How to Be a Creative Leader

Any business can benefit from an infusion of creative leadership, no matter what challenges it faces, what industry it is part of, or what type of service it provides. But what does that actually translate to in practice? What can leaders do to help promote innovation and growth? And why does being creative as a leader matter in the first place? 

By exploring critical topics like creative leadership styles, creative leadership skills, and activities that can help you tap into your creative potential, we’ll help to answer some of those questions for you. If you’re interested in becoming a more creative leader — whether in healthcare, education, business, or another field — the tips presented here can show you how (and why) to get started.

Why Should a Leader Be Creative? 

For healthcare executives, school administrators, and other professionals in leadership roles, the ability to think creatively is critical — so critical, in fact, that creativity was dubbed the “most crucial factor for future success” in the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, surpassing not only “vision,” but also “integrity” and “management discipline.” 

So what are the benefits of creative leadership, and why should leaders (or aspiring leaders) proactively strive for innovation? Here are three statistics that illuminate why creative leadership is so important for entrepreneurs: 

  1. According to a recent LinkedIn article 80 percent of the most successful companies at the forefront of innovation have leadership that highlights “the value and importance of innovation” to their employees and lead by example. 
  2. Four out of five companies (82 percent) surveyed in a report by Forrester Consulting “believe a strong connection between creativity and desired business results exists in the market today,” 
  3. According to the same report, “More companies that foster creativity achieve exceptional revenue growth than peers”: 58 percent of “firms that foster creativity,” versus just 20 percent of “less creative companies.” “Exceptional revenue growth” was characterized as growth that exceeded the previous year’s revenues “by 10 percent or more.” 

From adapting business models to COVID-19, to remaining competitive in a globalized market, and utilizing social media effectively, today’s business leaders face a complex and rapidly evolving set of challenges. Leaders who can think creatively are better equipped to meet them, transforming potential hurdles into opportunities. IBM reached the same conclusion, stating that creativity will help CEOs navigate “massive shifts” in the business environment, such as “new government regulations, changes in global economic power centers, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, [and] rapidly evolving customer preferences” — in addition to a global pandemic.  

3 Ways to Be a More Creative Leader in the Workplace  

To become a more creative leader, you should:

  1. Determine what type of leader you are
  2. Master crucial leadership skills
  3. Actively practice thinking and strategizing creatively

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps, discussing how they can help you develop both personally and professionally.  

#1: Explore Different Styles of Creative Leadership 

If you want to lead your team creatively, it helps to understand some theories and concepts of leadership, such as styles of leadership. There are many theories of organizational leadership, but when it comes to creativity, one of the most important is Path-Goal Theory, which focuses on clearing paths so that employees can more readily accomplish goals. Path-Goal Theory has given rise to several styles of leadership, which include the following: 

  • Achievement-Oriented Leadership — Ideal for motivating unengaged workers, this style of leadership involves setting achievable yet challenging goals for employees.
  • Directive Leadership — In this style of leadership, leaders break down and delegate complex tasks, ensuring team members have clearly defined roles and assignments. Due to its highly structured nature, directive leadership is well-suited for teams that are disorganized or inexperienced. 
  • Participative Leadership — In this style of leadership, the leader participates in the project with other group members, actively seeking feedback and consensus. Because of the great responsibility they are assigned, participative leadership is ideal for organizing experienced workers. 
  • Supportive Leadership — This is a relationship-oriented style of leadership where leaders prioritize the needs of their team members. Supportive leadership can help workers stay focused and motivated when tasks are difficult, unpleasant, or repetitive. 

Other styles of leadership include the transactional style, the democratic style, and the autocratic style. To learn more on this subject, continue exploring the different styles of leadership

#2: Master Creative Leadership Skills

Being an original and innovative leader requires you to develop certain skills that will facilitate and support your goals. For example, one major goal of creative leadership is to encourage a culture of innovation, in which employees receive the tools, freedom, and support they need to find incisive solutions to problems. In order to successfully cultivate this sort of climate, you will need various relationship, communication, organizational, and management skills, which include: 

  • Allocating resources, including time, more effectively 
  • Building positive relationships with employees, colleagues, clients, and other businesses or industries that could present opportunities 
  • Clearly and concisely communicating your goals, expectations, and visions for the organization, both in the short term and long term 
  • Determining when risk-taking is acceptable 
  • Encouraging collaboration among employees
  • Expressing openness to fresh perspectives and new, potentially unconventional ideas 
  • Framing challenges and setbacks as opportunities for learning and development 
  • Identifying and utilizing effective motivators, including intrinsic (internal) motivators like responsibility and personal growth
  • Listening to your employees’ concerns, questions, ideas, requests, and suggestions
  • Organizing and overseeing diverse teams whose members possess complementary skillsets
  • Providing constructive feedback that inspires, rather than demoralizes, the recipient 

These types of skills will also help you to achieve the other main goal of creative leadership, which is to effectively address organizational problems that are hindering growth. For example, creative leaders find ways to manage teams, units, or departments so that they work together harmoniously and cohesively — even when faced with challenges like clashing personalities, opposing opinions, or technological issues. 

#3: Engage in Creative Leadership Activities

Even if you feel that you have a natural instinct for leadership, you must work hard to continually hone and improve your leadership skills. One way to achieve this goal is to engage in activities that can help you become a more confident, more capable, and ultimately, more creative leader. Some examples of simple activities that can boost your leadership skills include: 

  • Being an example by setting and adhering to higher standards for yourself
  • Organizing team-building activities to build trust and camaraderie on your team
  • Practicing conflict resolution scenarios
  • Practicing praising and encouraging others 
  • Practicing your writing, listening, and communication skills 
  • Sharpening your skills with leadership training sessions, seminars, or conferences
  • Showing confidence in your employees by giving them the ability to make certain decisions independently 
  • Seeking out trusted mentors, such as experienced professionals who have excelled in their careers
  • Taking on additional responsibilities, such as additional projects at work 

Apply to the Creative Leadership MBA at National University 

Are you passionate about inspiring others, organizing teams, and shaping policy? Make your vision a reality by applying to the creative leadership MBA at National University, where you’ll cultivate the skills you need to become a more resilient and effective leader in any industry. This program explores a variety of creative leadership topics, providing students with a well-rounded education that covers both the theory and practice of effective leadership. 

In addition to our creative leadership program, students can explore and strengthen their leadership skills through related degree programs, such as our Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Science in Educational Administration, or Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL). We also offer additional programs in educational leadership, business leadership, and healthcare leadership, enabling students to pursue a wide range of professional interests. 

With 30-day courses, online course options, military discounts and benefits, and various scholarship and financial aid packages, National University offers flexibility and convenience while maintaining the high academic standards that have earned us WASC accreditation since 1977. Whether you’re looking to start, change, or accelerate your career, our rigorous online and on-campus courses are designed to help you succeed. So—what can you accomplish in 30 days? 

Make today the day you find out. Contact our admissions office to start your application and take charge of your future. 

Additional Sources 

https://www.nu.edu/ourprograms/collegeoflettersandsciences/psychology/courses/hub601d/ 

http://www.wright.edu/~scott.williams/LeaderLetter/innovation.htm 

https://online.queens.edu/online-programs/mba/resources/creative-approaches-leadership 

https://www.ibm.com/news/ca/en/2010/05/20/v384864m81427w34.html?_ga=2.193543021.1375025364.1607788308-1384408137.1607788308 

https://landing.adobe.com/dam/downloads/whitepapers/55563.en.creative-dividends.pdf 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-innovative-leadership-todays-world-amber-man 

https://www.verywellmind.com/leadership-styles-2795312 

https://cmoe.com/blog/organizational-problem/ 

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/12/leadership-skils.asp 

https://www.deputy.com/blog/6-impactful-leadership-activities-to-try-at-work 

https://www.thriveyard.com/35-ways-to-improve-your-leadership-skills-at-work/