How do you become a creative leader?

For CEOs, creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking, according to a worldwide study by IBM.

According to the study, there is a new game in town. The game is called creativity and the rules are uncertain, messy and seemingly mysterious. What’s more, it is a game that is not even taught in traditional business schools.

The message of this article is that there are specific steps leaders can take to transform themselves into more creative and effective leaders*.

Some creative leadership actions:

1. Incorporate creativity or innovation into the vision, values or principles of the business

At global technology company 3M, for example, the vision is to be “the most innovative enterprise and the preferred supplier in the markets we serve”. This vision is a clear, unambiguous statement about the company’s innovation aspirations.

2. Set creativity targets and measure the results

Again, 3M is an instructive example of setting targets for creativity and measuring the results. In this company, every line manager has, as part of their annual goals, a target that 40% of their sales must come from products less than four years old.

3. Ask for ideas

Perhaps the most simple, direct and effective way a leader can develop ideas is to ask for them. Management guru Tom Peters once said, if you want innovation, just ask for it. Creativity is exactly the same.

4. Provide seed money

Another practical leadership action is to offer “seed money” for new ideas.

5. Recognise and reward creativity

There is a wide body of research that suggests that simply recognising creativity is a very powerful way of stimulating desired behaviour. For those leaders who want to explore this approach in more detail,  Harvard professor Teresa Amabile is at the forefront of this research.

6. Talk about the need and importance of creativity – constantly

Followers take note what you talk about. If you never talk about creativity it will not be surprising that it never emerges. On the other hand, if you constantly talk about the need for greater creativity at every meeting, people will soon get the message.

7. Run an innovation day every quarter

This is a very powerful, simple and practical way of showcasing and fostering new ideas and solutions in your business. Dedicate the entire day to innovation, set a range of challenges and see what emerges (for a more comprehensive discussion on this action see here.

8. Test, test and test again

One of my favourite actions is for every leader to commit to a testing mindset. This is creativity and innovation in action. Focus on a problem or issue and test a number of different approaches quickly and cheaply, measure what happens, share the learnings and you have created a positive innovating cycle.

Being a creative leader is no longer a ‘nice to do’. It is mainstream. The most effective leaders now and the future are creative ones. These actions will help you become one.


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