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The 'fun' side of leadership

Posted on September 23, 2015

I have been reflecting recently on how leadership is often described as a lonely and serious experience. Without a doubt these two words describe aspects of leadership, but a leader who can only be described as lonely or serious is unlikely to be inspirational. And inspirational is what all leaders should be.
 
My reflections on leadership were inspired by the Social Leadership Games that I took part in at the final residential for 2015 Clore Social Fellows. These games were delivered by an amazing trio: Sinem Cakir (2013 Clore Social Fellow), Narin Cakir (Barnado’s Volunteer Coordinator) and Samir Singh Nathoo (2015 Clore Social Fellow).
 
The ‘games’ encouraged all the Fellows to explore the role of play and game in unlocking and shaping our mindset so we can become more creative about how we tackle complex social issues now and in the future. A leader who lacks creativity is likely to be one who sticks to tried and tested processes and solutions even when faced with dynamic changes in his or her operating environment. Examples abound of businesses and leaders who have stubbornly refused to adapt or evolve, so ending up as dinosaurs heading up unsustainable organisations. Social leaders are increasingly being challenged to be authentically creative so they can develop solutions to increasingly complex challenges. No easy feat.
 
The question now arises as to whether creativity and fun can be embedded in a leader’s toolkit.  To explore this question, please bear with me as I digress a bit:
 
In 1967, an American psychologist called J.P. Guilford developed something called the  ' Alternative Uses Test' . The test stretches an individual’s creativity by giving them two minutes to think of as many uses as possible for an everyday object like a chair, coffee mug,or brick. This test measures ‘divergent thinking,’ an idea generation technique  used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
 
Building on this work, the  educationalist Ken Robinson undertook a longitudinal study of kindergarten children to see how many uses for a paper clip they could come up with. Those who scored at a certain high level were described as ‘genius at divergent thinking’. At five years old, 98% achieved this genius level, at 8-10 years, those at genius level had dropped to 50% and after another five years, the number of ‘divergent thinking geniuses’ had dropped even further. The conclusion was that while we initially all have this capacity as children, it deteriorates as we grow older.
 
While Robinson’s study has its critics, one thing I do know is that the young people around me are generally more creative than I am. Where I see danger, they see adventure. While I bristle at some social injustice, they find ways to confront it immediately. At times when I have seen only one solution to a challenge, they have proffered other alternatives. Trainers who deliver negotiation skills training can learn so much from children who are generally experts at trying to convince adults that homework is optional or that strawberry ice cream should actually count as fruit because it contains strawberries!
 
Leadership is definitely a serious business and gravitas attracts respect. Clowns don’t lead troops into battle. But a leader who rewards creativity and communicates with some humour is more likely to engender loyalty than one who consistently adopts a serious ‘woe-betide-me’ mien.
 
Play, defined as  engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose,  can only lead to a more refreshed person who will be more creative when it comes to making key decisions. Leaders can also be fun and creative – in an authentic way.
 
As I enter into autumn, with new challenges, I am bolstered by my learning from the final Clore Social residential to embrace opportunities to ‘play’ and inject creativity into situations I am called to lead. The issues that now face us as a society are no laughing matter but I choose to laugh at myself and nurture my support network. I know only too well that resilience can only come from a well nourished soul.
 
With special thanks to Sinem especially, for being such a good example of how Fellows can support each other.

 

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Cordelia Osewa-Ediae

Cordelia Osewa-Ediae

Strategy Consultant and Programme Director

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