logo image

ATD Blog

Playing to Win: How Leaders Successfully Navigate Challenging Times


Mon Aug 09 2021

Playing to Win: How Leaders Successfully Navigate Challenging Times

Leaders are facing challenges that they have never encountered before. How should they handle the pandemic and the ensuing uncertainty in the world? How will they deal with climate change and energy transition? How can they cut costs while innovating and keeping remote and often a limited supply of staff engaged? To rise to these challenges, leaders need to know what type of leadership makes the difference between struggling on or successfully riding the waves of change.

Lead From a Creative Mindset, Not One of Fear and Avoidance

In March 2020, the management team at Schouten Global found itself in one of the worst crises in the existence of the company. COVID-19 hit the world, and our L&D industry was affected in a big way. In one month, we saw our turnover plummet to a fraction of the budget. Our contingency plans could not keep up with developments; they were overtaken by the reality of the pandemic almost the day after we created them. So, what could we do?


We decided not just to wait for the storm to pass. We asked ourselves this question: Who do we want to be as a company after COVID-19? What needs will our customers have by then, and how can we use this time to reinvent ourselves for our customers? We came up with three strategic projects to create that future. At that moment, we had fewer projects for customers and a little more time on our hands, which allowed us to execute those innovation projects.

A year later, our turnover is 15 percent above the 2019 level, and 80 percent of our turnover comes from innovative products we did not have two years ago.

This way of leading is called leading from a creative mindset in the Leadership Circle framework, which is a proven new leadership concept that helps leaders to lead from desire instead of fear, from what they want to create instead of what they want to avoid. This approach of acting from a vision and a desirable outcome generates creative energy in themselves, their teams, and their organization.

Leaders who do not act from desirable outcome risk the pitfall of reacting to their environment and just dealing with problems and issues to neutralize their impact and get back to “normal”—a normal that will never be the same anymore. That is acting based on fear, which does not generate energy, creativity, or enthusiasm. It merely consumes energy and blocks creativity for themselves and their members. In the terms of the Leadership Circle framework, this is reactive leadership. Reacting out of fear will send leaders and their teams’ survival brains into action rather than their creative brains, which is needed in times of crisis.

Five Creative Competencies for Effective Leaders

William A. Adams and Robert J. Anderson created the Leadership Circle framework. In Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, they distinguish five creative competencies and three reactive tendencies that leaders can show in their behavior.


Creative Competencies

  • Relating. How to bring out the best in others

  • Self-awareness. How to enhance their own development

  • Authenticity. How to act with courage and integrity

  • Systems awareness. How to act with the bigger picture in mind

  • Achieving. How to lead from vision and achieve results

Reactive tendencies

  • Complying. Preferring caution rather than achieving results and “going along to get along” instead of voicing one’s truth

  • Protecting. Emphasizing self-protection rather than engagement and finding faults with others instead of courageous authenticity

  • Controlling. Using dominating others instead of creating alignment

Their research shows that leaders who are acting with creative competencies are far more effective than leaders who act with reactive tendencies. This is especially true in challenging situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, where stakes are higher, and the tendency to act from fear is strongest.

How to Develop Your Creative Side

This all sounds great, but as a leader, how do you develop this creative dimension within yourself and your team? To do this, we must dig a little deeper. Mindset and habits of thought are key drivers of competencies and behavior. To develop creative competencies, you need to examine the internal assumptions that are driving your behavior.

Do you act from limiting beliefs such as “I have to go along to get along,” or “I need to prove my self-worth by being perfect all the time,” and “I need to be in control otherwise, things will go wrong?” Those limiting beliefs are saboteurs in your head. Saboteurs create their own reality. For example, if I believe I have to be in control to create good outcomes, I will not delegate tasks to my team. Consequently, my team will not feel I trust or support them, and they will not be as creative as they could be when feeling trusted and supported.


Our saboteurs lead us right through to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Great leaders are adept at knowing their own saboteurs, intercepting them, and not letting their actions be guided by them, explains CEO coach Shirzad Chamine. Instead, he says that they use positive intelligence and let their actions be guided by a creative mindset, thus generating creative behavior.

Enhance the Leadership in Your Organization

Do you want to learn more about this leadership framework and the dynamics that are holding leaders back? In doing so, you’ll develop creative competencies in yourself and your organization. Visit our session, Playing to Win, at ATD 2021 International Conference & Exposition.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In


Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy