Leadership and Creativity
It is said that creativity, expertise and leadership are a great team. Yet, working in a creative industry, I have heard so many in senior management positions say; “I just can’t be creative”.
I think, creativity can be learned, it is not a gift from the gods (for most of us). The best place to learn is from the creative departments of advertising agencies. I’ve employed or contracted many creative teams and have learned many leadership lessons from “the tricks of the creative professionals”.
For the successful professional, manager or Chief Executive, being creative represents both their greatest opportunity and hardest challenge. Many need to change their preconditioned thinking about creativity.
Creative thinking and innovation are in such high demand in business today, we need a clear understanding of how they relate to leadership.
What is the connection between leadership and creativity? Do leaders need to be creative? There seems to be some relationship between the two because we associate leaders with providing new direction and championing change. Leadership is often portrayed as breaking new ground. Leading the way seems to imply going first, again suggesting that being creative might be an essential leadership trait. Another interesting question is whether creative people automatically show leadership whenever they do something new. If being creative means going first in some area, is that not leadership?
The Conventional Definition of Leadership
Naturally, how creativity and leadership are related depends on how they are defined. Among the most popular conceptions of leadership is one that portrays leaders as facilitators, catalysts or enablers. They don’t need to be creative on this view. On the contrary, they need to be good at fostering creativity in others. Leaders conceived as the people in charge of groups do need to champion change but they don’t need to be the originators of the ideas behind any particular change. They might be creative but they don’t have to be.
A Novel Definition of Leadership
If we define leadership simply as promoting a better way regardless of whether the person doing so is in a managerial role or not, then we have a concept of leadership that is closer to creativity. On this view, any front-line knowledge worker or innovator who has an idea for a new product or better process, and who successfully convinces top management to buy it, has thus shown leadership bottom-up. Because such thought leaders do not manage their bosses, and perhaps no one at all, they can’t be said to be fostering innovative thinking in others. Such leadership is more closely connected to creativity as it is the originator of a new product that often promotes it. On this view, it is a management function to foster innovative thinking in others. Leadership directly promotes new directions.
Creativity Not Essential for Leadership
Because we live in a knowledge-driven age driven by constant innovation, leadership defined as promoting a new direction will often be shown by innovators. But even here, creativity is not essential for leadership. Many people who champion a better way are simply opportunists. They are quick to spot the good ideas of others. Often, creative people are the types that immerse themselves so fully in their technology that they haven’t developed the social skills to influence people. Such creative thinkers need a promoter to champion their innovations. The person taking the leadership role in this case needs to have the courage to challenge the status quo more than to be personally creative.
Not All Creative People Are Leaders
A case could be made for the claim that all creative people are leaders even if only indirectly. By doing something different, they are setting an example. So, even if they don’t have the influencing skills to persuade people to buy their idea, they could be said to be leading by example. However, leadership implies followership. That is, there cannot be any leadership if no one is moved to get on board. The same is true of sales. It doesn’t matter how good at selling someone might be. If no one buys, then there is no sale. In this sense, leading, like selling, is not a way of behaving but an impact on others. If there is no impact, if people do not choose to follow the leadership effort, then there has only been a leadership attempt. Further, there are countless examples of pure art that are not meant to convince people to do or think differently except perhaps fellow artists. But, even in this case, if no fellow artists adopt the style of a creative artist, then no leadership has been shown. The same is true in business. An innovative knowledge worker could develop a new product idea that no one is interested in so, again, no leadership is shown.
Creativity and a New Definition of Leadership
When we define leadership as promoting new directions, there is a much closer connection with innovation and creativity than when we say that leadership entails being in an executive position. But, even in this case, it is still true that leadership does not require creativity. Also, it is possible to be creative without showing leadership.
We are living in a time that is uncertain yet creative. Leaders need to think about the wonderful opportunities ahead. Knowledge is exploding. We can talk to anybody, anywhere and anytime. Even corporations are looking for friends and partners. Nothing is impossible. A sense of creativity will make this century great.
The human spirit can make it different. To develop as a leader, get out of your seats. Talk to someone. Talk to employees you’ve hardly even met. Talk to your family. Communicate. The future awaits: what are you going to do?