Is creativity a leadership skill?

Leadership and creativity are not words you would expect to find together when talking about the average boss, manager or leader. The word creative brings to mind wishy-washy or unstructured which usually aren’t the best qualities in a leader.

If you were to look at the leaders you know, I bet there are very few (if any) you would call creative. I don’t think many creative people are put into leadership roles. This was supported in a small study that showed there is a perception that those who are more creative were less prepared to lead. However, as I’ve been researching, writing and coaching leaders, I find that creativity is becoming a must. Not only in our problem-solving skills but in getting our teams from point A to point B, managing our time and how we move through change.

Having a common language that supports the overall team goals, but speaks specifically to each person is a creative gift. People hear what they want to hear, respond in different ways, show excitement at different levels, get offended by different things and have different motivations. Being adept in delivering the same message in different ways so it can be heard by all takes some serious creative thinking. A necessary skill, though, as a leader because it alleviates the repetitive conversations, disappointments, and struggles with those who aren’t meeting deadlines because they aren’t motivated by the same words that excite their teammates.

We usually don’t think of creativity to manage time and workload. Leaders today are overwhelmed with the amount of work to be accomplished in the allotted time. That means there’s little to no time for deep thinking or experimentation without judgment. There’s a lot of pressure to produce quick results. Outside of hiring more people and alongside strong delegation skills, leaders need to be creative in how they achieve rapid results. Sometimes that means tweaking a solution that worked for another company or department, only doing part of a great idea or doing rapid brainstorming and going with your gut. Being creative at a fast pace, whether it succeeds or fails, is sometimes better than just adding to your never-ending to-do list where you and your team feel like they never accomplish anything.

Times of change often beg of some leadership creativity. These uncertain times crave communication, so their people won’t go down the rabbit hole of fear and ambiguity. Often in times of change, especially radical change, leaders only think about how to say something without giving too much information away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard C-suite execs stating that they want to avoid panic so they instruct that divulged information be kept to a minimum. However, limited information is what creates panic. Leaving people to their worst-case scenario imaginations is just cruel and pretty much brings all work to a halt. So, leaders should take the time to think through these worst-case scenarios and try to address them instead of ignoring them. A little forward thinking mixed with some creativity can alleviate a lot of the fears and ambiguity. Even more so if there are legal ramifications surrounding what can and can’t be said.

I believe it’s time that companies start employing people who have a solid mix of standard leadership and creativity skills. We are at a time where not only innovation is key, but having the ability to navigate and motivate multi-generational and cultural workforces in demanding and ever-changing atmospheres requires a leader to be skilled in the ways of creativity.

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