As a leadership coach, Chris Baréz-Brown is an unconventional dude.
Even sitting next to SteveWozniak in front of over 100,000 people at this year's Leadercast Event, he stood out. And it's not just because he looks like a washed up surfer somebody bought a suit for on a bet.
That kind of schtick is par for the course in the world of executive coaching; although, being called a "twinkly eyed cross between Richard Branson and a wizard" by The Guardian does help make an impression.
It's also not because his list of clients include brands like Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Pfizer, and Spotify.
No... what makes Chris Baréz-Brown unconventional is what he believes about why leaders fail and the one question you should be asking.
"Who is the Elvis around here?"
Strange inquiry, I know. But Baréz-Brown didn't invent it. He stole it from another unconventional dude, Bono, who used it during his campaigning against Third World Debt. Never one to waste time, the question was meant to surface the one person in the room--or in the country--who could shake things up and make stuff happen.
And that's the question upon which Baréz-Brown has built his approach to leadership.
"Within everyone," Baréz-Brown explains, "is a little bit of Elvis: a part of us that's a maverick, that's willing to break the rules, to move fast, shake things up, and have fun doing it. What organizations are longing for in their leaders is 'more Elvis.'"
As evidence, think about legendary "frontmen" like Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, and Oprah Winfrey. Naturally, what unites many great leaders is their charisma. And certainly that's a key element of "more Elvis."
But it's not the defining element. The world is equally full of uncharismatic but nonetheless legendary leaders like Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg and Angela Merkel.
For both types, the common factor of success is far from the stuff that fills most leader's days: the ability to delegate, eke out performance reviews, track analytics, organize meetings, or write good memos.
Instead, it's creative vision. And that's where leaders fall down.
What gets in the way of "more Elvis"?
Not surprisingly, Baréz-Brown has another unconventional answer:
"As a leader, you cannot think your way to a 10 out of 10. At best--if you have a smart mind and great research--you might get six. But sixes don't win the day. The only way to get to 10 out of 10 is to take creative leaps. And such leaps inevitably mean landing on threes."
Creative leadership, therefore, is the ability to engineer conditions where people feel safe to hit threes--essentially, to fail--and then learn fast.
In Creativity Inc., Pixar's founder and CEO Ed Catmull put it like this:
"One of the biggest barriers [to creativity] is fear, and while failure comes with the territory, fear shouldn't have to. The goal, then, is to uncouple fear and failure -- to create an environment in which making mistakes doesn't strike terror into your employees' hearts."
In other words, in addition to too much thinking, our own expectations as leaders--whether expectations of ourselves or expectations of our people--kills any chance of becoming "more Elvis."
Rather than success, your goal ought to be a culture of creative experimentation and (dare I say it) grace.
The last thing that gets in the way of creative leadership is our experiences. "Creativity today is shaped by our experiences," Baréz-Brown notes. "Some of us fall into better experiences than others, some of us pursue them. Whatever the case--and you can only control the second--those 'better experiences' stretch and shape our brains."
This is what's known as neuroplasticity: your brain's ability to reorganize, repair, and reorient itself by forming new neural connections. Neuroplasticity means that while clearly some people are "more Elvis" than others, hope is not lost for the rest of us.
Creativity and leadership.
Creativity--that most crucial and most missing ingredient of leaders--can be developed. And you do it through new settings, new people, and--above all--new actions. You can't change your brain from the inside, but you can change it from the outside.
It might sound a little odd, but Bono and Chris Baréz-Brown are right: the one reason most leaders fail has nothing to do with "leadership" and everything to do with Elvis.