Creative Leaders

The most important person a leader must lead is themselves. And leaders lead, even if the only person they lead is themselves. They must be creative leaders.

I’ve seen this play out on a global scale, in a global organisation, in the past couple of months (and, no, I’m not talking about two notable world leaders, although they are a case in point!) And the two styles of leadership I’ve witnessed show one leader who is not leading himself (with one set of results) while the other is and is getting quite different results.

But leadership styles are changing. The fluidity of business and thinking in the 21st century demands that leaders change their styles and adopt a more creative leadership mindset. Richard Rohr delineates a number of qualities of creative leaders and I expand on his ideas.

Creative leaders…

Creative leaders are “seers of alternatives”. They can see different options and hold apparent paradoxes in creative tension. They know that the ‘tried and true’ option probably no longer works and that others, less-known, less-tried even, may well prove ideal for the current situation.

Creative leaders “move forward by influencing events and inspiring people more than by ordering or demanding”. I have witnessed these two quite different leadership styles as I referred to earlier. One leader demands loyalty and operates out of threats, bullying and harassment of those who do not give the loyalty demanded. The other quietly but firmly goes about business with equal measures of vulnerability and strength, encouraging those he leads to be their best.

Creative leaders “learn to study, discern, and search together with others for solutions”. They are collaborators at heart, valuing diversity of thinking and embracing change.

Creative leaders know…

Creative leaders “know that total dilemmas are very few”. Dilemmas arise when people are “internally stuck, attached, fearful, over-identified with [their] position, needy of winning the case, or unable to entertain even the partial truth that the other opinion might be offering”. Creative leaders know that just because someone disagrees with them, the other person is not wrong. And they know themselves well enough to recognise when their own fears may be a hindrance to growth and forward movement.

Creative leaders “know that wisdom is ‘the art of the possible’.” They don’t ask how to solve a problem to make it go away, but rather how can the greatest good be achieved “for the largest number and for future generations”? Creative leaders know that leading is not about them; it is about those they lead.

Creative leaders “know that every one-sided solution is doomed to failure. It is never a lasting solution but only a postponement of the problem.” Creative leaders do not think in dualistic terms, of black and white, of either/or. Rather, they take a both/and approach.

Creative leaders act…

Creative leaders “continue finding and sharing new data and possibilities until they can work toward consensus from all sides”. They tap into the collective whole, valuing the knowledge and experience of those who are not like them. They understand that knowledge comes from a variety of sources and that no one person can be the ‘fount of all wisdom’.

Creative leaders “want to increase both freedom and ownership among the group” because they know that “subservience…will ultimately sabotage” anything they are trying to build and achieve. What we invest in, be it time, money or emotions, become something we value. Creative leaders know that people in their team who are invested in the team and its outcomes will be around for the long haul and will stay focussed through difficulties and find ways over obstacles.

Creative leaders “emphasize the why of a decision and show how it is consistent with the group’s values”. For others to follow a leader, they must know why they are doing so. Their personal ‘why’ must resonate with the collective ‘why’.  Personal dissonance leads to collective dissonance and fracturing of the whole.

Creative leaders think…

Creative leaders “must have a certain capacity for thinking beyond polarities and tapping into full, embodied knowing”. Some will call this prayer. Others will use the way of meditation. Whatever term is used, creative leaders know that knowing is much more than cerebral, much more than cognitive assertion.

Creative leaders “have a tolerance for ambiguity”. They don’t have the all the answers, know they don’t’ have all the answers, and are content to not have all the answers.

Creative leaders have the “ability to hold creative tensions”, to make space for paradoxes, and anomalies. They know that in the midst of such creative tension lies untapped power and unthought-of possibilities and solutions.

Creative leaders have the “ability to care beyond their own personal advantage”. They can see beyond the immediate. They strive towards a good greater than their own. Creative leaders are happy, truly happy, when others succeed way beyond their own ability to do so.

Who are your creative leaders?

Who are the creative leaders you know? Call them out? Share this article with them, acknowledging and thanking them for being the creative leader that they are.


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