Creative Leadership Development

Creative leadership development - Center for Creative LeadershipCreative leadership is the combination of creativity (the ability to generate ideas) with leadership (the ability to execute them through the actions of others).

According to the IBM 2010 study, creativity was the most important skill needed for dealing with complex and turbulent times.

Depicted is the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which provides excellent resources to companies and individuals that want to develop creative leadership.

There are two main tools to develop creative leadership.  First, you can develop your  through training in the Creative Problem Solving Method (CPS) or other creativity training methods such as lateral thinking.

Second, you can use a traditional leadership development program to boost your leadership skills.

What separates creative leaders from non-creative leaders is their ability to generate and execute innovative ideas.  Traditional leaders tend to execute “tried-and-true” strategies such as cost-cutting or product extensions, but they rarely disrupt their industries or create new product categories.

Where creative leaders excel is developing unique or innovative strategies. Traditional leaders are effective at implementing ideas, but their ideas or solutions are often formulaic or even backwards looking.  

More often than not, traditional leaders stick with incremental change while creative leaders attempt revolutionary changes.

Read Creative Leadership Quotes

Why develop creative leadership?

The following is a great introductory video (2:20) to creative leadership by the CCL.  The video explains how creative leaders respond to challenges differently than traditional leaders.

How can you develop creative leadership?

A perfect example of the development of creative leadership is with the late Steve Jobs.  Steve Jobs had many bright ideas and innovative strategies.  However, it wasn’t until later in his career until he mastered the art of executing on these ideas.  While Steve Jobs had some early successes at Apple, it wasn’t until he had matured as a leader that he was able to produce repeat blockbuster ideas. This is because creative leaders take time to develop and mature.

In contrast, Sony was lead by more traditional leaders.  Sony was dominant player in the personal CD player and MP3 player market.  Sony could have easily have leveraged its strong position into new, more compelling consumer products.  Like most companies led by traditional leaders, Sony pursued a  strategy of incremental improvements and product line extensions. This strategy maximized current revenues but missing the opportunity to disrupt the consumer music market as did Apple.

In contrast, Steve Jobs, who had developed creative leadership, had a vision much more expansive than mere revenue generation.  Job’s strategy was to revolutionize consumer music hardware, software, and distribution.  Job’s strategy was revolutionary (not incremental) and involved the integration of music hardware, software, and distribution into one seamless, consumer-friendly system.  The iPod, iTunes & Apple store represent the brilliant solution that executed the brilliant strategy that Steve Jobs developed.

Both Job’s strategy and his execution were brilliant – the mark of a true creative leader.

Thus, a critical part of creative leadership development involves teaching leaders to develop strategies that are revolutionary (rather than merely incremental) in nature.  As a result, creative leaders tend to exemplify the qualities of visionary leaders.

Traditional versus creative leadership development

Creative leadership developmentLike traditional leaders (most CEOs), creative leaders must develop and execution good solutions to implement their strategies effectively.  However, creative leaders tend to pursue revolutionary strategies (that reinvent the system) rather than the incremental strategies (that improve the existing system).

In contrast, there are near countless CEOs that follow traditional business wisdom (incremental changes), implementing effective solutions, but never generate an innovative or disruptive strategy in their lives.  It is a sad truth that organizations that are led by traditional leaders are often (though not always) doomed to “middle of the pack” status.

Creative leadership development involves cultivating the uncommon ability to generate an innovative strategies.  In contrast, traditional leadership development involves developing executive skills needed to carry out traditional strategies.

Potential creative leaders can be cultivated into creative leaders if they are mentored and gain the necessary experiences and leadership skills that enable the effective implementation of a solution.

Unfortunately, many future creative leaders fail to blossom into creative leaders because they often lack one or more essential skills – like self-discipline, social and political skills, or judgment that blends both vision and practicality.  For future creative leaders, they can benefit greatly from leadership training and leadership development programs.

Finally, there are some leaders who neither develop good strategies nor execute solutions well.  These individuals must either improve quickly or find a new job, preferably not as a leader.

Read Creative Leadership Quotes

Two paths of developing creative leadership

Creative leaders will not always outperform traditional leaders from the start, though over time creative leaders tend to prevail.

This is because innovative strategies are harder to implement, and thus, require a mature leader who has honed his leadership skills over many years.   For example, early on, Microsoft lead by a more traditional Bill Gates (who effectively executed solutions and strategies that were hardly innovative) ruthlessly crushed the more innovative Apple and Steve Jobs.  However, after Steve Jobs developed over the years (i.e, grew into a true creative leader), Apple crushed Microsoft (and virtually every other company) over the past 15 years or so.

There are two paths towards becoming a creative leader.  The first path involves first mastering leadership, but then learning to develop increasing daring and innovative strategies.  For instance, a strong traditional leader (like a Mitt Romney) could work with his team to ask the right questions, and work towards becoming a creative leader.

However, the sad truth is that most traditional leaders tend to remain “stuck” in their mental paradigms and never develop into true creative leaders.

Few creative leaders develop out of traditional leadership development programs. This is because traditional leaders and leadership programs have a strong propensity for working within existing structures.

Just because most traditional leaders don’t make the leap to become a creative leader, it does not mean that can’t.  They just need some creative training in problem solving that will help them develop new ideas and strategies.

Alternatively, a traditional leader might pair with a more innovative individual (an idea guy or gal) to find success as a creative leader.

A common characteristic of creative leaders is that they do not conform to conventions and thus take much longer to mature and develop than traditional leaders.

Most creative leaders develop out the second path – starting as a future creative leader and eventually becoming creative leaders.   Eccentricity has it down-sides and takes creative leaders a long time to jettison (or sufficiently reduce) their socially unproductive behaviors while still keeping their visions and strategies that are laced with creative gold.  In addition, future creative leaders often need to develop self-discipline organizational skills before they become develop truly effective creative leadership.

Leaders must overcome weaknesses to develop

Besides learning to “hold back” their non-conformity a few notches, most future creative leaders need to spend years polishing their traditional leadership skills.  These are the implementation skills  that are necessary to get solutions into reality.  Future creative leaders tend to be possess strengths in regards to ability to generate positive vision, strategies, and ideas – the skills necessary to formulate brilliant strategies.

With diligent effort, potential creative leaders can overcome their personal and leadership weaknesses and develop into great creative leaders over time.

As a warning, however, failure to overcome these weaknesses will lead to perpetual ineffectiveness.  In the 2012 political campaign, case in point is Newt Gingrich.  While Gingrich was arguably a brilliant policy maker and a man with potential (perhaps) to innovate and disrupt society, his personal baggage did him in.  Gingrich lacked self-discipline and humility, which led his campaign to crash and burn when faced with a traditional leader (Mitt Romney). The main criticism of Romney is that he lacked ideas and solutions, a sign that he was a traditional leader that was failing to develop creative leadership.

Resources for Creative Leadership Development

An excellent resource for developing creative leadership is Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change by Gerrad Puccio, department chair for the International Center for Creativity Studies (ICCS) at Buffalo State.

Below is a video on creative leadership by Dr. Zacko-Smith of ICCS.  This video (4:53) presents a good definition of creative leadership.

Read Creative leadership quotes, different types of strategies, or strategic delegation.  These posts will give you further guidance on how to develop creative leadership.


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