Cartoon: CEO decides to be more creative; demands underling takes care of it 

The Nine Principal Rules of Creative Leadership

As a leader, you manage a team of people all of whom have creative potential. It is to you whether you want to stifle that creativity and focus on bureaucratic processes or harness that potential to drive innovation. Assuming you chose the latter, here are nine things you should do to demonstrate creative leadership.

1. It is not about your creativity. It is about your team’s creativity

Creative leadership has very little to do with your creativity and everything to do with your team’s creativity. If it was only about your creativity, you wouldn’t need a team would you? You are only one person. Your team (which might be your entire company) is many people. Tapping into the cumulative creativity of 10 or 100 or 1000 people will clearly result in better results than tapping into the creativity of one person, no matter how creative you are, and ignoring everyone else.

2. You do not need to be creative. But you need to understand creativity

Following from rule one, it is not necessary that you be a creative genius in order to be a creative leader. What is important is that you understand the creative process so that you can facilitate it for your team members. Of course if you are exceptionally creative, this is a good thing as it will set a good example to your team members. But if you are not highly creative, do not feel the need to pretend you are. Instead, you should trumpet your skills as one who facilitates creativity. This is, after all, far more important in a creative leader.

3. Diversity

Sometimes you will have teams thrust upon you by circumstances. Sometimes you can choose your team members. When you can choose, go for diversity: diversity of experience, sex, culture, age, knowledge and skin colour. Include people whom you do not like if you know they get results. Diversity is important, but it is often neglected. Post people, when putting together teams instinctively look for team members who are similar to themselves. Do not make this mistake. Creativity is built upon diversity. A wider range of backgrounds, knowledge and culture results in a wider range of thinking and greater creativity. If you can add to your team people from other countries and distinct other cultures, kill to do so. Research has shown that people who have moved abroad are more creative than others. People from other cultures have seen more variety in their lives and can bring that variety to your team.

4. Identify strengths and weaknesses on your team

Once you have your diversified team, or have had a less than diverse team thrust upon you, you need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of team members in order to maximise effectiveness. Some people will be great with ideas but poor on implementation. Others are the opposite. Some people are big picture people who are sloppy with details. Others are obsessed with the details, but fail to see the big picture. Some people work better at solving problems on their own. Others work better in collaboration. By identifying strengths and weaknesses and taking advantage of them, you can be sure not only that your team is creative, but that it gets results that lead to innovation.

5. Trust your people

Micro-managers are never creative leaders. Never. Not once in all of history. Being a micro-manager implies you do not trust your people to make even simple decisions for themselves. Moreover, rather than promoting creativity, you become bogged down in trivial details.

Trust your people. Give them clear goals, budgets and tools. But let them work out their own ways to achieve those goals. Even if you believe their approach is not the best, do not interfere. Let your people learn by trying. You may be surprised, their approaches might work better than you expect. And if not, they will learn by working out what went wrong and trying again.

6. Embrace failure

Speaking of mistakes, if people cannot fail from time to time, they will never achieve great things. This is a cliché in the creativity and innovation business. Nevertheless, it is amazing how many managers still do not tolerate failure. As a creative leader, you know better. Encourage your people to try, fail early and try again. Ensure that they share their failure stories so everyone can learn from them.

7. Encourage debate

Your diverse team has diverse opinions and ideas. As a result, there will inevitably be disagreements. Rather than squelching these disagreements with the aim to avoid bad feelings, encourage team members to disagree with each other in the form of respectful debate. Debate enables team members see things from other perspectives, strengthen their ideas and rethink flawed ideas. Moreover, it is far better to have team members criticise ideas − and to deal with the issues behind the criticism − than to have customers criticise the results of those ideas.

8. Champion ideas

Your creative team will generate many ideas. As the team leader, you need to champion those ideas. Sometimes you may even have to champion ideas that you do not like, but which you realise offer value to your organisation or to your customers. If you are a team leader within a larger business, you will need to champion ideas mostly within your company. If you run the company, you will need to champion ideas to your customers, to suppliers, to the public and possibly to regulatory authorities. By becoming a champion of your team’s ideas, you make it more likely that the ideas will be realised. More importantly, you demonstrate very clearly to your team that you believe in their ideas and them. And when you champion an idea you are known to dislike, you impress people as being devoted to the team rather than yourself. This is a very powerful message.

9. Make ideas come true

Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value. Unfortunately, the path from a brilliant creative idea to an innovation is not always easy going. You need to define and establish processes for realising ideas. And you will need to take special care with highly creative or unusual ideas. These have the potential to become breakthrough innovations. But they are risky and, as such, are often quickly killed by senior management. However, if you continue to champion such ideas in the face of adversity, you may enable your company to realise both the idea and the profits it brings. And that's what innovation is all about, isn't it?

A Quick Sales Pitch for Me

Are the leaders in your organisation exploiting the creative potential of the teams they lead? If not, your company is missing out on innovation potential. But don't panic! Contact me instead. I can provide creative coaching for individual managers as well as workshops for groups of managers.



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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




My other web projects

My other web projects 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity - possibly useful things I have learned over the years. reflections on international living and travel. - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey