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.

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