Creative Leadership or Leader of Creativity?

Updated: Aug 31

The term Creative Leadership is one of the new buzz words in modern organisations. Yet, for all good intents and purposes, the true meaning of the frase is often somewhat unclear. I.e. does it reflect the intention to be creative in leadership or to lead towards more creativity? Maybe the better question is: is there a difference, or more important - does it really matter?

People in organisations have always been creative. It is a prerequisite for creating a competitive advantage and thus what entrepreneurs (must) do to stay ahead of the game. However, in the Industrial Age, creativity was merely considered a necessity for developing new products and services. Leaders often went to great lengths to recruit people with creative capabilities. Yet, such people had little influence on what to develop, nor the organisational processes involved. This form of 'creativity' was reserved for the leadership of the company. The Industrial Age was all about mass production which required organisations to be consistent, disciplined and risk averse. Being a leader meant that you had to focus on planning, control and repeating whatever caused last year’s succes. Creative leadership, in terms of that era, meant a strong focus on improving the organisation, which inevitably lead to ever more structure, management and solidified process. Unfortunately it killed the organisational creative capacity of the workforce.


Interesting observation: today more than 90% of all corporations claim that innovation (i.e. creativity) is at the top of their priorities list. Yet it seems that the bigger and more powerful they get, the less capable of innovation they are. And that is perfectly logical because innovation is about experimenting, breaking rules and taking risk. It’s the total and utter opposite of good management, i.e. structure, planning and minimising risk. It seems that lack of innovation is not a lack of good ideas, But rather a consequence of solid organisation.


"Leadership in self-organising systems, is Creative by Design."

In self-organising collectives, leadership is not fixed. It is role based and only exists where and when an event occurs in the organisation, that requires it. This means that issues are addressed locally, flexibly, with available resources and knowledge, and without any form of formal management. Not only are self-organising collectives creative in leadership, the organisation model also generates more creativity in developing products, services and solutions. And not in the last place, it improves motivation and overal appreciation. Now you may wonder, where does this model originate from? Well, we can see it everywhere in Nature.


Imagine a large swarm of birds moving at speed. Birds in the centre of the swarm cannot see what's happening on the outside. Basically they just follow a small group of others in their direct line of sight. Only the ones on the outside are aware of outside events and they respond accordingly. This in essence makes them the 'leaders' of the swarm. Yet, the swarm constantly changes speed, direction and composition. This means that all take turns in being a leader, follower and anything in between, while constantly finding creative solutions for the problems they face. Hence, leadership in self-organising collectives is creative by design.


Todays' top leaders got ahead of everybody else by showing both creativity in leadership and in ideas and solutions. Their overall creative stance allows them to easily gather creative people around them, which they allow to creatively lead themselves. Creative Leadership is NOT about being either of the above. It's about recognizing that people are creative beings, and allowing them to express it. Creative Leaderships attracts creativity. It attracts people that together creatively create creative leadership in unison.


Evert Bleijenberg MBA


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