Traditional Versus Creative Leadership

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued. So it’s much more about creating climates. I think it’s a big shift for a lot of people.”
– Sir Ken Robinson

traditional vs creative leadershiptable: John Maeda and Becky Bermont/Redesigning Leadership

A creative leader is able to bring out the creativity of other people. It is the opposite of “do as I say, not as I do” leadership. More than other types of leadership, this is really about cultivating an organizational culture that supports and values creative thinking and problem-solving.

A survey of over 1,500 CEOs, conducted by IBM found that creativity is the most important leadership quality. Flexible, open-minded leaders rely on creative problem-solving at some level every day.

According to Sanjay Dalal, CEO & founder of the website Ogoing, the top three characteristics and traits of creative leaders are:

“1. Great at generating many ideas – innovative, game changing and even commonplace.
2. Always looking to experiment with good ideas. Sometimes, trying out a few times.
3. Unwavering belief in their creativity and innovation, coupled with originality in thinking.”
See more at http://creativityandinnovation.blogspot.com/2007/01/top-ten-creative-leadership-traits.html

Creative leadership isn’t just about generating novel ideas or approaches; it actually changes systems. Travis N. Turner notes that, “creative leaders tend to pursue revolutionary strategies (that reinvent the system) rather than the incremental strategies (that improve the existing system).” For this reason I believe that it is more than a fad, or a “flavor of the month.”

Strategic thinking is inherently creative thinking. Leaders are continuously imagining how events will unfold. They are developing contingencies based on the reality that things are not always predictable.

An article by consultant Charles Day, in Fast Company magazine listed the “four weapons of exceptional creative leaders.” You can see how his list includes a number of ideas we have explored already. Day’s list includes:

  • Context – Context is built from the future back, based on the best current information. Understanding context requires both knowledge and imagination.
  • Clearly Defined Values – Shared values are the heart of an organization’s culture. Creative leaders realize that this arises from conversation and discovery, and not from orders or memos.
  • Trust – Eric Hoffer said, “Someone who thinks the world is always cheating him is right. He is missing that wonderful feeling of trust in someone or something.” Be creative. Imagine how you are going to establish and maintain trust among your stakeholders.
  • Momentum – According to Day, “Innovation is the consequence of exploration. And you can’t explore while standing still.” Nowhere is creativity more important than in creating and maintaining momentum.

There is much more to say about this (design, process, developing creativity skills, . . .), so more on this topic later.

Entrepreneurs Versus Administrators

“Entrepreneurs may be brutally honest, but fostering relationships with partners and building enduring communities requires empathy, self-sacrifice and a willingness to help others without expecting anything in return.”
– Ben Parr

Administration of any institution is essentially a conservative practice. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is progressive by definition. When you look at Greg Dees’ table below, the idea that jumps out is that administrators are essentially risk averse. Of course, when no risks are taken things don’t change a whole lot. It isn’t that entrepreneurs don’t try to mitigate risk; they simply embrace it as part of the price you pay to innovate.

entrepreneur vs administratorSource: J. Gregory Dees, Co-founder, Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Consider the value in entrepreneurship’s bias toward action, combined with flexible perseverance. This the best recipe for creating change. Bureaucratic administration is the best recipe for maintaining the status quo.

There are certainly enterprises that need to be rooted in bureaucratic procedure. If your goal is to create something new, and different, however, you may want to consider entrepreneurial approaches.

How can leaders foster and cultivate entrepreneurship?

  • Encourage creativity. Crowdsource your challenges among your team and allies.
  • Continually experiment with small “proof of concept” pilot projects. Don’t just talk about doing things differently; try something new.
  • Play the devil’s advocate when plans appear to follow the way things have “always been done.” Just make sure that you don’t let questioning everything keep you from action.
  • Don’t be too prescriptive, and encourage ownership of your goals. People will see various paths to achieving outcomes.

It seems that to a great extent, administration is about power, and mitigating risk. Continue the exploration of those topics by clicking the links.