Top Secrets of Creative Leaders

A 2014 study found that companies that actively cultivate creativity outperform their competitors on key business performance indicators including revenue growth, market share, and talent acquisition. This seems obvious when you consider that creativity is essential to the development and evolution of products and services.

New ideas shift an organization from being reactive to being proactive. A creative culture

  • Promotes problem-solving
  • Encourages a positive, engaged work environment
  • Navigates change more quickly
  • Facilitates profitable growth

A key mindset shift for you as a leader is to empower your team to work at their creative best. Great innovation draws from many contributors. You are not responsible to generate all of the solutions and great ideas – your role is to nurture and encourage creativity in your team, and champion their ideas.

We know a leader who is always the smartest person in the room. His team is demoralized and not operating at their creative best. If he developed them and encouraged their creativity it would take longer than him solving the challenge and telling them what to do. However, his shortcut is causing him to miss out on valuable input and insights.

Here are some ways great leaders foster a creative culture:

  1. Honor your values. Safety, respect and curiosity are essential to creativity. Your team members need to know they won’t be humiliated when they offer ideas, raise questions or concerns, or make mistakes. There is a lot of talk about embracing failure, because refusing to risk the possibility of failure keeps you from growth and potential innovation. Celebrate new ideas and experimentation, encourage your team to fail early and often, and learn as much as possible in the process. In the book, Great by Choice there is a principle of “shooting bullets and then cannons.” The idea is to try a lot of little experiments, see what works and then expand on success. Perfection (and rejection) are enemies of progress and destroy any hope of a creative culture.
  1. Ask thought provoking questions. You get answers to the questions you ask. When you ask a better question, you get a better answer.  Consider the difference between, “what should we do next?” and “if you had all the resources you needed what is one thing we could do to accelerate profitable growth?” Tap into the imaginations of team members at all levels with inspiring questions like: Where else has someone already solved the challenge that we’ve been tasked with? Where else do we see the enthusiasm we want our clients or audience to have? Where else in nature or society does the interaction we’re trying to replicate occur? (An answer to this question inspired the invention of Velcro!)
  1. Know your people. Everyone has the capacity to be creative, but we do it differently. Pay attention to your team member’s interests and skills. Some people thrive on ideation and are naturally more revolutionary in their thinking, while others are more process-oriented and change averse. Appreciate the different creative types among your people—and realize that some are better at certain phases than others.
  1. Be a producer not a Prima Donna. In the music business, the producer is the one who integrates the work of many parties to reach one collective goal. Effective producers create a shared purpose while allowing contributors to apply their expertise. They provide the infrastructure for collaboration, leading a diverse group of experts to fully realize their unique talents while providing direction, feedback and ongoing support.
  1. Be a great storyteller. Research shows that two of the main keys to creative output are intellectual challenge and independence, and that the primary motivations are passion and purpose. Just as in change leadership, regular and clear communication that reminds your team of the ‘why’ behind the goal will fuel their interest in reaching it and activate their creativity.

You can’t manage creativity—you can only manage for creativity. Your leadership makes all the difference in your team’s creative success. Cultivate a culture of creativity to promote problem-solving, engage your team and drive growth.

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