The Creative Leader Series: Part 1

Too often people want answers, not more questions. For the most part, we would much rather just move on, then move forward…

In the Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman share findings from an “IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs” that “identified creativity as the No.1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future.” They continue that, “all around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions.” And yet, since 1990 we have seen that “creativity scores have consistently inched downward.” In the same article, Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William and Mary informs us that “it’s very clear, and the decrease is significant.” Kim continues that “it is the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade – for whom the decline is most serious.”

All around us we hear the rallying cry for more creativity, more innovation…from the classroom to the boardroom.  

We all see its importance, its necessity as a defining skill in today’s knowledge economy. Yet, we struggle to truly determine what it is, what it looks like, what it sounds like, and how we make it happen, at scale. So we throw around slogans in our organizations, such as, Think Different because we think it sounds good, not necessarily because we want people, too.

In most organizations, we learn to keep our head down, just trying to keep pace and roll positively with the ongoing flood of new initiatives and mandates.  

Asking questions, pushing ideas, invoking new ways of thinking and doing, are often seen as a stance of insubordination or a lack of understanding and knowledge. Neither of which most people want to be associated with, especially if you want to keep moving up the organizational ladder.

So we have a tendency to suppress our questions, our ideas, even our creative and innovative thinking, not because we want or think we are wrong or off-base, but because of how we think others will look at, think about, or even talk about or judge us. And it is that collegial or managerial pressure that often inhibits and slowly buries away our creative and innovate thinking, at all levels of the organization.

However, if we are ever going to increase the levels of creativity and innovation occurring from the classroom to the boardroom, we need leaders who can tap in and scale creative and innovative thinking across their organizations. We need leaders who themselves, are creative and innovative thinkers.

We need creative leaders who, can in turn, create the organizational environment and culture that provides permission for creativity and innovation to exist and flourish…

David Burkus, author of the ‘Myth of Creativity’, supports this in his article, ‘Why Do We Keep Creative People Out Of Leadership Roles’ from the Creativity Post, in which he shows “studies reveal that more creative people are better able to lead positive change in organizations and are better equipped to inspire followers.” However, the story does not end on that positive note, rather he goes on to tell that “most creative people aren’t given the opportunity to lead.”  He adds, “we love stories of creative people; we just don’t want to be led by them.”  

The question then, is why?

Burkus imparts that “Creative people are associated with breaking molds and working in unconventional ways while leaders are asked to provide structure and order to the organization, not the assumed disorder that comes with being ‘creative.” In the same article, Burkus shares evidence from two studies in which researchers found that those they studied showed “a negative correlation between creativity and leadership potential” as well participants saying “they desired creative ideas, but subconsciously rejected creativity.”

Which ultimately means that we are going to have to more intentional in building better understanding around creativity and what it really is, especially if we are going to establish the conditions and environment that allows for more creative and innovative organizations.

And to do that, we are going to have to allow for more creative and innovative leaders.

We can no longer just expound on the importance of creativity and innovation in our new knowledge economy, rather we need leaders who can generate better understandings in and of creativity if we are to ever create the conditions to bring it to scale in our organizations.

We are all creative and innovative, the problem is that we have suppressed it for so long, we no longer have the belief that it still resides and exists within us…


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