The Power of Conceptual Thinking to Strengthen Your Leadership
BY Geil Browning
Enhance the abstract part of your brain to best convey your vision and stimulate creativity. The fourth in a seven-part series on leadership communication.
In order to communicate most effectively with your staff--and bring out the best in them--you have to relate to them in all the different ways they think. I've already written about communication strategies to appeal to your analytical, structural, and social people and in this, my fourth installment in a seven-part series on how to most effectively speak with your diverse team, I'll cover conceptual communication.
Today's world requires imagination, innovation, and vision. Countless experts have deemed this the Conceptual Age and I agree. If the Information Age was data, knowledge, and the left brain, the world has moved beyond it, and into a place where concepts feed everything else.
Lisa Bodell, the founder and CEO of futurethink, an innovation consultancy, says: "The best employees [and leaders] of the future will excel at creative problem solving and different ways of thinking--synthesizing seemingly diverse things together for better solutions."
For some, conceptual thinking comes naturally. They have an intuitive sense of the bigger picture, an ability to translate abstract thoughts, a proclivity for thinking in long-term horizons, and a desire to experiment and invent new things.
When I interviewed Jim Blanchard, retired CEO of Synovus, a large financial services company that ranked No. 1 on Fortune's inaugural list of 100 Best Companies to Work for in America, I was intrigued by how much of a natural conceptual thinker he is. In his Emergenetics profile below, you'll see his high conceptual (yellow) score. What's fascinating is that he ran a financial company, not an advertising agency.
Blanchard told me: "Creativity is not a department. It is a trait that we encourage in everybody." His thinking tendencies around relationships, collaboration, and new ideas bubbled to the surface. Communicating that personal tendency--and vision--of his required him to link creativity and conceptual thinking with his workforce.
As a leader, communicating conceptually in this way raises the bar. Many leaders I've worked with are very analytical and structural. That kind of left-brain thinking is likely what got them where they are and it has been a gift. The good news is that every leader also has the capacity for conceptual big-picture thinking. You just need to learn how to pay attention to your intuitive thoughts. Don't instantly analyze creative thoughts or over-process.
Here's how to strengthen this mindset in yourself and convey it to your team:
Experiment with new ways of ideating. Make it a point to bring all employee ideas to the surface, just be sure they fall within your vision.
Ask provocative questions. Tap into team members who already think conceptually, and bring out the conceptual tendencies of your entire team.
Push the envelope. If you have a new idea or process, consider what could bring it to even another level.
Think long-term. Where do you want to be in five years? You can always fill in the details and short-term later.
Develop trust and stand back. Allow your employees to feel comfortable with your vision by creating a level of stability, and once you see competence, let people run with it.
In the conceptual age, leadership is about verbalizing your vision and aiding employees to make the leap into different ways of thinking.
GEIL BROWNING is founder of Emergenetics International, an organizational development firm in the U.S., Singapore, and the Netherlands. She co-created the Emergenetics Profile, a psychometric thinking and behavioral workplace assessment. @Emergenetics_