Creative Leadership

the role of creative strategies in the management style of tomorrow in: Proclamation on the Future of Work Bertelsmann Stiftung (Hrsg.).

German – English

Today our world of work is marked by increasing complexity and subject to a process of continuous change. In an IBM study (IBM Corporation, 2010), innovative (stand-out) CEOs stated that Continuous Change had become an integral part of their job. The velocity of this level of change brings with it a large quantity of uncertainty, ambiguity, and volatility. Accordingly, future leaders must feel comfortable in dealing with ambiguity and across-the-board risk talking as well as being able to fire others with enthusiasm about novel ways of thinking and new directions (IBM Corporation, 2010).

Responding to such continuous change, leaders are increasingly called on to enrich their leadership style with creative strategies. Both innovative CEOs and educational experts (IBM Corporation, 2010; Trilling & Fadel, 2009) argue that creativity and the ability to innovate are the decisive key competencies of the 21st century.

Even so, traditional management often views creativity as a disruptive factor since creative processes require that each individual changes from convergent to divergent forms of thinking and vice versa. Analytic thinking – which interrogates the “what is” is widespread in most management circles. Yet inquiry into the “what could be” or “how would it be if…” which lies at the heart of divergent thinking is very difficult or even impossible for management to take on board.

Nevertheless, we need creativity because creativity is the very stuff of innovation. Thus it is vital that management is trained to actively support creative forms of thinking and establish patterns of thinking in themselves and their employees that nurture and promote creativity. The notion of Creative Leadership offers management both the mindset and skillset needed to accomplish this aim. Development and exercise of their own creativity plays a central role here. In their book  Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change (2011) Puccio, Mance and Murdock describe Creative Leadership as the ability to purposefully use your own powers of imagination to infuse a group with enthusiasm for a new goal – or new direction – and to successfully support and accompany them through the whole cycle of change. In order to bring about such creative transformation, creative leaders must exert an extraordinarily positive influence on their context (workplace, community, school, family) and the people within it.

In short, in order to establish a culture of creativity in their own organisations, future managers must be open to change, must involve their employees in problem-solving processes, and be ready to support them in developing new ideas. Furthermore, they must be prepared to consider a multiplicity of perspectives, promote debate and discussion, increase the freedom and autonomy of their staffs and strengthen their willingness to take risks as well as allowing for types of failure. In the final analysis it’s a question of establishing a climate in which the full creative potential of each and every employee can be realised and that produces leaders and managers with the skills to give innovative forms of support to problem-solving processes.

In their 1980s bestseller The Leadership Challenge James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner proposed with their The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® an interesting model, the first of its kind to bring creative leadership within everyone’s reach by making it easy-to-grasp and learnable. In hundreds of interviews and several thousand case studies, managers described their peak performances which Kouzes and Posner crystallised down to the five following lines of action:

Model The Wayformulates the ways in which people should be treated and the ways and means by which goals should be achieved.

Inspire a Shared Visionenvisions the future, creating an ideal and unique idea of what the organisation can become and awakening passion and enthusiasm for the idea.

Challenge the Processcontinually searching for innovative way and experimenting to improve the organisation.

Enable Others to Actpromoting collaboration and forming spirited teams ready to take risks.

Encourage The Heartcreating bonds of trust, celebrating accomplishments and making people feel like heroes.

For many of these specific lines of action, the creative practices outlined above are of crucial importance. Accordingly, the challenge is not in the development of further models for successful leadership in the 21st century but first and foremost in the question of the “where”. Since thus far educational institutions and companies have not provided such fields of experiment, we need new fields of activity in which leaders can learn the practices outlined above and try them out in appropriate real-world contexts with a view to helping meaningful and enduring change on its future way.

Sources and links:

IBM Corporation, Capitalizing on complexity: Insights from the global chief executive officer study, May, 2010, Retrieved: 28.09.2015.

Kouzes, James M., Posner Barry Z., The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations, 2012, 5th ed., John Wiley & Sons.

Puccio, G., Murdock, M., Mance, M., Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change, 2011, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Trilling, B., & Fadel, C., 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, 2009. Retrieved: 28.09.2015

First published in Proclamation on the Future of Work Bertelsmann Stiftung (Hrsg.).
Februar 2017


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