Creative leadership is a new emerging mega-trend in business. In a recent global business study of IBM, 60% of the interviewed chief executives of the world’s leading corporations named creativity as the most important leadership quality to capitalize flexibly on the increasingly complex business environment of the early 21st century.
Quite interestingly, the agreement numbers are even higher in Asia. Here, seven out of 10 CEOs named creativity as the most important pathway to leadership success. For me, creative leadership is the hottest new topic within the wider business and management domain.
This is why, a few weeks ago, I completed a new book on creative leadership development that will hit the international book market by the end of this year. Today, let me share with you all factors that makes creative leadership hot — and contrast the concept with all that it is not.
Introducing the concept
In my upcoming book, I define creative leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization towards meaningful, novel and unique outcomes” or “the state or position of being an authentically creative leader in an organization”.
Who do you consider to be a leader? Many people are justly called a leader. They lead and inspire others as business leaders (CEOs or entrepreneurs), thought leaders, scientific leaders, artistic leaders, political leaders or social leaders, among others. Clearly, people such as Steve Jobs, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are all examples of leaders who shaped the 20th century with their ideas and deeds — and all of them exemplify the essence of what it constitutes to be a creative leader, too.
Other important leaders also shaped the 20th century with their ideas and deeds — think of people such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong or Pol Pot. However, these leaders are held responsible for the mass liquidation of millions of innocent human beings, and represent the antithesis of a creative leader.
So what is creative leadership all about in concrete, practical terms?
Creative leadership is … hot and not
In order to bring the rather academic definition of the concept of creative leadership to life, let’s contrast thesis (hot) and antithesis (not) of defining elements of creative leaders in practical terms. While reading on each pair of antagonistic factors, ask yourself: Are the leaders that you know and follow hot (= creative leaders) or not (= uncreative leaders)? And, even more importantly, ask yourself: Are you hot or not?
- HOT — originality: Creative leaders create original ideas, products and solutions. Being one-of-a-kind individuals, they insist on their own originality and on creating unique value propositions.
- NOT — copycat: Creative leaders do NOT have a copycat mentality. It is NOT OK for them to imitate, copy and steal the ideas of others to quickly get ahead of them.
- HOT — novelty: Creative leaders focus on creating and promoting novelty: new products, novel solutions, unprecedented concepts, fresh services, avant-garde campaigns, to just name a few.
- NOT — anachronism: Creative leaders do NOT hold on to old ideas. They do NOT stand for the preservation of an outdated status quo.
- HOT — making meaning: Creative leaders focus, first and foremost, on making meaning, on creating new value propositions that make the world a better place and improve the quality of people’s lives.
- NOT — solely making money: Creative leaders do NOT start by focusing on what makes them money. While later on, they enjoy making money from their meaningful creations, their passion is always about making meaning, NOT money.
- HOT — equality: Creative leaders create value for many, not just a small minority.
- NOT — elitism: Creative leaders do NOT only do things that create value for themselves or those few who are close to them or affiliated to them.
- HOT — worthy common cause: Creative leaders are good and do good. They pursue a worthy common cause that goes beyond themselves, such as widely promoting the benefits of a meaningful new technology, righting something that is terribly wrong, or preventing the end of something good.
- NOT — personal cause: Creative leaders do NOT only follow a personal cause that goes at the expense of wider parts of society or the environment.
- HOT — value compensation: After creating unique, meaningful, novel products and solutions, creative leaders charge an adequate value for their goods. They do this not because they are greedy, but to compensate for their substantial development costs and efforts, enabling them to continue bringing out more meaningful innovations and operating at the forefront of change.
- NOT — value discounting: Creative leaders do NOT believe in doing things on the cheap. They usually do NOT give discounts on their products to boost sales like many other companies do (who compete on products that are similar to everybody else’s products).
- HOT — long-term orientation: Creative leaders consider the long-term consequences of their actions on all of their stakeholders, society at large, the environment and even the well-being of future generations.
- NOT — short-term gains: Creative leaders do NOT want to realize a short-term advantage if the action triggers negative implications in the long run.
- HOT — ethics: Creative leaders are ethical. They keep their word and honor their promises. They do what is right in the right way. If they err and make a wrong move on their path, they admit it and pay the price for their wrongdoing.
- NOT — unethical behavior: Creative leaders do NOT engage in unethical practices; they are NOT corrupt and can NOT be corrupted by others.
- HOT — cooperation and co-opetition: Creative leaders embrace a cooperative paradigm of “we win, you win, everyone wins”. They cooperate with others whenever possible and co-opete with their peers. They compete on product, but cooperate in other areas that advance an industry or the common good.
- NOT — reckless competition: Creative leaders do NOT want to win at all costs; they do NOT believe in a purely competitive paradigm (“I win, you lose”).
- HOT — individuality: Creative leaders respect the individuality of others. They encourage their followers and others to do their own thinking — and even to challenge the leader to advance the common cause.
- NOT — conformity: Creative leaders do NOT surround themselves with mindless henchmen who blindly follow commands of the leaders and uncritically conform to orders and the prevailing groupthink.
- HOT — meritocracy: Creative leaders mentor and promote people in their organization based on their merits and contributions to the greater good and the common cause.
- NOT — dutiful mediocrity: Creative leaders do NOT promote mediocre people purely based on their unwavering loyalty to the leader and their blind compliance to orders.
- HOT — leaving a legacy: Last but not least, creative leaders leave a lasting legacy when they go. They live on in the minds and hearts of future generations thanks to their creations and their words of wisdom, their unselfishly motivated social deeds, their charitable giving and productive living of a life of worth and example.
- NOT — leaving a mess: Creative leaders do NOT only focus on themselves and their close kin at the expense of others, thus enabling them to live on when those who still know them in person have gone as well.
Conclusion: We live at the dawn of the age of creative leadership. If you’re like me and believe in all that is hot and disdain all that is not, then join the movement and start working for and following only truly hot creative leaders. Or, even better, become a hot creative leader yourself.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014
This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on January 16 2014.