, when you look at your resources—your people, competition, mission, and finances—in different ways and different combinations, you’re more likely to gain a result that works better than the old way. Even if you make many mistakes, it’s better than continuing what is no longer working, because you are learning every time.
How can you develop your own creativity? While there are gifted people with innate ability, you can develop that capacity for yourself. I suggest that you establish a creativity context for yourself. Make some intentional time in writing down all the pieces of the puzzle: the problem, the resources, the people involved, the opportunities. You might put each of these on a different 3×5 card. Then rearrange them as if you would a set of cards, randomly. Look for new patterns and new connections and see if a different approach arises.
Don’t operate with “half a brain.” Be a whole person, and a whole leader. You will notice the results.