Creativity: An Undervalued Leadership Skill

by  Ron Burg  |  Leadership Development
Creativity: An Undervalued Leadership Skill

There is much to be said about leadership, and there is no shortage of descriptive words one uses when talking about leaders – influential, dedicated, globally thinking, focused, etc. – but how often do we describe leaders as creative? The modern leader has to have a lot of differing traits that all help them do his/her best to lead others and make decisions successfully.

Creativity and Leadership

Although not often associated with leadership, creativity is a trait that modern leaders want to harness, as it is vitally important. Since creativity is the driving force behind innovative products, services, and businesses, it is an excellent idea for leaders in all positions and industries to apply creativity to sharpening the imagination.

It’s difficult to find the perfect balance between creativity and leadership. Strong leaders are organized and diligent, tend to have a large amount of power over a group, and usually have to manage them. On the other hand, creativity is free flowing, chaotic, and unrestrained.  However, when a good leader harnesses the right amount of creativity, amazing things happen.

Successful businesses are built. New products and services hit the market that have never been offered before. Other members in the organization excel. No matter what spells out success for your individual organization, originality and innovation will aid you to reach success.

The key for leaders to remember is that, even if they are not the most creative person in the organization, they should serve as a “guide” for imagination. That is, it is a good leader’s job to encourage creative thinking within the organization, and construct a team that works well, by bringing in workers with varying aspects that complement each other. This way, a team of different thinkers can brainstorm together and come to the best solution that is both practical and innovative.

Creativity Killers

Not only is it hugely important as a leader to understand how to harness your own creativity, but you also want to provide and encourage a creative process for your team. Since in most cases your group members are the ones who support the organization’s vision, they need an environment where their imaginations thrive.

Before you set out to enhance the creative process, take a quick look around you. Is your work atmosphere conducive to innovation, or does it prevent it? Are qualities you use as a leader helping or hurting the overall creative process for your organization?

Here are just a few traits that kill creativity. If you are guilty of a few of these, make an effort to change your ways to encourage innovation among team members.

Not Listening

You’re understandably busy, but if you don’t take the time to listen to ideas of employees or others in your group, you could miss out on some great ideas and drive creative people away from the company. Plus, individuals will notice if you don’t listen and, eventually, will stop suggesting new ideas. Then the company or organization suffers, as you don’t get the proper feedback you need for innovation.

Shooting Down Ideas

Besides taking the time to listen to new ideas, you should also consider new ways of going about certain tasks. If you shoot down an idea because it sounds different, then you are discouraging out-of-the-box thinking. Furthermore, you might discourage others in the brainstorming process. Creative types usually have a different approach to looking at the big picture and working out ideas. Hear them out!

Playing It Safe

Creativity is all about taking risks. Break new ground, try something that you have never tried before, brainstorm, and implement those scary-but-good ideas. When you stick to the same format over and over, you limit yourself and discourage any type of creative environment.

Restricting Freedom

Employees need structure and guidance. But in order for imagination to flourish, it needs freedom. When you cut out freedom, you might as well eliminate all creativity. It’s important to understand that there are many ways to reach a goal. Don’t force people to work in the same way or to perform the same jobs. Everyone is different and should be allowed the freedom to work in the ways that are best for them (within reason, of course.)

Limiting Group Diversity

It’s no surprise that people who are similar tend to get along well. However, if you are looking for innovation, constructing teams of like-minded individuals will likely result in the group agreeing with each other. You want team members to push each other; you want members to bring different skill sets and views to the table. Different approaches and backgrounds may not make for the smoothest of teams; however, the taking the more challenging path will often make up for that with quality ideas and originality.


As a leader, you do have control and power of certain people or groups. However, you should refrain from micromanaging and trying to control every aspect of a project. Micromanagement kills morale and imagination. Learn to step away and offer guidance and support. When you do this, you are sure to see the creative talents shine.

It’s never too late to start creating practices and guidelines to aid the imaginative thinkers in your work environment. Just remember to keep an open mind and act as a facilitator for creativity, and notice the all the positive changes that you see. Part of being a successful leader is embodying the qualities that you want your team members to act on.

Think of new ways to address your problems and think of the group when you set out to achieve company goals. When you do, chances are your employees will be happier, and business will continue to boom.

Editor’s Note: The author submitted this post on behalf of Amanda Speaks. Visit the Amanda Speaks site for resources on developing resilient and successful students. 

Have you seen creativity make a difference for a leader? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Fotolia glisic_albina

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What People Are Saying

Kenneth Baucum  |  13 Apr 2016  |  Reply

Excellent article! Thank you so much for sharing.

John E. Smith  |  14 Apr 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Ron – thanks for posting this interesting article.

I thought all the points made were very valid, but I particularly appreciated the one about “Restricting Freedom”. In my experience, this is one of the most difficult things for most managers and leaders to do, for several reasons:

If you are a manager, you thrive best in situations where you are in control and can literally manage the people, resources, systems, processes, and all that jazz. Anything which threatens your ability to control is seen as suspect.

If you are a leader, which comes with a hopefully healthy dose of controlled ego, you are used to establishing the direction and having others follow you. When others are free to go their own ways, I think the word “threatens” is again appropriate.

Letting go of control and allowing a hefty amount of freedom is commonplace in the creative and performing arts, but not so often experienced in the halls of commerce, public service, or the political arena.

Thanks for reinforcing this and the other important ingredients in establishing a creative environment in which people can flourish.


Keith Emery  |  14 Apr 2016  |  Reply

Creativity is essential for those times you have to say difficult things without crushing spirits. Creativity is how the most difficult problems are solved, especially those in which the solution lies between two opposing points of view. Being able to look at a situation from several points of view and strategically navigate toward a common goal is almost pure creativity.

Manjeet Singh  |  15 Apr 2016  |  Reply

Good article.
You are right John. Your experience and observation is right.

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