Creative Leadership

The Rise of Creative Leadership

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an emerging and accelerating trend, a call for creative leadership of organizations. As part of this movement, Thinkergy offers a new creative leadership method called Genius Journey, which helps managers to become an authentic creative leader and to develop creative cognitive strategies and a genius mindset. Moreover, Thinkergy’s founder Dr. Detlef Reis also teaches a “Creative Leadership” course to graduate students in management. What is creative leadership, and why does it matter?


The call for creative leadership
In 2010, IBM surveyed 1,541 CEOs in 44 countries for the Global Chief Executive Officers Study 2010. When asked to identify the most important leadership qualities to capitalize on complexity, “creativity” was the most frequently mentioned, chosen by 60% of those interviewed. In Asia-Pacific, that number was even higher with 70%.

The authors of the study said, “In an uncertain and volatile world, CEOs realize that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics. Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and experiment to create new business models. They invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communications styles, in order to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

The response to the call
In 2011, IBM conducted a follow-up study with more than 700 human resource officers from 61 countries to investigate how HR responded to the CEOs’ assertion that the development of future creative leaders would have the greatest effect on their organizations’ future success. Not surprisingly, the majority of the interviewed HR officers highlighted the need for their organizations to identify, develop and empower creative leaders. One U.K. HR director said, “We have strong managers, not leaders — and we need strong creative leaders to achieve our strategic objectives.”

However, while HR officers and their teams were well aware of this need, only one in three organizations claimed to be successful in meeting it — an astoundingly low number given the stated importance of creative leadership development.

What is creative leadership?
Clearly defining “creative leadership” is a key step for HR officers and their teams in their efforts to develop creative leadership candidates. The academic literature contains hundreds of definitions for “leadership” and “creativity,” but due to the novelty of the concept, there are relatively few attempts to define “creative leadership.” How can you find and develop creative leaders if you don’t know what they embody?

I’ve developed my own definition of the concept, starting from the definitions of “leadership” and “creativity”.

A simple definition of leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organization; or the state or position of being a leader”.

“Creativity” is harder to capture, but the various answers fall into three rough groupings:

  • Person-based definitions center on individuals, who are seen as creative to the extent that they demonstrate certain abilities, achievements and/or personality traits, such as individuality, non-conformity to rules or the status quo, striving for originality and novelty, flexibility, persistence, and passion (or intrinsic motivation).
  • Product-oriented definitions describe the characteristics that a creative product or outcome needs to have, such as novelty, appropriateness, relevance, worth or value, uniqueness, and originality.
  • Finally, process-oriented definitions of creativity emphasize cognitive processes that lead to solutions, ideas, conceptualizations, artistic forms, theories or products that are unique, novel and meaningful.

What do all these definitions of creativity have in common? For a person, process or product to be judged to be creative, it must be novel (fresh, new, avant-garde, unprecedented), meaningful (valuable, worthwhile, useful, relevant) and unique (original, one-of-a-kind, individual).

Putting the pieces together, we get a definition of “Creative Leadership” as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization towards novel, unique and meaningful outcomes; or the state or position of being an authentically creative leader in an organization.” Notice the emphasis on “authentically”; in order to credibly lead a creative organization, you can’t fake it. You must be creative yourself; you must be able to creatively walk your creative talk.

The authors of the 2011 study of HR officers said, “To instill the dexterity and flexibility necessary to seize elusive opportunity, companies must move beyond traditional leadership development methods and find ways to inject within their leadership candidates not only the empirical skills necessary for effective management, but also the cognitive skills to drive creative solutions. The learning initiatives that enable this objective must be at least as creative as the leaders they seek to foster.” This is why Thinkergy’s creative leadership method Genius Journey is based on the genius mindsets and cognitive strategies of authentic creative leaders and geniuses. Traveling the Genius Journey helps you to discover your genius and become an authentic creative leader in the innovation economy. Isn’t now the best time to realize your genius and become an authentic creative leader?



This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on October 11 2012.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2013


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