Leadership Insight: The Importance of Creativity in Leadership
In an IBM study, CEOs from around the world cited “the rapid escalation of complexity” as the biggest challenge confronting them and their organizations. The same CEOs identified creativity in leadership as the single most important leadership competency for seeking a path through this complexity. But according to survey results released earlier this month by AMA Enterprise and the Institute for Corporate Productivity, creativity is one of the hardest leadership competencies to master.
“Leaders today are overwhelmed with too little time and too much to accomplish in any given day,” said Sandi Edwards, senior vice president at AMA Enterprise. “There is little to no time allotted for real thinking, brainstorming or experimentation without judgment. With so much pressure to produce quick results in the current economic environment, it may seem like a luxury to walk away from the mountain of tasks to be accomplished.”
So then, how can leaders infuse creativity into their daily routines? Erik Wahl believes leaders need a steady stream of disruptive strategies and unexpected solutions to stay ahead of the game — solutions that revive stagnant markets or completely reinvent the competitive dynamics of an industry.
“If we do not employ creativity as a core cultural imperative in business, we will be stuck in yesterday’s success and actively resist change,” he said. “The most efficient framework for leaders to promote innovation is to create a culture that rewards creative thinking. Build a professional platform that engages and ignites new ideas.”
Simply put one doesn’t manage creativity, one manages for creativity.
• Tap ideas from all ranks
Google’s founders tracked the progress of ideas that they had backed versus ideas that had been executed in the ranks without support from above, and discovered a higher success rate in the latter category. Creative leaders allow their team the freedom to shape the organization’s future.
• Encourage and enable collaboration
Though past breakthroughs sometimes have come from a single genius, the reality today is that most innovations draw on many contributions. Consider the examples of Mozilla or Wikipedia. The leaders of these companies rely on the collective wisdom, and creativity, of the larger group to spur their organizations to greatness.
• Open the organization to diverse perspectives
Innovation is more likely when people of different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise share their thinking to solve a central problem. Creative leaders shy away from the “one size fits all approach” and build a diverse team with many differing strengths and skills.
• Provide intellectual challenge
Those who are motivated by intellectual challenge tend to be more productive. Creative leaders recognize this and provide the stimulation, and support, necessary for team members to solve complex problems.
• Allow people to pursue their passions
Creative leaders must be aware of individual team members’ interests and skills. This knowledge enables management to unleash the natural talent of their staff by allowing them to focus on their respective areas of excellence and interest.
• Be an appreciative audience.
The fact that creative workers are intrinsically motivated does not mean that managers’ behavior makes no difference. A creative leader can do much to challenge and inspire creative work in progress by making themselves available and serving as a sounding board for their team.
• Embrace the certainty of failure.
Arguably, the managerial reactions that speak loudest to creative workers are reactions to failure. Managers must decrease fear of failure; the goal should be to experiment constantly, fail early and often, and learn as much as possible in the process.
“Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution.”