Fear, not the kind where you fear for your life, but the kind of fear that makes you afraid you are going to say something stupid. The kind of fear that makes you self conscious and makes your heart beat a little too fast. That kind of fear is abundant in schools and businesses, and it is toxic. It robs people, from students to business people, of one of the most critical skills they need to be successful: creativity.
I sat in a boardroom with a group of executives recently. The company is in the middle of a large corporate transition. The team in front of me are the leaders of this company, the heirs apparent of the new organization. The man to my right, the CEO, is a bright man. The kind of bright guy who reminds everyone of his pedigreed education. Daily. So bright that he corrected every person who spoke. Not in a helpful, instructive way, but in a biting, arrogant way. As the meeting progressed, the ideas dwindled. The enthusiasm waned, and the "smartest" man at the table was the only one left talking. His ideas prevailed. Not because they were the best, but because he was the last person left speaking. Fear crippled creativity and this organization is left with their plan being hijacked by an abundance of arrogance in leadership and creativity being swiped off the table.
Our organizations, be they classrooms or boardrooms, are critically influenced by the behaviors of the leaders. Fear robs creativity because it is truly the enemy of trust. Trust is eroded every time an idea is dismissed or a voice is raised. Slowly, but certainly, people learn to keep their ideas to themselves. Self preservation takes over and people listen to the voices that will help them keep their jobs and their self esteem. Meanwhile, creativity silently exits the boardroom or the classroom.
The good news is that great leaders, those who check their egos at the door and invite robust dialogue, invite creativity back into the room. As leaders, our best play is to create environments where fear is choked out by trust. Trust is fostered by encouraging ideas, creating dialogue, and entertaining the ideas of all. Great organizations aren't built because of funky break rooms or casual Friday dress codes; they are created by leaders deciding that creativity leads to innovation. They know fear stifles creativity, and they understand trust builds capacity for that next step in thinking creatively.
Is your leadership inviting fear or creativity?