The Creative Leadership No-Brainer, Part II

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    You have heard it all before every time business goes through a rough patch.

    “It’s time our leaders got creative.” Actually, it’s time we all got creative.

    “Creative people just drive you crazy.” “They have no social skills–well limited ones.” However, you know creative people so you have to watch getting them angry. “They could do creatively bad things to you.” I’m kidding, of course. I doubt if anyone actually says that, but…

    It’s almost as if being creative is a bad thing. We like what creative people can do for us. We find it most entertaining, but when it comes to leadership, we want serious business. It seems it’s always been that way.

    There are actually people who think “the creative people I work with are nice and can be fun to work with, but they are not detail-oriented and it drives me nuts! Let them tilt at windmills, but don’t ask them to draw a detailed map to the windmill because you’ll never get there – even if you stop and ask for directions…”

    It’s almost as if being creative is a bad thing. We like what creative people can do for us. We find it most entertaining, but when it comes to leadership, we want serious business. It seems it’s always been that way.

    We expect our leaders to reign with dignity, to relish a vision, and motivate us to do the same–but remain above it all. We don’t expect them to be creative–until we need them to be creative. Someone has to. And we’ve alienated those who–but for fear of getting laughed at or otherwise ostracized–could come to our aid and offer creative suggestions. About that vision we expect leaders to have… Where did that come from? One of the creative members of their staffs? Or, from themselves? I’m guessing the latter.

    Okay, this does sound sensible. To a point, but wait for it. I’ve heard it said or read it in a social media comment somewhere:

    “For creativity to be appreciated, it needs to be planted, nurtured and cultivated throughout the organization. Relegating it to just the leadership levels creates dreamers who don’t have the resources to execute.”

    What no dreamers? If that’s the case, there is no Thomas Edison. No Alexander Graham Bell. No Steve Jobs. I’m a little slow remembering all the creative geniuses who made big changes to our lives, but I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    If there ever was a time in the corporate world of business for proactive managers and leaders–and creative energy drives action–that time is now. Haven’t you heard? I read this somewhere recently. All leaders should be creative, passionate, sensitive and self-confident–especially in today’s world market. Most of us would probably agree that creativity is applying an innovative approach to an established view—a view by the way that was probably once thought to be creative itself.

    Some would even say for a leader to demonstrate that creativity, he or she loses credibility.

    In Part One of this blog, I talked about the study that said the person who demonstrates creativity is not perceived by others (peers, especially) to be leadership material. Just as the leader is not perceived to be very creative. Some would even say for a leader to demonstrate that creativity, he or she loses credibility. I had a leader who used to dress up in a silly costume on Halloween and pass out candy to his employees. I thought the act was silly–humorous even, but I didn’t think it made him someone else. Yup, he was still the boss. And, he is still the-follow-him-anywhere guy.

    If we accept the leader should not be creative in practice once he’s laid that creative egg, what’s next? In other words, once a leader has found that creative vision, how can he or she transfer that “creative” vision to the rest of the company without being creative and have it heard. That requires a different skill, or does it?

    We train leaders to be creative, but usually only when we need them. What if creativity is inherent, and can’t be trained? Are wasting our time instilling creativity in leaders instead of hiring potential leaders already equipped with that ability?

    A little creativity thrown in with normal leadership traits might help. Our perceptions that leaders cannot be leaders and be creative, too, may be just flat wrong. Leaders with vision must be creative and often are in other ways, but that ability to use that creativity in his or her job is restrained by a corporate culture that has determined for years what a leader should look like. Times have changed. The world is more accessible–a mouse click away. Business and market trends change almost instantaneously. Are we seriously in the same position we were years ago?

    There have always been signs creativity was necessary in the problem solving arena. Leaders and key staff have retreats designed to bring out those hidden abilities—and in times of trouble we are expected to train them to be even more creative, too. Can you even train someone to be creative? I believe you can to a point. Some leaders show a natural talent for it. Some ability is inherent. If it is, then we should look for potential leaders who already have it rather than try to train those who do not.

    I think you can pose scenarios, offer meditation techniques, reflection and observation techniques. Maybe those same techniques can be used to train those who surround the leaders and creative types about tolerance and openness to new ideas.

    The training team is hampered by that the norm is to hire “team players.” While this hiring practice sounds reasonable on the surface, in a company built around rigid processes and policies it just breeds conformity. And conformity we know is not a producer of creativity. If you try changing the corporate dynamic, you may find yourself on the list of those who don’t deserve the company’s attention any more.

    This is why companies built on a foundation of creativity and ingenuity are making us all take notice. Maybe they’re doing something right.

    I’m afraid this is the Computer Age no longer–but the Age of Innovation. We need innovation as well as creative ideas to gain and hold consumer attention.

    Obviously, there are companies that are creative by nature—they deal in artistic and graphic art representations, marketing products or services, or problem-solving for others… That’s still most of us!

    While we are debating the merits of training creativity to our leaders or training our creatives to be leaders, maybe we should be training tolerance and acceptance of all the roles people play in an organization—each being important in its own way.

    Let’s not forget that companies that succeed in the first place began and thrived because of a whole lot of creative spirit, an attitude that stood the company apart from other companies. Creativity began the day; it can save the day. Unique solutions to company problems, unique attention-getting communication to the public about who we are and what we can do for them will save the day.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.