Recognising the value of creativity in leadership wellbeing
By David Ereira, guest speaker at our 2023 Responsible Leadership Workshop
David is founding partner of property investment brokerage Ereira Mendoza and Life President of Norwood, a charity supporting children, adults and families facing challenges in their lives due to learning disabilities or autism. He is also a mentor and founder of Young Norwood, the younger fundraising arm of the organisation. Norwood has a workforce of 2000 people and works across London and the South East. It currently serves 500 people in residential care and 4000 people across other platforms.
Behind the professional façade leaders create, we’re very much real and vulnerable people. My wake up call came in 2021, two years after my programme at Windsor Leadership. I never really understood what burnout was until I experienced it. It was always something that happened to city traders who were working 20-hour days. In my case, I think it was an accumulation of working 16 to 18-hour days for many years and simply thinking that was normal. It was like being hit by a bus and not even realising I was in the bus lane.
My autoimmune disorder was triggered by burnout. I got really ill and very exhausted and didn't understand what was going on. The doctor was clear, I was doing far too much and had to slow down significantly. One way I did this was through embracing creativity.
Giving yourself permission to be creative
Many people in leadership would argue that they are in positions where they just haven't got the hours in the day to allow time for creative space. However, it’s helpful to consider what our understanding of being creative is. It’s not necessarily about painting or sculpting or creating an art installation. For a lot of people, a creative space can involve reading, listening to music, or something else.
Many people don't realise how creative they could be if they gave themselves the opportunity to pause and find out ……and permission perhaps as well.
There are some things that should be on the ‘permission list’ and the knack is knowing yourself well enough to understand what it is that frees you personally, and then giving yourself permission to investigate it.
The interplay between creativity and control
Learning the difference between control and creativity has been quite a profound experience for me. I see myself as a perfectionist, and someone who likes to be in control as I'm more ordered when things are in control around me. I don't necessarily like to be controlling them, I just like things to be in control.
By being creative with our hands our minds are freed to receive inspiration. On my Windsor Leadership programme we were encouraged to give ongoing space for reflection, and this has enabled me to tap into my natural creativity, which then releases inspiration in other areas.
One of the questions posed by my syndicate was, ‘How can you be creative and yet also be in control?’ The way I describe it is that I like to paint and sculpt, and in particular I enjoy stone carving. In order to have creativity when carving, you need to have control, because if you're chiselling away and make a wrong move, you lose control, damage the piece, and you've lost your creativity.
The confluence of control and creativity is therefore quite key, but the two have often been viewed as polar opposites, particularly in the corporate environment. I do however think we are now moving into a world where creativity is taking much more of a front seat than it used to, certainly in the world of commerce. For example, start-ups, and a lot of tech businesses are built on a technical idea, but they would also not exist without creativity.
My hope in sharing my story is that it might help other senior leaders to recognise that we’re not superhuman. We need to understand how important it is to create space in our lives, to slow down and perhaps try embracing creativity for personal, as well as organisational benefit.
Sharing my journey and challenges with others has also been hugely beneficial. I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful group of individuals on my Windsor Leadership experience, and because of this superb network I now don’t feel so alone in leadership. This has had a huge impact, as I’ve sought to reshape my way of engaging with work.
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