In addition to providing people with tangible, skill-developing work opportunities, open-door leaders need to know how to shift people's thinking. Real opportunities can be found in convincing people to become imaginative by freeing them from narrow, negative, or habitual thinking.
You may be surprised to hear that encouraging thought-shifting is not as difficult or complicated as it may seem.
Consider Your Words
Sometimes just making small language shifts can have a huge impact on how people define themselves and their roles. The owner of a $4 billion construction company wanted his division heads to do less managing and more leading. For decades, the division heads had been called business group managers.
Was it really any wonder then that their focus was on managing their divisions? But the owner now needed them to focus less on internal operational issues (management) and more on external opportunities, such as developing business with clients (leadership). So he did something simple but important: he changed their job titles and, by definition, the expectation and focus of their jobs. Now the division heads are called business group leaders.
There are many simple ways that a shift in language can lead to a shift in thought. For example, do you refer to those you lead as your "employees" or your "team?" Are you the "boss" or the "leader?" Are you conducting a "performance review" or a "check-in"?
Shifting from a negative framework to a positive one is another effective way to shift thinking. For example, when you hear a good idea from an employee, instead of responding "Not bad!" say "Pretty good!" Choose your language deliberately and you will be amazed by how quickly it will shift your thinking and the thinking of those around you.
Catch Them Off Guard
Inspiring creativity and imagination often requires disrupting people's mental routine and catching them off guard.
For example, a large manufacturer of paper plates held a series of marketing meetings. For people who spent most of their working life centered on this commodity product, the way to reach more customers was pretty straightforward: discounting! Any time the company wanted to increase market share, they would just pump out more Sunday coupons. But the temporary discount-driven boost in market share would often come at the expense of lower profit margins.
The division's leader needed people to be more imaginative than just defaulting to discounting all the time. He wanted people to remember that they weren't just selling plates, cups, and napkins. They were working for a brand that was deeply connected to the family experience.
To lift people out of the rut of discount thinking, he conducted a brainstorming meeting at a beautiful community park near the corporate headquarters. The meeting was different because it was set up as a backyard barbeque. There were picnic tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, an outdoor grill sizzling with hotdogs and hamburgers, even outdoor games like horseshoes and tetherball. Of course there was something else too: lots of the company's plates, cups, and napkins. They weren't just commodities; they were an essential part of the experience. The division's open-door leader had helped people shift their thinking away from commodities and toward values and traditions.
New ideas started to emerge quickly - such as partnering with an outdoor grill company, including summer-inspired flower designs on the borders of the plates, clever wording on the packaging, and other methods for appealing to people's values rather than just their wallets. Someone even thought to create a website where people could swap summer recipes, an idea that could potentially connect countless individuals and rally them around the company brand.
Changing your language or going outside (literally or figuratively) are two simple ways you can shift the thinking in your work environment. However, the means you use matter less than getting people to think positively, constructively, and productively.
You can begin your thought-shifting campaign by asking yourself the following questions:
* What are some ways that your organization typically tries to inspire creative ideas?
* What about the approach works well?
* What opportunities for improvement do you see?
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