Leadership Creativity

Leadership Creativity

With all of the current pressure of business leaders you could be forgiven for saying right now leadership creativity is not a priority. However as this article explains creativity is the basis of innovation. Creativity finds opportunity. Creativity enables businesses to pivot.

One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity

Amabile and Khaire (HBR 2008)

Creativity is The Most Important Leadership Quality

Creative leaders see the opportunities that others don’t. Boards and executive teams recognise the need for leadership creativity to accelerate and generate innovation. But more than that creativity can drive:

  • Problem solving
  • Achieving growth
  • Driving transformation
  • Building team culture
  • Effective mentoring of teams
  • Identifying unique and unlikely business opportunities

In 2010 IBM surveyed 1500 global company executives to understand what drives them as they lead. Creativity was ranked highest outweighing integrity, dedication and global thinking.

Most Important Leadership Qualities
Source: IBM Survey 2010 on business drivers – Fast Company / Clutch.co

Building Your Leadership Creativity

You can change. All leaders have the potential for creativity but it does require being open to change, acceptance of failure, a keen-ness to learn.

  • Open your mind to creative growth – Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset explains the brain’s plasticity (ability to change and grow). You can change your brain to become more creative.
  • Empower your teams with creativity – techniques such as Design Thinking can be taught quickly and teams gain huge insights from the process: consider different ideas, prototype, test and learn.
  • Develop thought leadership – learn and share you learnings with the team. There is a wealth of knowledge available online that can help you learn creative techniques. Learn and then become the sharer of this knowledge.
  • Accept failure is part of the process – It is very hard for many leaders to accept that great creativity comes from failure. But you can’t learn and explore opportunities if you are not willing to take the wrong path. The skill creative leaders build it to rapidly test, learn, revise and not go too far down the wrong path.

IDEO who coined the term ‘Design Thinking’ used it to refer to a process of “seeking that sweet spot of feasibility, viability, and desirability as you take into account the real needs and desires of your customers”. They go on to point out that there is no one size fits all methodology for bringing new ideas to life but a successful process uses four steps: inspiration, synthesis, ideation and implementation.

Some people believe that creative geniuses have a remarkable ability to see things that the rest of us can’t. However according to Professor Simonton of University of California, the opposite is true: “creative geniuses, from artists like Mozart to scientists like Darwin, are quite prolific when it comes to failure—they just don’t let that stop them”.

Creative geniuses explore more, try more, ‘take more shots at goal’. That constant trying and learning approach actually leads to the ultimate ‘stoke of genius’.

The message is clear – creative success requires you to rapidly overcome and learn from failure. Be prepared to fail again.

Creativity Flowing
Image Credit: Tim Mossholder Unsplash

Applying Creativity to Leading Teams

Not every leader is comfortable being creative. They can however build highly creative teams. Here are some techniques to building a growth mindset in your teams and unlocking their creativity.

  • Advocate creativity – Leadership creativity starts with building the creative muscle in your team. Advocate for techniques that explore the options, ideate to learn various possibilities.
  • Diversity helps creativity – A bunch of people in a team with the same lived experience are unlikely to thing of wildly different things. A diverse teams considers ideas from different perspectives generating unique ideas.
  • Encourage the ‘college debate’ – A college debate is respectful and gets people to make a compelling argument for a topic that they previously may not have considered or believed in. Explore red and blue teams to challenge the norms and be ready to accept and learn from failure. The best teams fail fast, learn and try again.
  • Be a creative champion – As the leader you need to take the ideas forward to allocate resources and be the voice on behalf of your team

Creativity is all about trial and error..

In a hilarious video recorded in 1991 (above) John Cleese explains the creative process requires firstly that we move our brains into the ‘Open Mode’. This is when we are making ourselves ready to create and explore. He goes on to explore we need the ‘Closed Mode’ to effectively implement.

Cleese goes on to explain “we need to be in the open mode when we’re pondering a problem but once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we’ve made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.”

The Importance of Creativity in Business

All organisations are operating in a highly competitive, global environments. “Creativity is what fuels big ideas, challenges employees’ way of thinking, and opens the door to new business opportunities.” Landry (Northeastern 2017)

Innovation and creativity are not the same thing. However you can not have innovation without creativity.

Associate Professor Tucker Marion says. “There are a lot of competencies that go into realizing an innovation. Creativity is different because creativity is a mechanism to being innovative. You can have great ideas, but not be innovative.

There are lots of processes associated with innovation and it is very clear that innovation will not succeed with creativity alone. But Leadership Creativity is an important tool.

Key Takeaways

  • Creativity will help you be a more effective leader. It aids you to better manage and develop your team.
  • Leadership Creativity empowers innovation and opportunity.
  • Even if you are not a very creative person you can be a creative leader by empowering your team to be creative.
This DIGEST references a number of articles

from CEO Magazine
Why creativity is a powerful leadership tool and how to embrace it
By David Jones
Published: 29th November 2019

and from Clutch
The Importance of Creative Leadership
by Lysa Miller
Published: 1st February 2018

and from Creative Jeffrey
The Nine Principal Rules of Creative Leadership
by Jeffrey Baumgartner


and from John Cleese and Video Arts
John Cleese on Creativity in Management
by John Cleese
Published 1991

and from The Complete Leader

and from Harvard Business Review
Creativity and the Role of the Leader
by Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire
Published: October 2008

and from James Clear
Transcript of Creativity in Management
By John Cleese

and from Northeastern University
The Importance of Creativity in Business
By Lauren Landry
Published: 9th November 2017

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