Tag Archives: affective

Creativity and Leadership

What are the natural relationships between creativity and leadership?

I’ve recently explored this question in relationship to current issues in creativity studies, through my Master’s work at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. Both creativity and leadership are huge concepts. Defining them is tricky. As Warren Bennis says, “it is almost a cliché of the leadership literature that a single definition of leadership is lacking.” According to the beloved Dr. Mary Murdock — charming dynamo in the field of creativity studies until her death earlier this year, and my first teacher on the subject — the task of defining creativity “is like nailing jello to the wall.”

We may disagree on concise definitions of creativity and leadership, but we can see them operating together. How might we better understand their interrelationships?

I addressed the question in a longer paper you can read at the Current Issues in Creativity blogsite. Here are some of the highlights:

How we think and how we feel.

Both creativity and leadership invoke cognitive and affective skills — how we think, and how we feel. Complexity plays into this as well. Often, the more cognitively complex our thinking is, the more we will be able to draw on a variety of categories and frames of reference when we are looking for creative answers. Leadership, too, requires attention to complex cognition, since leaders are tasked with thriving within complex environments (for more on this, see my post on the 2010 IBM CEO Survey).

Affective skills, such as our ability to tap into our emotional intelligence, are important in both creativity and leadership. In his work with emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman says that “coming up with a creative insight is a cognitive act––but realizing its value, nurturing it and following through calls on emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, persistence and the ability to persuade.”

For leaders, awareness of affect and emotional intelligence help them understand and manage behavior, including: knowing when they might be reverting to familiar emotional scripts; skillful reliance upon emotion as a method of interpreting others (especially when the information presented is novel and complex); and when faced with high-emotion situations.

Creativity and Leadership in Tandem

What are some areas we might find creativity and leadership naturally occurring? I propose three: within theoretical perspectives which blend the two constructs, such as Sternberg and Lubart’s Propulsion Model of Creativity, and Sternberg’s WICS model of leadership, which intertwines wisdom, intelligence and creativity; in deliberate problem solving methods like Creative Problem Solving that implicate creativity and leadership in a duet of process; and in the particular nested dynamic found in the creative leadership of creative people.

Inner Source

Both creativity and leadership require intense personal resources. In order to engage in them for any length of time, a person must draw deeply upon personal energy and motivation. This highlights, at minimum, the benefit of being well-centered in oneself; at the maximum, the necessity of it. Both creativity and leadership theories speak of this important connection to the inner self, which can be consciously developed. In this regard, creativity and leadership are seen as being rooted in an internal locus, evoking self-development, maturation, mastery, and even spiritual growth.

Connecting? Coinciding?

Creativity and leadership interrelate in our cognitive and affective skills; in certain theories, processes and situations; and in the inner source from which they spring and are nourished. We can certainly have one without the other, and in some instances we need to. But by drawing attention to their rich interrelationships we can improve our understanding of, and performance in, both.

These are some highlights. You can read the complete paper here.

Feeling Our Way Through

How does it feel when you’re working your way through the creative process? Especially if you’re following a deliberate process, like Creative Problem Solving, you may find yourself concentrating on the process steps—getting swept up in brainstorming, or intensely focusing on selecting ideas, for example.

But are you aware of how you’re feeling?

The quality of our affective state (which represents feelings and attitudes) plays a role in how we engage with our creativity. Daniel Goleman, who writes about Emotional Intelligence, says that “coming up with a creative insight is a cognitive act—but realizing its value, nurturing it, and following through calls on emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, persistence, and the ability to persuade.” There’s also the excitement we feel when our creativity is sparking, and the frustration we feel when it isn’t.

The Thinking Skills Model (TSM) of Creative Problem Solving speaks to this. (See Puccio, Murdock & Mance, 2007, below.) It distinguishes different cognitive and affective skills that are matched up to the process steps. For example, the step, “Exploring the Vision,” elicits visionary thinking and dreaming. Think about it: when you’re really wondering what all might be possible, you are thinking about things with a visionary mindset, and you might even find yourself feeling in a sort of reverie of imagination. Or at least doing some serious “blue sky” pondering.

Similarly, “Formulating Challenges” calls for the ability to feel or sense our way into the gaps of what might be missing. “Formulating a Plan” asks that we engage our tolerance for risk.

This linking of feeling (or affective) states with the process steps of CPS helps to bring into awareness what Goleman said about emotion and creativity.

I recently led a training on TSM, and began by asking the group how they had felt at different times during the process of Creative Problem Solving (they had just completed a project where they each took a work-related challenge through the CPS model on their own).

Here are some of their remarks:

  • daunted while gathering data
  • intrigued while clarifying the problem
  • abundant while generating ideas
  • focused while selecting and strengthening solutions
  • competent while planning for action

Not all of these feeling states match up to the TSM model, but what matters is the awareness that our feelings come along for the ride, whether we’re conscious of them or not. So, bringing awareness and vocabulary to the process will probably help.

But be prepared as you start drawing awareness to emotions! People may believe you are advocating for emotionality. There’s a difference. A balanced awareness of our affect, our attitude, our mood, can support us in the creative process, and help us diagnose when we might be getting off track. Fundamentally, it’s about bringing all of our resources into the game.

Goleman, D. (1998) Working with emotional intelligence. Bantam: New York;
Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M. C. & Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.