Leading… Creatively

“Birds fly, humans create” that’s how Kevin Ashton summed up creativity in his interview on Canada’s CBC radio. In one phrase he ends the idea that there’s anything elite about creating. Ashton believes there are no “aha” moments. For Ashton, creativity is about progress one step at a time.

Creativity and Leadership

The parallels with leadership are stark. Sure there’s the leader that comes out of nowhere, offers a radical new view of the world, of business, of whatever, and sure that person gets attention. But even that kind of leadership isn’t as overnight as it seems.

Real leadership is about sweating the small stuff. It’s about sweating the small stuff to the extent that you see connections that aren’t always apparent. And then it’s about making a decision based on what you see.

That’s a creative process and it’s why IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study ranked creativity as the most important leadership quality. So important it outranked integrity and global thinking.

Why would that be?

Steven Tomasco, Director of Communications at IBM was surprised by the result, considering it came off the back of the 2008 crash. CEOs, he said, weren’t looking to depend on traditional qualities like management discipline, in fact they were going in the opposite direction.

Creative Risk-Taking

If someone isn’t prepared to “fall back on management discipline, existing best practices, rigor, or operations” it means they’re taking risks. They’re trying new ideas. And in the process they’re experiencing the nerve-wracking and exciting feeling of doing something different. If we’re not doing the same, then how can we be leading?

A Hiking Diversion

If that sounds scary to you, I think that’s because we sometimes forget what leadership is.

I hike a lot. I often go with friends and when I do I’m always reminded by what leadership—real primal leadership means. There we are hiking along often unmarked trails and there’ll be one of us at the front, looking for the easiest route through, hacking a trail for the rest of us. Sometimes we get lost, sometimes we find ourselves on the edge of vista that’s too beautiful for words.

Either way we got there because of the person at the front guiding our way.

The point I’m making is that like hiking, leadership is about forging a new trail. It’s about finding a novel and inventive way around problems. And that takes a creative and entrepreneurial mindset.

That’s why as leaders, if we’re not taking risks we’re not leading.

But that doesn’t have to be scary or fill us with self-doubt because as Kevin Ashton tells us creativity and (and therefore leadership) isn’t the domain of geniuses. We all do it.

Keeping it Practical

Creativity, like leadership, isn’t a one person show. Here are a few tips I’ve stumbled on that can stimulate creativity. Apply them to leadership and see what happens:

  • Effective leadership is a collaborative chain reaction – use the expertise of the people around you to spark ideas and insights
  • Remember leadership, like creativity, is about doing not thinking so be willing to try things, even if you’re not sure where they might lead
  • Be brave. Be willing to say and do things that aren’t part of your organizational culture
  • Begin by asking yourself, “What if I’m wrong about the best way to tackle this challenge?” You may come up with a better approach
  • Look for opportunities to be creative. The simple truth is, the more you look the more you’ll see
  • As you flex your creative leadership muscle, notice what’s working and do more of it
  • Be gentle with yourself, if things don’t work out perfectly first time, keep going

I’m sure you’ve noticed the common theme in that list is courage. The daring to bring novel thinking to the challenges your business faces.

After all, what’s leadership without courage?


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.

Author: Joe Britto

Joe is a psychological coach, writer, interactive consultant and founder of Innate Leaders. He works with a wide range of leaders from organizations including non-profits as well as the public and private sectors. His work focuses on creating long term sustainable change by developing a leadership mindset throughout an organization.

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