Wanted: Creative Leadership

Being a creative leader involves having the ability to see the world in new ways, and to be able to present a vision of how things might be different - and hopefully better.
February 18, 2021
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At Creative Huddle we passionately believe that the world of work is in desperate need of creative leaders. And we're not alone. In a much-quoted 2010 IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs, creativity was cited as the skill most needed to ensure business success in an increasingly complex world.So what is leadership, and why does it need to be 'creative'? To answer this question, it's first important to make a clear distinction between leadership and management.

  • Management = control
  • Leadership = vision

If you have worked in any large organisation you will most likely appreciate the difficulty in making significant, or even minor, changes due to layers of management. While the job of the manager is often to control the 'triple constraints' of cost, time and scope, the job of the leader should be to 'see the big picture' and then inspire, mobilise and empower the workforce to deliver this vision.

Why 'creative' leadership?

Being a creative leader involves having the ability to see the world in new ways, and to be able to present a vision of how things might be different - and hopefully better. According to Amabile and Khaire (2008), "the first priority of leadership is to engage the right people, at the right times, to the right degree in creative work". Amongst other factors, the IBM survey highlighted that creative leaders 'are more comfortable with ambiguity', 'invite disruptive innovation', and 'expect to make more business model changes to realise their strategies'.

And contrary to the traditional American model of capitalism, companies are more than just short-term profit machines - Rosabeth Kanter (2011) argues that great companies bring about positive societal change while providing 'meaningful livelihoods for those who work in them'. It is the leader, and only a creative leader, who has the power to make this happen.

What distinguishes a true leader from a senior manager is their ability to deal with power. Many CEOs fall in to the trap of just being the manager with the most power, rather than the leader with the most vision, and spend their time micro-managing the business instead of focusing on the horizon.

A key mechanism which determines how we deal with power is our ego - in other words, how we let this power affect us. It is often the case that the more power we have, the more we fear losing that power, and the more we allow it to inflate our ego. But if we are mindful of our own ego and can lead without it, we are able to return this power back to those who have entrusted us with it. In this way a virtuous cycle occurs: the more we empower others, the more power they want to give us. It's a win-win.

As a leader you have the ultimate power to change things, but what should guide you in wielding this power? Building a great company takes more than a narrow focus on profits and bottom lines, it requires developing a vision that your workforce can believe in. If you want to truly lead your workforce you will need to engage, mobilise and empower them. The more you empower your staff, the more you yourself will be empowered. And such empowerment often leads to greater innovation, better ideas, and increased profitability.

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