What do leadership, writing, and charity have to do with performance?

I had the opportunity last night to attend an event put on by 826DC. In their own words “826 centers offer a variety of inventive programs that provide under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. We also aim to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our mission is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” As someone who has spent years 6-to now aspiring to be a writer, it was a powerful event; and one that made me think about the many people both real and literary that inspired me and shaped me into the person I am today. One of the readings was done by a 16 year old student at the Duke Ellington School in Washington, DC. The student commented on the dramatic improvement the program has made not just in her literary skills, but across all her subjects and in her life in general. Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian writer whose works include “Beneath the Lion’s Gate,” also spoke of the power of literature in shaping not just her world view, but her own character.

826DC Event

One of the great things that programs like these do for kids is inspire them to imagine themselves in a different light or see themselves as able to transform into something else. Tapping into this creative side of ourselves can be a powerful mechanism for personal transformation. I have written in 3 Ps to Meeting Success about the power of visualization in setting the stage for successful meetings, but I think more generally that this is a skill that is critical to success in daily life. One of the most powerful ways that 829DC touches under privileged children is by engaging them in using their imagination and thinking of the world as something that can be shaped. These skills are just as applicable in later life as they are with the 6-18 year olds engaged in this program.
One of the best things you can do for the people within your organization as a leader or executive is encourage them to see themselves as the next and better version of themselves. It is very hard to become the person you want to be if you can’t imagine yourself in that light. I don’t know if people often make that connection despite how often visualization has come up in recent literature regarding performance improvement. Visualization skills depend in large part on our imaginations. Fostering creativity and imagination not only helps helps people to visualize themselves in a positive manner moving forward, but bleeds over into many other areas of our professional and organizational performance. Wonder why your organization isn’t as innovative as the next? You may want to ask yourself what you are doing to foster creativity and imagination. These are tools that will help you and those within your organization move towards their organizational, career and life goals. I think you can really begin to understand the power of this when you pair it with one of my favorite quotes from Dale Carnegie, “There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” (How to Win Friends & Influence People) As an executive, manager, or leader a big part of your job is getting others to get things done. This is made a great deal easier if those who are charged with doing the doing actually want to get those things done. Part of getting people to want to do those things can be facilitated by working to understand who they imagine they will be in the future and helping shape that image to be something that is both achievable and desirable for the organization.
What last night hammered home for me was just how important creativity and imagination are to me as an executive. It’s something I hadn’t really thought through before, but as we drove home I couldn’t help but think about how important these things are to every organization and the many ways that what 829DC does ties directly to what most organizations want from their employees. I know that my wife and I were inspired by the evening and we will be working to help make this service available to more students in our area by donating here. Please join us in helping to inspire children to imagine themselves in a better light and remember that the journey doesn’t stop when you enter adulthood.

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Joshua Millsapps

It was a great event. I’m a bit of a sucker for events focused on getting kids focused on their creative side because I feel like it is one of the hardest qualities to recruit for in our business. Obviously science and math are important but one of the things we are always looking for are folks that have that spark in addition to analytic capability.