People approach the festive season with a wide range of emotions, but for me it is absolutely about childhood. I always look forward to watching my daughters’ excitement as the end of the year approaches, and remembering the anticipation that I used to feel as well.
One of my clients tells a story about Christmas Day in her family when she was young: if anyone had done anything naughty during the year, their present from Father Christmas would be a potato. Every year without fail, the children came downstairs to find potatoes in their stockings.
I love this story because the essence of childhood is making mistakes and getting it wrong, and the children clearly weren’t afraid of that. They embraced the risk of testing out their behaviours, knowing that even though they wouldn’t be rewarded under the tree they’d gain learnings instead that would be more valuable (though I suspect that’s not how the parents saw it).
This is a time of year for storytelling and imagination, which links it both to childhood and to leadership. The tales we share that bring people together, to make them feel connected, valued and inspired by the year to come, are firmly rooted in the hearthside. As leadership consultants we talk about being the first to leave the village, to sail your ship out of the harbour and aim for the rough waters because that’s where the adventure lies – as children well know.
In one of my favourite TED talks, the education adviser Sir Ken Robinson tells a great story about a teacher asking a little girl what she was drawing in class. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” the girl said. “But nobody knows what God looks like,” said the teacher, to which the girl responded: “They will in a minute”.
We all need more of that fearlessness, that willingness to take risks and challenge ourselves. And leaders need to go even further: they need to be brave about pushing others out to test and prototype, especially when that test may lead to failure.
In the spirit of trying something new, this year I’ve been working on my first book which is about driving innovation as a leader. I strongly believe that purpose is the licence to innovate for individuals and for teams, so the story the leader tells to bring followers together and spur them on is vital.
Of course, failing fast itself is also about stories, about what was tried, what the outcomes were and what could be done differently next time. Creating the space for others to share their stories is as much a part of leading innovation as sending others out to test in the first place.
Putting the book together has been a new experience for me, and I’m looking forward to publishing it next year and hearing the response. My purpose is to share the insights I’ve gained over nearly 20 years as a leadership consultant and a leader to help others drive innovating businesses, so the proof will be in the pudding!
Wishing you all the best for the festive period, and a courageous 2018.