The key to being a creatively-driven leader is in the ability to inspire imagination in the workplace. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you need to necessarily be creative yourself. What it does mean is that you need to be able to create a workplace culture that encourages deviancy from the norm. It’s only when people are willing to steer away from the routine of everyday business that they have the freedom to explore alternate ideas. That’s precisely where your job as a leader comes in: in creating that free-range environment.
Creative Leaders Understand the Value of Security
Heidi Grant Halvorson writes a bold article for 99U titled “The Key to Being a Creative Leader? Job Security.” In it she cites a study by psychologists Cameron Anderson and Adam Galinsky that shows people with confidence take greater (rewarding) risks as a result of it. The question is how you create that confidence. According to Heidi, that confidence is created by giving people a sense of power. She writes, “When you are in power, you can be more innovative because you feel more comfortable and secure, and less sensitive to, or constrained by, what other people think of you.”
As a leader, you can create a sense of power by encouraging employee collaboration, by creating structures that encourage contribution and dialogue. It’s relatively ridiculous to tell an employee to “be creative” and then expect them to be. It makes a lot more sense to have built-in platforms where employees can go and submit their ideas and see the formation of a collaborative idea hive.
Yet, most employees don’t engage at these levels because of a fear of job security, which in turn means lessened power. Heidi comments on this, adding that for both employees and leaders, there’s a risk of destabilization. She writes:
“When the powerful can become the powerless, and vice versa, psychologists call it an ‘unstable power hierarchy.’ If you are operating in that kind of environment and staying powerful and influential is your primary focus, then feelings of power can actually make you more conservative. When you don’t want to lose the power you’ve worked so hard to attain, you avoid risks and potential mistakes, and your creativity is diminished.”
Imaginative Leaders Encourage Workplace Diversion
One of the reasons many employers are now forcing employees to take vacation time is because they understand the importance of stepping away from work. Jesse Friedman would agree. In an article for Smashing Magazine, titled “On Creative Leadership,” Jesse writes:
“Our brain looks for a distraction-free environment to get inspired…Believe it or not, your intentional distraction (Amazon and Facebook) can help to relax your brain and “take your mind off the problem” just long enough to get the answer you’re looking for.”
So you don’t have to necessarily be sipping margaritas on a beach. You just need to actually stop thinking about work. Jesse’s point raises the importance of daily “breaks” rather than just yearly ones.
Jesse also brings up another important point: management. Leadership’s obsessive need for management is one of the main reasons diversions aren’t appreciated in the workplace. Yet, as Jess writes, “take a Web designer. A Web designer already needs to manage their time, creative process, projects, clients and more. Isn’t that enough management already?”
The point is your team knows their job. They know how to do it and they know how to manage their time in order to get the job done. Trust them to perform rather than micromanage activity in the interest of seeming productive.
Having a creatively-driven leader isn’t, contrary to opinion, about adopting the latest cultural trends. Rather, it’s about retaining your competitive edge in a new economy. In fact, a 2010 Ernst & Young report titled “Connecting Innovation to Profit” had one company admitting, “We assume that 50% of our revenue in five years’ time will come from sources that do not exist today. That’s why we innovate.” So the question really becomes, what are you doing today as a leader to ensure you’re still a viable business in five years time.