Innovation is not born in a vacuum: it needs a leader to channel it, a leader who proves open to unexpected ideas, who is flexible and curious.
To flourish within a company, creativity needs a leader, a guide who galvanizes the troops and encourages them to be innovative. This leader must demonstrate several character traits:
- Open-mindedness: They must be open to new ideas and support innovators, which means sometimes supporting ideas which initially seem far-fetched and risky. They must especially protect them from the red tape and legalism that reign in many organizations. Their task can be to encourage support from other environments.
- Vision: A creative leader is someone who motivates their employees with their vision, who is able to guide their choices and to inspire them. Ideally, this “program” will capture the company's ethics, history and philosophy–its DNA–and can also be used for communicating externally.
- Patience: They must know how to accept uncertainty. Resistant to hastily taken decisions and overly obvious conclusions, they recognize the need for a certain creative chaos before the solution emerges. This requires a certain amount of patience and perseverance.
- Curiosity: They have endless curiosity and a hunger for knowledge, learning and asking questions. They are interested in everything, because they know that a good idea is often to be found where you least expect it. They are also capable of dreaming and imagining, always being aware of the gap between the actual and the ideal–which must be bridged. However, they must not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by this continuous flow of information: it is easy to lose focus due to fear of missing an opportunity. With experience, they will learn to focus to avoid this kind of drifting.
- Humor: Creativity has a greater chance of emerging in a fun environment. A good leader will know how to create this, whilst maintaining a serious approach. This means playing with the limits, testing the flexibility of rules and casually experimenting with new ideas.
- Flexibility: Flexibility is key. They need to know how to adapt their style of leadership to the circumstances. David Horth and Charles Palus, two researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership in the US, cite the case of a haulage and towing company which had introduced three methods of managing the company. The first, a traditional approach, is used when traffic is normal, stable and predictable. The second, “jazz mode”, is implemented when the situation is more tense. The third, the “traffic jam” style, is used to manage chaotic situations. The first two management methods introduce improvisation into decision-making, which becomes less top-down and moves away from procedures fixed in advance.
- Be attentive: A creative leader must know how to spot a good idea when it is right under their nose. Today, companies sometimes tend to forget the contribution made by their own employees, preferring to rely on external agencies or consultancies. To avoid this, those closest to the problem should be approached and a climate should be created which encourages them to express themselves and to make connections between their personal passions and their work. This often comes through example: the creative leader themselves must adopt this behavior.
- Accept criticism: Picking up on the best ideas sometimes means exposing themselves to criticism. They must know how to remain open to proposals from opponents, those who call into question the established order or who go against their own preconceptions. More than one perspective is essential to bring creativity to life.
Source: Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change, Marie Mance, Mary Murdock and Gerard Puccio, Sage Publications, 2011.