Using Creativity to Develop Organizational Leadership Skills: Q&A with Author Stephanie Taglianetti


Stephanie Taglianetti has a creative background, earning an MFA in Writing from CalArts. She’s moved on to leadership roles in research and editing and has co-authored a book on organizational leadership, Learn Laugh Lead: How to Avoid a Huge Leadersh*t. The Bridge blog asked Stephanie about creativity and developing leadership skills based on her creative and professional experience in discovering and telling the stories of companies — in her various professional roles in public relations, content writing, and marketing. 

We invite you to attend a free Meet the Author seminar with Stephanie’s co-author, Brian Harman, an MBA and leadership consultant, at Golden Gate University on Wednesday, August 15, from 12-1pm (Room 5210). Register Now  >>

First, how would you describe organizational leadership skills?

Listening, presenting, motivating, and telling stories are fundamental skills. We are our own brands and we constantly have to market ourselves as leaders. We send messages in everything we do. And we need people to be receptive to those messages if we are in a leadership position. We need to develop our own personal marketing campaigns, in a way, to be our own brand messengers — and that means you have to know your own brand deeply.

Do you need to be a writer or some sort of creative to “tell a story” that’s engaging?

I think everyone actually does know their personal story. They just might not know how to tell it. Your story is about you. And you know yourself. Ask yourself things like: Where did you come from? What is important to you? What are your goals? Where do you want to be? What do you want to see in other people? The answers to these questions are fundamentally important to you — are they being addressed at your current workplace or are you being challenged in these fundamentals at your current workplace?

I think artists bring a degree of emotional intelligence with them in everything they do. And it’s something everyone can learn and benefit from. Good storytelling requires creativity, honesty, and vulnerability.

Don’t think of what your weaknesses are, but rather: What are qualities you want to perfect in yourself? Is your current workplace challenging you in that regard? These are all root motives of wanting to move on from somewhere. Whether that means getting a promotion or changing careers entirely. Knowing what is fundamentally important to you will help you tell your personal story. The engaging part takes practice. What parts of your story did people respond to especially well? Which parts of your story do you feel most confident? Is your story relatable? You learn what works over time, and you should always think of your personal story as a work in progress.

Why might creativity be important to aspiring leaders and managers?

Daniel Pink is an author (of a New York Times bestseller) and philosopher who talks a lot about emotional intelligence and how you need to engage with people on an emotional level. I think artists bring a degree of emotional intelligence with them in everything they do. And it’s something everyone can learn and benefit from. Good storytelling requires creativity, honesty, and vulnerability. This emotional sensitivity also helps in business to listen closely, build relationships with teams, understand yourself, and understand how people will respond to messages.

Being honest and emotionally vulnerable will help you tell your personal story. We want to elicit that innate, real, emotional, and human feeling in other people through our conversations, meetings, presentations, etc. Being human is fundamental in all of that. Even if it means you have to admit that you made a mistake. What’s the harm in saying: “Actually that’s not what I meant. Here’s what I was going for…”

You talk about creative storytelling tools such as setting, plot, and metaphor? Do you want to talk about one or more of these?

Metaphors and analogies are an easy way to break down complex ideas. And I found that this was a problem solve in the writing of the book itself – breaking down more complex leadership theories into extended metaphors. For example, I dissected Brian’s leadership theories revolved around the fundamental skill of “listening” into an entire section of the book that served as an extended metaphor about knights, the medieval period, and the importance of listening/storytelling in that time period.

As you say in the book, you set out to write something that is not “jargony with loads of poo.”

I brought creativity to the book, thinking about how people were going to digest the information and apply it in everyday life. We wanted to write something that was translatable in the real world, with actionable exercises and tools you can use — and to tell the reader these things in an engaging way. We have a story with a graphic character, Mr. Butts, threaded throughout the book — prefacing chapters and living through the book’s principles. He shows what not to do and say as a leader in the beginning — and as he starts applying some of our teachings, you see him develop into a better leader. We are telling you, but we are also showing you. People have different learning styles and I thought it was important to have visual components in the book.

Each leader we interviewed for Learn Laugh Lead represents a fundamental aspect of creativity.

What was satisfying in the creation of this book was getting from theory to practice. My co-author is an MBA who explains concepts in a structural way. You may need to explain or change something to express it in a digestible way.  The 5 Whys tool is an example, which is based on The ‘5 Why’ Six Sigma method used to determine the root causes of an issue.  For example, if you are in an interview, a hiring manager may say, “Tell me about yourself.”  I might say something like “I am outgoing,” but that doesn’t say why or tell you anything about an actual human being in a memorable way. To get to why, you can ask yourself, “Why am I outgoing?” Answer: I grew up in a neighborhood where we went outside and played with other kids and people. I got used to engaging with people from a young age. From there, I can ask myself another why question. I’ll repeat this 5 times until I have a really firm understanding about why I’m an outgoing person. Then, instead, when that hiring manager asks me “Tell me about yourself,” I will understand my “outgoing” nature and have a much more engaging answer.

Did you see creativity among the leaders you interviewed for the book?

Each leader we interviewed for Learn Laugh Lead… represents a fundamental aspect of creativity. For example, Laura, who is charge of leadership development at Kaiser Permanente, embodies emotional intelligence and learning. She immerses herself in new cultures, finding the best ways to help others and seeks to understand what life on the rest of our planet is like, because it informs the way she helps other leaders develop the best practices. She says: “True leadership requires high emotional intelligence.”

As a creative question, where does the inspiration for as you say “poop jokes” in the book? ​

We wanted to make people laugh and not take themselves too seriously. It’s important to be able to loosen up and laugh at silly stuff every once in a while. And, of course, they are related to our extended metaphor about sh*t.

We invite you to register now for the free seminar with Stephanie’s co-author, Brian Harman, MBA at Golden Gate University on Wednesday, August 15, from 12-1pm (Room 5210).

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