Traditional vs. Creative Leadership

As you read this article, think about how creative leaders foster human flourishing (eudaimonia) in the workplace.

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

One-way Interactive
Concerned with being right Concerned with being real
Follows the manual Improvises when appropriate
Loves to avoid mistakes Loves to learn from mistakes
Reliability Validity
Orchestra model Jazz ensemble
Community in harmony Community in conversation
Wants to be right Hopes to be right
Open to limited feedback Open to unlimited critique
Sustaining order Taking risks
Closed system Open system

Source: 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 more than 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. An unwavering belief in their creativity and innovation, coupled with originality in thinking.

Creative leadership is not 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 cannot explore while standing still". Nowhere is creativity more important than in creating and maintaining momentum.

Source: John Hamerlinck,
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License.

Last modified: Thursday, January 21, 2021, 3:28 PM