Creative leadership – Is there such a thing?


By highlighting instances of innovative problem-solving and unconventional approaches, it's evident that creativity is a crucial aspect of effective leadership.

In my role as an executive coach over the years, I am often surprised by how many leaders tell me they aren’t creative. However, in almost every case I could counter their self-view by quoting examples in which they had demonstrated highly creative approaches to their leadership role.

I came across this one leader and reminded them about the time they had successfully driven an innovative approach to the redesign of a product. For another leader, it was recalling how he’d dealt with one of his direct reports who was having some trouble with her performance at work. This leader used his judgement to bypass conventional methods and directly engage her colleagues (with her permission) to assist her to correct those issues because no one in the team wanted to lose their valued colleague (despite her performance issues at the time). Both examples resulted in successful outcomes because the leaders had taken some risks by not following conventional ways of doing things.

Another leader led their team through a restructure in which they would no longer exist as a team, but whose input into the change was essential for ongoing organisational success. Not only did every member of the team stay for the duration of the restructure, they maintained professionalism, documented all the processes and even trained others for a handover. So, what creative behaviours did that leader use in this situation?

In the exit interviews, the team members spoke about how the leader used story-telling, humour and even funny avatars and emojis to represent emotions such as anger, injustice or sadness to get them through, and as a way of normalising such feelings. Every single team member said they’d look back on the experience as defining; they were treated with respect and transparency by their leader, unlike previous redundancy experiences. This leader, like her reports, had also been scarred by previous redundancy experiences so she wanted to find ways to make this situation comfortable for her team.

The minute an individual asks themselves, ‘how can I do things differently this time?’, they’re engaging their creativity. The brain detests an unanswered question and will go to work to find a solution or several options – this is creative cognition at work.

When you can do a common thing in an uncommon way; you will command the attention of the world.

George Washington Carver

We should give our brains the opportunity to do what it has the infinite capacity to do:

  • Create options
  • Forge new neural pathways
  • Question conventional wisdom
  • Encourage disruptive thinking
  • Tap into collective intelligence and trust ourselves, our colleagues, and years of evolutionary development

Creativity in the leadership space has little to do with artistry or being the ‘creative type’ and everything to do with using our wonderful executive thinking abilities. Being a creative leader requires the recruitment of vulnerability and bravery as allies to challenge the status quo. Just imagine what business and society might look like with more creative leadership?

Creativity is one of the attributes ELEVEN addresses in its innovative executive leadership development program.