Creativity and Leadership


It can be far too easy for an organization to become stagnant and complacent; even more so if they have experienced some success. Your company may be doing well, perhaps even slowly growing. But if you don’t maintain the upward climb, the alertness to your surroundings, and the hunger for improvement… you could be doomed to irrelevance.
Gordon Price Locke describes the ‘legacy of irrelevance’ as stalled balance sheets, battered egos, disenchanted customers, late-to-market products and eroding brand equity.
The bottom line is that if you’re not on top of your game, you could quickly be sitting on the sidelines. It doesn’t really matter how long you’ve been in business or how stable your position seems right now, either: just ask the folks at companies like Kodiak and RadioShack.
Has your company become complacent lately? Benjamin Mays has a powerful statement about complacency: “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.”
The goal of many businesses is usually not to make a little money, then fade out of existence. Especially in this age of information and enlightenment, more and more businesses have goals of both profit and purpose: to make more than a living while making a meaningful difference, and to do so long-term.
Edward De Bono said, ”Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”. In essence, creativity shakes things up and resists complacency; it helps us look for better, faster, more cost-effective ways to do the work we do, and it drives us toward the purpose and mission that we laid down for our companies when they first began.
Delta Emerson, Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at Ryan in Dallas, TX says a company’s bottom line and creativity are intertwined. Shelly Stein, president and CEO of Glazer’s consumer goods distribution, took on building a culture of creativity as soon as he came on board in 2010. Within the first three years of his tenure, the company saw a 12% year after year growth.
Geroski, Machin, and Van Reenen found that for innovative companies, market shares were 3 times higher than the average, sales were 6 times higher than the average, and Earnings Before Income Taxes margins of innovative companies were 10% better. They also found that, over a period of 8 years, the overall profit margins of innovative companies were 3 times higher than the average. And finally, they found that during recession, the innovative companies’ margins could be 50% better than average, meaning innovative firms are less sensitive to cyclical downturns.
All these numbers and quantitative results aside, creativity empowers employees and leaders to make powerful connections, generate transformational ideas, and design new products, services, and processes for doing business that give a company its competitive edge.
Creative Leadership
Although a creative work environment can drive growth and profit, it’s not a switch that can be turned on and off, Delta Emerson says. The Ryan executive team has shown that organizational learning, managerial flexibility, and constantly deploying innovative business practices go hand-in-hand with gains against the competition.
Transformational leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group.
This is very similar to Gordon Price Locke’s description of creative leadership: “creative leaders tend to have imagination and conviction, the ability to see alternatives, envision something new, embrace multiple points of view, to inspire, let go of ego and be aggressively willing to take risks and be tolerant of mistakes”.
As Shelly Stein is demonstrating at Glazer’s, breakthrough performance takes a willingness to go beyond deeply ingrained beliefs and engage your entire organization in building a culture that fosters creative solutions. Doing this takes transformational leadership.
Change and development are essential to the success of an organization, and employee commitment is essential to the success of change and development.
Building a Creative Culture
William Pollard says, “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” I want to emphasize this point here, because too often business leaders and managers believe they manage stability and static performance, when what they really must manage for true success is change and growth.
Workplace creativity expert Linda Naiman wants us to understand that creativity is a learned behavior, not something you are either born with or without. “Creativity is not a mystical attribute reserved for a lucky few,” she says. “Creativity is a process that can be developed and managed. Generating innovative ideas is both a function of the mind and a function of behaviours; behaviours anyone can put into practice.”
Teresa Amabile, one of Harvard Business School’s leading authorities on creativity, says creativity is under threat, as economy-crushed companies stretch fewer employees to cover ever more work. “Creativity depends on the right people working in the right environment,” she says. “Too often these days, the people come ill-equipped, and their work environments stink.” Even the smartest, most passionate people won’t thrive in — or will soon abandon — a work environment that stifles them.
Research has shown that people are inclined to be creative when they are intrinsically interested in the work they do. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink suggests that the age-old method of reward-punishment is outdated and, frankly, ineffective at best, even demotivating at worst.
It has been established that people are especially creative when they are given the freedom to control their own behavior – that is, they have autonomy and are empowered to make decisions. Pink outlines an approach in his book, which focuses on autonomy, mastery, and purpose, all of which are largely intrinsic and will differ from person to person.
Teresa Amabile gives this instruction: “The first priority of leadership is to engage the right people, at the right times, to the right degree in creative work”. When people are well matched to a project, granting them independence holds less risk. Ideally, creative workers should be able to set their own agendas, at least in part.
Highly creative people are an asset to organizations, and they require a leadership style that empowers them, rouses their passion for the work, gives them the right environment in which to fall, and lifts them up again to find the best innovative and creative solutions.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more
and become more, you are a leader.
-John Quincy Adams

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