Leaders Create a Culture of Possibility

by Alli Polin on August 20, 2013

Leaders inspire magical moments, fresh thinking and new possibilities

My daughter lost another tooth this weekend.  As soon as it fell out, she began to inquire about the Tooth Fairy and wondered aloud if she’d make an appearance.

Just like in December, when she spoke about Santa, she shared one simple sentence that told me how she sees the world and experiences its magic:

“Some of my friends think that their Moms and Dads leave money and coloring pictures for them, but I know it’s the Tooth Fairy.”

Her world is still magical: The Tooth Fairy brings money, Santa saves Mom and Dad a bundle since we don’t have to spend our money for special gifts, and when she’s scared at night we, her parents, can make bad things disappear in the blink of an eye.

Any possibility that the tooth fairy and Santa are elaborate shows and that her parents aren’t actually killing huge bugs or chasing off intruders are not a possibilities she’s willing to linger on.  Our daughter believes in the magic and it’s ever-present in her life.  Of course, plenty of kids have told her their view of the truth, that none of these things are real, but she doesn’t care and in fact, feels sad that they’re missing out on the magic.

As her parents, we fostered her ability to embrace magical possibilities and have the confidence to believe despite the naysayers.

As leaders, how can we invite more possibility in into our work and create a culture of possibility for the team?  

Judge Less, Explore More

How often do we hear a new idea and immediately the 92,000 reasons why it could never work come to mind?  We dismiss it before we even truly explore it.  Yes, the idea may not be viable, but it could be a like a big blinking sign pointing us somewhere completely new and exciting.  Leaders stop and look around, build, imagine and create possibilities where previously there were none.

Stop Worrying 

Most of us don’t worry that we may mess up, we worry that others will see us flailing, drowning and falling or even worse, they’ll talk about it with everyone and their grandmother.  When we channel all of our energy into worry two things happen 1) We use up our energy worrying about what might go wrong 2) We never fully commit and stretch ourselves, but instead, it’s like we’re walking around with one foot always firmly planted in today and the other can never reach far enough into tomorrow to find success.

Encourage Whimsy

I don’t mean that you should let everyone have pet projects that they get to work on 24/7 but sometimes whimsy gives birth to something truly fresh.  Cultures that empower people to follow their whimsy attract playful, creative, innovative thinkers that don’t want to fit in but are ready to stand out.

Be Excited

Nothing sets the tone for a magical experience than a culture, and leaders, filled with excitement about what’s possible.  Moreover, when people are excited about the mission, vision and understand why their contribution matters, they are motivated to do and give their best.  Give your team the gift of shared passion and belief that together, you can accomplish anything.  Now, imagine what’s possible, and envision the magic of a team that is focused, engaged and working towards shared goals.  Wow.

Leaders that tap into the hopes, dreams and strengths of the team create a magical culture that hums with possibility. ~ Alli Polin (Click to Tweet)

Yes, there is no tooth fairy flying through the house gently landing on her pillow but the tooth fairy does exist; it’s all the Moms and Dads that print pictures and write letters late at night with love and care.  Like great leaders, these parents pass on to their children a magical moment that in turn brings the magic right back into their own lives.  I know, because I’m the Tooth Fairy.  Are you?

How have you created a culture of possibility in your life and work?

Are you ready to make the leap?  For speaking, coaching or consulting, Let’s Connect!

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz August 20, 2013 at 7:00 am

This is very important, Alli. At work, we get worn down and lose those magical moments of what we are doing and can do. Thinking about what is possible puts a bounce back in our step and then the discipline to make the magical moments unfold in reasonable ways is needed. Balancing the art of possibility with the discipline of making it happen is key! Jon

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Alli Polin August 20, 2013 at 8:26 am

Jon, You said it so well.

Work becomes… work when we cease to focus on possibility and instead are living with a “get it done” mentality. We all spend far too much time at the office to have it be drudgery. The answer isn’t living in the clouds and just thinking about endless possibilities but breathing life into our best ideas through action.

Many thanks for sharing your insights here, Jon!

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Blair August 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

This is such a powerful teaching, Alli. And often such a difficult thing to convey. The way that you are allowing and encouraging your daughter to believe and dream is akin to how leaders need to be encouraging their teams – not to escape reality but to believe in possibility and think outside of the box. Excitement, whimsy, acceptance and relaxation ….. Here’s to more cultures that “hum with possibility.”

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 12:45 am

Thanks, Blair! When we let people dream, and believe that they can create a new reality, they can! The best part about the Tooth Fairy’s visit? The joy she creates and the sense of wonder that she brings. Leaders absolutely create that kind of magic too.

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Terri Klass August 20, 2013 at 9:29 am

There really are magical elements to being a leader and you beautifully shared those in this post, Alli! I think those moments are when we can be more open-minded and receive ideas and suggestions as your daughter does when she welcomes in the tooth fairy or santa. Leaders who have that gift will empower their teams to be more innovative and ripe for deeper discussions and outcomes. Thanks for your magic, Alli! Loved the post!

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 12:49 am

Terri – you’re right, being open minded as a leader makes all of the difference. When the team knows that they have an open mind, they will stretch themselves further and engage the leader in the journey, not just the decision points. Appreciate your addition to the conversation here and truly appreciate you, Terri!

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Cynthia Bazin August 20, 2013 at 9:30 am

Such a great post Alli. And so important to convey to our teams that there is great possibility outside of the norm. It encourages creativity and for them to be extraordinary. What really resonated with me on this post was to stop worrying so much. It is so true that when your team worries about the results, it restricts their creativity and ability to get it done. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story with us.

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 12:52 am

Thanks for your comment, Cynthia. I think what really strikes me about your comment and has me nodding along with you is that to be extraordinary is most definitely to be outside of the norm. It’s up to leaders to have trust and faith in their team, let go of the worry, and be wowed by what’s possible.

Thanks again for your insights!

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Karin Hurt August 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

Alli, It’s funny, I’m working on a series on hope for next week. I’m fully with you. Hope, possibility, magic. We need more of all that in organizations.

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

Look forward to your series on Hope, Karin! When all we have is black and white, one right way and all else is wrong, it ceases to be a place that people want to come and work but instead just clock in their time and wait for what’s next.

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Stephen Lahey August 20, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Back in the days when I was responsible for a making payroll, I challenged my team to believe that they could create the magic of exceptional results. There were daily challenges, and there was stress. But consistently creating amazing results reinforces our belief in our own abilities. Perhaps that’s where the magic is?

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 12:55 am

Stephen,

Your comment is really important. You challenged them to step up and make it happen but didn’t tell them how to do that exactly. You unleashed their creativity, know-how and commitment to creating exceptional results – Now that’s leadership!

Thanks for sharing that example here!

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LaRae Quy August 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

My husband is approaching the point at which he is eligible to retire if he wants. When we talk about his next step in life – the second half – I say to him, “What would be fun?” Much like your point about whimsy, I want him to pursue playful and fun projects because we so seldom give ourselves permission to do so during much of life. Playful and fun do not have to mean wasted time…indeed, I think it’s where the magic is – just as you say, Alli.

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 12:58 am

LaRae,

In the past few years I’ve realized how important play is to my motivation and creativity. When I think about play, it doesn’t mean time off sitting on a beach – it does mean tapping into ways to make things fun, engaging, and relationship driven. It’s so true that for most of our working lives we assume that we need to suck it up and one day the golden handcuffs will come off and we’ll be able to enjoy life. Work is also a place where we can enjoy our time and create the magic – no need to wait!

Look forward to hearing what’s next for him!

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D. Scott Smith August 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Wonderful Alli!

(I still believe in Santa)

Deming reminded us that our system is creating exactly what is is designed to create. I have found our Culture is the Habitat in which we operate; and that Habitat will attract and repel different types of inhabitants. If you want (and likely need) a creative organization – solving problems & creating opportunities where none exist – then you need to foster a Culture that supports that type of inhabitant.

A Habitat of rigid conformity, adherence to rules (even if they don’t exist) will attract those who thrive within the expected. (It would kill me.)

You have painted a beautiful and practical picture. (By the way, in our house, the Tooth Phantom will be paying my son a visit very soon).

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 1:02 am

Scott,

Only you could have put this so well given your expertise in Habitats. There are some people that *need and want* the rules to feel safe but they are not the people that feel suffocated by lack of creativity, innovation and self-direction. That’s not an organization that would be a good fit for me either.

Good luck trying to get a picture of the Tooth Phantom! My daughter asked us to stay up to try to get a picture of the Tooth Fairy but alas, we fell asleep, camera in hand.

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Karen Jolly August 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Alli,

What a wonderful article! Encouraging us all to never lose the magic that dreaming, hoping and believing brings to our lives and our work is so needed. This attribute is paramount in getting out of competitive thought for a while and allowing our creative mind to open and flourish.

The more we can allow this gift within us all, the more opportunity for new ideas, inventions and innovations that will improve our future. Our children are such a great reminder to us to live in “wonderment” – and life just gets better and better when we allow this state of gratitude to live fully in us.

Thank you and please tell your daughter to never stop believing! xo

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Alli Polin August 21, 2013 at 1:05 am

Karen,

I’ve totally been there – letting the competitive mind trump the creative mind. I was on teams specifically focused on innovation but we were so caught up in what everyone else was doing and all of the roadblocks, it held us back.

We’ve wondered if she’ll feel angry or duped when she finds out that it’s been her parents all along. However, what we hope is that she will appreciate the gift of belief, joy, whimsy and excitement and carry that with her for the rest of her life.

Many thanks for your insights and even more for being YOU! Always appreciate you.

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Dave Bratcher August 26, 2013 at 7:31 am

Awesome post Alli! If we don’t cast a future for those we are leading, there is no hope. Without hope, there is no possibility! Thanks for sharing!

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Alli Polin August 26, 2013 at 7:33 am

Thanks so much, Dave! I agree – hope is key and creates possibility. No hope? Might as well stop right where we are because this is as good as it’s going to get.

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Much appreciated!

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