Creative Leadership

Creative Leadership Header Image

Why it’s an essential skill in today’s changing workplace

By Stuart Pink, CC, CL

Developing a creative environment where people are free to perform and share ideas without fear of judgment or failure is the ethos that underpins every club meeting. If people fear failure or judgment, they will refuse to participate.

Failure is a necessary part of most successful ideas, because success rarely comes at the first attempt. Billionaire Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner, spent 15 years and had 5,126 failed attempts before he got his invention right!
What is Creativity?

To understand why creativity is so important, it is necessary to understand what it is. According to education expert Sir Ken Robinson, “Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.”

Many people mistakenly think that creativity is just for artists, musicians and so-called “­creative types.” But according to Robinson’s definition, everyone is creative. We all have valuable ideas every single day. A person who has original, valuable ideas at work becomes important to their employer. In fact, because creative ideas lead to valuable change, it affects leadership. Leaders don’t just have an official leadership title or position; they often contribute the most and have the most influence. Creative ideas are key to businesses, organizations and even countries thriving.

How to Lead a Creative Organization

Leaders should take note from what psychologists found when they studied creativity in children. They noticed that certain behaviors by adults hindered children’s creativity:

  • Judging
  • Telling exactly how to do things
  • Exerting too much pressure
  • Constantly watching
  • Creating a win/lose situation

Likewise, be wary of a culture that hinders creativity. Don’t tell employees or club members how to behave down to the ­tiniest detail or create an environment where employees are rewarded for being unquestioning “yes men” to their bosses.

An example of incorporating creativity into the culture is Google’s famous “20 percent time”—the idea that employees were free to spend one day a week working on their own projects. Major successes came out of this, including Gmail.

Another solution is to consider ways to capture people’s creativity. Employee surveys can be useful—but only if the employees feel truly free to speak their minds. A new employee is likely more observant than an existing one because everything is new to them. Typically, though, they are told how the company works rather than being asked if they have any suggestions for improvement.

“Because creative ideas lead to valuable change, we can even redefine leadership.”

Consider setting up suggestion boxes and incentives for good ideas. Many Toastmasters clubs benefit from asking guests what they thought of the meeting. This feedback allows the club to see what it is doing well and what might be improved. Furthermore, showing that the club values the guests’ opinions increases the chances they will join. In the workplace, leaders can give employees a stimulus to enhance their creativity, such as the ­opportunity to spend time in different locations or departments in order to better understand the organization and be more stimulated to share creative ideas.

Toastmasters clubs require this experience because members have the opportunity to perform the different roles required for any meeting. Many careers involve initial training that requires an employee to experience working in multiple departments.

But typically, they then ­specialize and subsequently remain in one department, missing out on the diversity of the whole company. A person with a more rounded understanding and experience of a whole organization will understand that organization better and be in a better position to contribute creatively.

Creativity thrives on different perspectives, so diverse teams will have richer experiences to draw from, especially if partnerships and collaborations are encouraged. Two heads are better than one because you can bounce ideas off each other.

Leaders can ensure their organizations thrive in a creative environment by understanding the creative process and using it to nurture creative ideas and establish a creative environment.
The Creative Process

In my book, Brainarium: Exercise Your Creativity, I make the case that we should exercise our creativity in the same way we exercise our bodies.

I, therefore, refer to these two stages as Creative Strength and Creative Stamina.
Creative Strength

The first stage is for generating as many ideas as possible. At the Creative Strength stage it is important not to judge the ideas, lest you risk stifling the creative flow. That is why so many brainstorming sessions fail.

Creative Strength Exercises

Imagine that you want to develop a new product or service at work. Use the following exercises to generate ideas. (Remember not to judge the ideas; the goal is to create as many ideas as possible.)

  • Change the assumptions. What assumptions do you have (about your business or a product or service)? How could they be changed? What is the opposite of those assumptions? For example, do you have to make a profit? What if you tried to make a loss? How would you do things differently?
  • What would “X” do? How would someone else (famous or not) think and act in your position? For example, how would a child run your business?
  • Break it up. Can you break something up and reassemble it differently? Do you need all the parts, or can you use only some?
  • Play. Time for recess! Can you play with an idea or object? What do you do with it? What ideas come to mind?

Creative Stamina

The second stage is called Creative Stamina, because it determines which ideas will last. This is the time to evaluate ideas and see whether they are original and have value. Because the ­Creative Strength and Creative Stamina stages require different thinking, it makes sense to separate them out. The key differences are shown in the next table.

Creative Strength

  • Generating ideas
  • Divergent thinking (exploring many possible solutions)
  • No correct answers—anything goes!

Creative Stamina

  • Evaluating and judging ideas. Are the ideas original? Do they have value?
  • Convergent thinking (narrowing down possibilities)
  • Looking for the most correct or suitable answer

There are many ways to evaluate ideas in the Creative Stamina stage. One way is to imagine you have 100 to allocate among all your ideas. How would you divide up the money? If you are part of a team evaluating, each person has 100 to allocate. You can quickly see which ideas are the most popular this way.
Creativity in an Increasingly Automated World

The world is changing fast, and the pace of innovation will only continue to accelerate. This presents immediate problems: How can educators teach children when they have no idea what the world will be like when those children graduate? How can businesses and organizations survive when they cannot even see their competition coming? The leaders of tomorrow face some unprecedented challenges.

Various reports in recent years have predicted some terrifying trends. The McKinsey (2017) and Oxford University (2013) studies predict that half of all jobs in the United States are at risk of being taken over by robots or computers in the next 20 to 30 years. Similar trends will affect the rest of the world and may threaten developing countries even more.

It is not only individuals and their jobs that are at risk. Whole businesses and industries are too. One problem leaders have always faced is how to improve. Management guru Gary Hamel said, “Most companies are built for continuous improvement, not discontinuous innovation.”

The danger for existing companies is that they look for small, incremental improvements to their business rather than big changes. Consider the demise of Kodak, which used to produce the film needed in cameras. The well-known company actually developed the technology for digital photography but decided not to pursue it. Years later, everyone carries around a digital camera in their phone, while Kodak had to file for bankruptcy protection. ­Continuous improvement (i.e., a lack of discontinuous innovation) was its downfall.

Another problem leaders face today is a competitor with a completely different business model disrupting their industry and achieving market dominance in no time. Some call this the “Uber syndrome.” Uber revolutionized cab rides around the world through a simple phone app connecting prospective drivers to customers.

Within five years of its formation, the value of Uber exceeded that of all the car rental companies combined! The car rental companies never saw Uber coming. Uber had even begun using self-driving cars and trucks for passenger transport before a fatal crash this March in Arizona put the autonomous vehicle experiment on hold. All of this demonstrates how traditional businesses—as well as jobs that require routine, predictable tasks—are at risk in the face of dramatic innovation.

A silver lining to all this doom and gloom is the obvious benefit of automation, which includes decreased costs and improved production capacity, quality, and precision. In light of this, the importance (and inevitability) of creativity and lifelong learning remain. Knowledge is no longer sufficient; people need skills to survive. Toastmasters recognizes this with its focus on improving leadership and communication skills.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum predicted that creativity will be one of the top three skills needed in the workplace by 2020. A 2015 study by Nesta, a U.K. innovation charity, estimated that 86 percent of U.S. workers and 87 percent of U.K. workers in highly creative jobs were at no or low risk of losing their jobs in the future to automation. Instead, computers tend to complement these professions by making creative skills more productive. Toastmasters is a natural place to practice creativity. Table Topics necessitates quick thinking in response to a stimulus. Most of the evaluating and reporting roles also require members to use creative skills in the form of an evaluation or report.

The future may hold unprecedented challenges, but leaders and individuals can use their creativity to help shape the future. After all, every human achievement since the dawn of mankind is a result of our creativity. It’s what makes us different from all other beings on the planet. It’s what we do best.



How To Evaluate Effectively


Giving an evaluation is a key skill learned in Toastmasters. Remeber these five basic points when evaluating a speaker.

Before the speech

  • Review and discuss the manual objectives and evaluation guidelines
  • Ask about any concerns regarding the speech or the speaker’s speaking ability

Show that you are interested

  • Demonstrate that you are truly interested in the speech
  • Exhibit your interest in the speaker’s ability to grown and improve

Personalize your language

Put yourself in the position of the speaker before giving your evaluation

Stay away from words like:

  • You didn’t…
  • You should have…
  • You failed to…

To stimulate improvement, use words like:

  • I believe…
  • My reaction was…
  • I suggest that…

Keep the evaluator’s mantra in mind to maximize your skills:

  • What I saw
  • What I heard
  • What I felt

Evaluate the speech – not the person

  • Always keep your main purpose in mind: to support, help and encourage the speaker
  • Pay attention tot he speaker’s goals for self-improvement
  • Watch for symptoms of fear or insecurity
  • Evaluate what the speaker does – not what the speaker is

Promote self-esteem

Encourage and inspire the speaker to participate again by giving:

  • Honest and sincere praise
  • Positive reinforcement when improvements occur
  • Helpful direction when necessary
  • A positive ending to your evaluation


Source: Evaluate to Motivate module, Toastmasters Successful Club Series

Here’s what you missed July 5, 2018

Seldom have I attended a Toastmasters meeting that was as thoughtful and profound as this meeting.  Our first speaker, Jason Hesch, gave a speech titled, “Is love a right?”  He brought the audience into his speech by requesting we imagine a romantic situation in which we are rebuffed.  Then he asked, “What if this rejection happens over and over again?”  This is an on-going reality for many disabled persons.  Jason’s 9th speech from the manual was provocative, challenging and insightful.

Our second speaker, Felix Lorenzo, began his talk with an admonition,  “Perhaps what I’m about to say is for a different audience.”  Is there Ageism in Miami?  Miami appeals to the young, with its sports facilities, places of entertainment, tourist attractions and beaches.  So much of what is Miami’s allure is paid for in part by taxes.

As his speech progressed, we found ourselves once again, considering life from a different point of view.  Few in the audience are of retirement age.  Yet Felix was speaking of the desperation some older residences contemplate.  Thoughts such as, “shall I pay for medication or food,” or “do I have enough income to sustain me?”  Real estate taxes continue to rise and are more than what some elderly can afford.  The economy and retirement are things we must all consider…regardless of where we are in life.

Our Table Topics master, Sharon Patish brought a lighter side to the meeting.  Our contestants had time to weigh in on their best, and worst vacations, as well as letting us know their preferences on the length of time away, and even where to go on a destination wedding vacation.  Of course, there can only be one Table Topics Winner, and this week, Tara Christou told us about her best vacation, where she and her family were able to view the aurora borealis and even play with reindeer (Santa Claus was not included).

Tu Duong, our Master Evaluator, along with his able team, Dan Sanchez-Galarraga and, Paula Hesch added to our knowledge with some evaluation tips.  Two suggestions are:

  1. Don’t use lengthy notes — outlines are easier to handle.
  2. Particularly, when stating a problem, leave the audience with a call to action.


In the Beginning

BeginningHow to create a winning first impression

By William Neuman, CL, ACG

In psychology class, I learned that when someone first meets you they form an impression of you in the initial 12 seconds. And once they have formed that impression, they typically never change their opinion, even after knowing you for a while.

When delivering a speech, the timer starts the clock with your first word. But if you think the audience’s first impression begins with your opening words, you’re missing something important. You actually create a first impression before you open your mouth to speak.

Let’s consider your next speech. After you determine the theme of your speech, you formulate its beginning to give it “punch.” If you come up with just the right combination of words, coupled with meaningful physical gestures and the perfect amount of vocal variety, there’s a good chance you will set the tone for something close to a contest-winning performance. However, you also have several seconds from when someone introduces you to the time you begin speaking. These are “free seconds.” How can you use them to your advantage?
Don’t Speak Prematurely. You’ve probably seen speakers start talking as soon as the Toastmaster withdraws from the handshake. This does nothing to enhance your image; it may even give the impression you are trying to rush things.
Look at Your Audience. Some speakers look down at the floor for a second or two before beginning their speech. The first time I saw someone do this, I thought he might have dropped something and I spent the first part of his speech trying to see what it was! I have also seen a speaker look up before beginning to speak. It makes me wonder if he is beseeching the heavens for divine guidance. Both are distracting, and the speaker misses an important opportunity to connect with the audience. Use this time to engage your listeners.

Now let’s break down the whole process step by step.
1 The Approach. In two of my clubs, we get up from our seats as soon as the introduction ends. In my third club, Chats Toastmasters in Scottsdale, Arizona, we enter the stage area from an adjoining room. In each case, we have a choice: We can rise from our chair unpretentiously or spring up energetically and enthusiastically. We can enter the room casually or put a little “hustle” in our stride as we make our appearance.

“Be sure to smile warmly to indicate you couldn’t be happier to present your speech.”

We also have the choice to walk calmly or put a lively bounce into our step. The latter says, I can’t wait to get up there and give you the very best of what I’ve got!
2 The Greeting. This is when you shake hands with the Toastmaster right before she turns the podium over to you. Extend your hand first by reaching out a few paces before you connect with the Toastmaster. This creates an impression that you are eager, prepared and in control of the moment, and of everything that will happen from this point forward. Be sure to smile warmly to indicate you couldn’t be happier to present your speech.
3 The Lectern. This is the barrier between you and your audience. It may seem like a safe harbor to hide behind when you are nervous and unsure of yourself. You can place your notes there and refer to them, if necessary. You can hang onto it for support and keep your hands from trembling and your knees from quivering. This is OK when it’s your first or second speech, but make it a goal to get rid of the notes, and the lectern—push it aside in a deliberate and determined manner that says, I don’t need this. I am in control up here. I can stand alone and face all of you with confidence and pride.
4 The Final Five Seconds. These few seconds are essential. How you use them may create the impression that gets you one more vote to earn you the Best Speaker award. What should you do in these important five seconds?

Keep smiling—not just any smile, but one that exudes confidence. A smile tells your viewers you are about to deliver something remarkable—you are a pro­fessional who is well prepared to share your story with them. How do you do this? By practicing. Look in the mirror and determine what look best accomplishes this purpose. Actors can move their ­audience with their facial expressions without speaking a word, and so can you. Also, make eye contact. Connect with as many people in the room as possible. Get their attention.
Now, go ahead and speak, and let the pearls of wisdom come tumbling out.