The Hidden Value of Creative Leadership

The truly creative leader says, "It's okay to be yourself. It's okay to be different." The courageous, supportive leader says, "I want your opinion" and then makes room for it. In modern corporate life, that is revolutionary behaviour, and, unfortunately, it is rare. I'm afraid that we are not quite as outside the box as we may think we are, yet.

Imagine, if you will, a more dynamic model of leadership in a transpersonal economic reality. One in which creative, engaged and empathic leadership are the norm and not the exception. In this greater, archetypal realm of existence (that includes economics), creative leadership grants permission for more, not less humanity. Such an environment would allow for fallible human errors to be integrated parts of the whole. Indeed, the natural anomalies of creativity could provide the very starting points for new ideas concepts and products.

There is a problem with entirely commercial and, therefore, conventional ways of leading in business. We have finally begun to realize that with all of it's noise, hustle, and bustle, transactional reality, (otherwise known consumerism) and the inherent banality that goes along with it, can ever be an actual catalyst for true self-worth or interest. "Buying something" cannot make a person or create meaning or anything any more than exchanging a shell for a bead attributes value to either object. However, we do derive actual value in the transactional, real economy from the material of our efforts. As such, it's only natural to expect that individuals help other individuals derive meaning in that context. We can and should help one another to be more productive by being more open, more fluid and more transparent.

Put aside the clichés for a moment-- your heroes- Zuckerberg, Branson, Jobs and such- and consider that the anomaly of the dynamic creative leader is a needed buffer to the complete standardization and robotization of work that corporate life encourages. We need creative leaders to remind us of the value of non-conformity—or even what it is--to break us out of the propaganda of the normative mode where anything or anyone that doesn't ascribe to the economic reality is considered alien or dangerous.

Creative leaders don't "sell out or buy-in." They agree to participate in the experiment at hand and involve the organization in it. In particular, if we want millennials to be better leaders, we have to get them passionate about what leadership is, where it comes from and how to do it. To think that somehow an Ivy League MBA or capturing an A-round of funding conveys this automatically is a misconception of what leadership requires from the individual.

I do not believe it will surprise most of you when I tell you that a great deal of research shows us that organizations are inflexible because there is too little communication in the company; often people and groups are too siloed. I have fought this battle most of my adult career in advertising agencies where a separation of practice areas is almost endemic until only recently. In most of the holding company owned organizations I have personally worked—the majority of staff were disengaged and unhappy because of this.

Three priorities require people to think differently about the role of leadership. The priority was running organizations that can respond to complexity because the world is getting more complicated every day. The second was how to run organizations that are adaptable and resilient to these changes. But the top priority was how to promote creativity in organizations.

Everyone from the C-suite down to the managers should learn to lead with a much more transparent, visible and accountable style of distributed and active management. Leadership can be more responsive; more dynamic. People at all levels will have much more discretion and freedom to take risks—and do so with much more collaboration, communication, and cooperation. Rather than the old command and control management that went out of style with bell-bottoms, leaders can encourage innovation and creativity by tapping into the peoples’ often stifled creative impulses.

If you want a way to boost morale immediately—simply help foster the greater expression of creativity and transparency. Contrary to what we may think, the actual role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas and "run the show"; it's to create an atmosphere where people can thrive in a very human and real way, instead of turning their selves "on" and "off" for work.

Cultivating authenticity and creativity in the workplace is not arbitrary. Leaders can and should insist that original ideas have actual value, workflows and processes that support generating and executing them. Organizational problems and extreme financial pressure make being creative more urgent, so being creative in business terms isn't some recreational pursuit, of just another mode of  keeping the troops happy. 

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I serve as a management consultant and strategist for a wide range of industries and companies. For consulting, speaking engagements and workshops you can reach me directly at louisd@bigthinker.com. 

If you enjoyed reading this piece, look for my revised book, "What is Social? Essays on the HyperMarket" is due out in January, 2016. 

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