What My Grandfather Taught Me About Unleashing Employee Creativity

Toronto Slide Deck.001

My Dad sitting on his Italian convertible in front of his plane – the plane he bought in his early 20s.

One Sunday in July of 1949, my grandfather took my dad, 10 years old at the time, to a small regional airport. My grandfather knew the owner of the airport and he had arranged for his son, a boy who wanted to fly more than anything else, to have his very first flight.

That 10-year-old boy was euphoric! As if he’d had any doubts at all, after that flight, he knew for sure that he would one day fly a plane! When recalling the Big Day, my dad told me that it was that day that he also knew he would own his own plane.

When he was around 16 years old, my dad ordered a blueprint from Popular Mechanics magazine for building an airplane, not a model airplane, but a real passenger airplane. “How did he build the engine?” I asked my grandmother the first time she told me the story of my young dad building his own plane. “He never got around to the engine. He went off to college before finishing,” she said, “but his plan was to use an old lawnmower motor.”

My dad told me,

“I actually thought I’d get the plane to fly, but Daddy knew I never would. He let me spend money on the plane, dream about flying the plane and spend countless hours on the plane, because this dream of building and the actual work of building my own plane that would never fly, fueled my dreams of flying. He knew that this passion would indeed lead to me flying and ultimately, owning my own plane.” 

When my dad turned 26, after earning his bachelor’s degree and then getting his private pilot license, he bought his own plane. His father’s support, belief and enthusiasm helped him achieve his dream. When leaders give employees support, belief and enthusiasm, they help employees unleash creativity, which can lead to a more productive and happy workplace.

Here are 3 ways – lessons from my grandfather – that you can unleash employee creativity for a happier and more productive workplace.

1. Make Time to Talk to Your Employees One-on-One

My grandfather was a busy man. He was father of 6, worked two jobs, plus he volunteered as the church janitor! In all of his busyness, he made time to listen to his son’s dream of flying and to spend quality time with him to fuel his passion. He listened with interest and took action to help his son reach for his dream.

Your Take-away. Don’t allow yourself to be too busy to meet with your employees one on one to discuss projects, goals, performance and visions. Listen with the intent to find clues to tell you exactly how you can help your employees reach their optimal performance.

2. Encourage creativity

The norm in organizations is to stifle creativity. “We don’t have the resources.” “It will never work.” “It’s already been done.” “It’s never been done.” Sadly, if it were my son who was interested in building a plane, I would have been the Naysayer. But I’m trying to learn from my grandfather’s example. I want you to learn too.

Your Take-away. Resist the urge to shut down creative ideas your employees bring to you. Instead, try asking questions, being open and giving your employees your enthusiasm and your blessing. Creative employees are more fulfilled and more productive!

3. Believe in the impossible

My grandfather knew that his son would not actually get his makeshift airplane to fly. But he gave him the encouragement, resources and space to explore building a plane. This support fanned the flame of my dad’s passion.

Your Take-away: Even if you cannot see your employee’s vision or if you think it’s simply impossible, consider giving them the support, resources and room they need to chase innovation. They just may give your organization its best idea yet!

Make time to talk to your employees one-on-one about their professional passions, have the courage to believe the impossible and never stop encouraging creativity. When you do, you’ll help foster a workplace culture where creativity is the norm and employees are both happy and productive.

Now you can get even more ideas for motivating employees, specifically how to motivate employees working in customer service. View or download for my high energy video, How to Motivate Customer Service Employees. It’s loaded with practical ideas to resist burnout and fire-up customer service employees.