Creative leadership- define please, if you can.

Just discovered Darren Rowses’ excellent pro blogger. Useful and makes money. Respect, Darren. Thanks Mark. Again.

Trying to nail the attitudes of creative people is tough and this great post was a catalyst to some thinking I have had on a very slow burn. Interesting to see how much my views connect with Darren. Just the language differs. I particularly love Darren’s Constructive Discontent descriptor and Flexible Imagination. I think we all have and can still achieve glimpses of those feelings ourselves but a minor discussion point, I feel.

Fascinated at the complexities surrounding the definitions of creative people. I am never sure how useful definitions are. Obviously they inform and provide frameworks but what interests me is how much direction they provide in developing these qualities and behaviours in ourselves.

I have been grappling with this for a while. I run a course “Creative Leadership”. I’m not happy with the title. But gets them in there- we have been over-subscribed for all of the courses for the last two years. And as I design and deliver it, I’m extremely happy that something is working.

Problem for me is that the title feels reductive. Are you a creative leader as opposed to an influential leader or inspirational leader or whatever the fashionable term is this week?

What I’m interested in is how your creative thinking skills and behaviours support you as a leader. How by understanding how to realise your own creative potential, you can learn how to realise the creative potential of those you lead. This appears to be a core challenge for every leader.

Leadership is a complex issue. Notoriously well documented in the myriad of books, training courses, TV programmes, it is a highly complex series of behaviours that are accumulated over a long period of time with support, reflection and commitment to self development.

This does not imply you cannot be an effective leader if you are young. Far from it. It does mean that the process of self-development is on going.

My core challenge has been to identify how a creative leader behaves and communicate? What is the potential impact and influence of these behaviours?

Chris Bilton’s Management and Creativity is top of my "work" pile of reading at the moment. It provides a comprehensive overview of how we can learn from the structures and processes within the creative industries. It’s an excellent analysis of a subject that is so fraught with misconception, is so widely appropriated (who doesn’t think they are a creative organisation?) and so overly used and abused.

I am co-authoring a publication now. More on that soon. Where am I now in terms of some of the qualities of Creative Leaders?

Not definitive. Still very much a work in progress. Combination of what I have experienced in a diverse range of organisations, private and public sector, ages, situations, highly profitable and not for profit. Plus loads of stuff I have read about and tried to capture.

Creative leaders:

  • Personalise. They use a variety of  techniques to tap into and realise the creative potential of those they lead to help add value to their organisation
  • Identify potential. They have the imagination to spot what people could achieve and realize- they identify as well as realise where someone could be as opposed to where they are now
  • Energise. They generate and inspire atmospheres that are tangible. There is a sense of the possible, there is real shift in mood and energy when we are working on the art of what could be. It is a fusion of the intellectual, emotional and physical. We feel sense and know it is happening. They know they need to keep the ball in the air. Lack of motivation kills creativity, dead.
  • Use story. They humanise and contextualise everything. They know that we process the world through stories. Our lives are stories. We need to find stories that effect emotional engagement with all of those we lead. Creative leaders create a vision, articulate it through a range of stories and know  how this is somewhere their followers will want to go to. Their stories  offer a call to arms and inspire action rather than an audience marveling at their rhetoric.
  • Use stimuli from a wide and diverse range of sources.   They are fascinated by and interested in a range of subjects. They know that everything they read, experience, listen to and see will one day be of value in the complex cognitive processes of our brain.  Creativity is about connecting seemingly disconnected pieces of information to generate original responses that are of value.
  • Navigate between the four stages of the creative process. Understand when to direct, evaluate, make decisions and when to be open to non-judgmental, free flowing, right brain directed germinal   thinking. When to be in left brain mode and when to switch to right brain mode. They know how to challenge, listen, facilitate and direct. They understand where ideas come from, how to grow ideas, how to select, refine and how we learn from realising an idea
  • Value Play – as learning, intelligence, fun, energising, a release, a contribution, as exploration…
  • Practise non-judgemental behaviour. Judgement short circuits the creative process. They don’t mind the inevitable grey areas of confusion that are normal within the development of any idea.  They allows for vague, half formed ideas and possibilities to grow. They see all ideas as      potential.
  • Value diversity, contradictions and complexities. (Bilton, 2007)
  • See problems as normal. They find challenge  invigorating, obstacles stimulating and they enjoy, rather than are overwhelmed,  by challenge. Darren’s term of acceptable is very appropriate here.
  • Value right brain directed thinking  skills.    As of vital importance if we are to flourish and grow in the 21st Century.  They understand these thinking skills are as vital as left brain directed      skills within the full cycle of the creative process. They know when when to shift their thinking and how to direct the thinking skills of others. Bilton’s description of creativity existing at the edge of the box is so apt.
  • Know boundaries and constraints are necessary and can release, rather than inhibit, ideas.
  • Lack ego. They know that ideas are tied to ego. Ownership of ideas limits our potential. Creative leaders receive ideas as if they were their own. The more we give out, the more we get back. Ideas come from an infinite number of sources and people. We need to be open to accepting and receiving them. And find ways of capturing these, formally and informally.
  • Are not trapped by dogma. They do not live with the results of other peoples thinking. They want to know how to make this organisation, department, project or whatever remarkable. They do not allow it to stand still but are not addicted to change for change sake- it is always about the good of the organisation. They understand that new ideas can amplify, extend and support existing thinking, rather than supersede it.
  • Permit a culture where failure is accepted, learned from and moved on. They allow risk. Very, very hard, I know
  • Understand the major obstacles to creativity. And do something about it
  • Look for rich, not big ideas.
  • Like and value, recruit and retain creative people. Dead tough, this one as they understand that the needs and motivations of creative professionals can differ from the motivations (financial etc) of others
  • Value creativity. Obvious but essential. I have yet to meet a leader who does not recognise how   vital creative thinking and behaviours are to the health, development and success of their organisation The problem is for many of them is that it simply isn’t top of their priorities right now.

That’s all for now.

Very much a work-in progress. Most of all, quite easy to say. Tough to do


24th May, 2007