A new view of creative leadership — part 2

Last week I wrote about a meeting where I was asked about creative leadership. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d suggest going back and reading it, as this week is the sequel and last week left us all (yes, including me) on a cliffhanger.

... (Continued from last week)...

The topic quickly turned back to our proposal. All this talk of ‘creative leadership’ seemed to have the room yawning until my colleague segued back to the matter at hand.

The presentation ended and everyone smiled amicably and I made sure I set a date with the person who asked me about the ‘how' of creative leadership.

A week later I'm sitting at a cafe waiting for her to arrive. I'm rehearsing my thoughts and thinking back at everything I've read, written and experienced when it comes to the matter of leadership in the creative industry.

I think back at my conversation with a former SAS Commander, reading Richard Florida's 'Rise of the Creative Class', the influence of 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' and Johan Maeda's work, all leading me to develop my own interest in leadership that exists at the intersection of technology, creativity and business.

I was stacking up my proof in case she tore my pile of books down; which were already starting to feel wobbly.

Rampant thoughts ran through my mind as I ordered my coffee — "Running five minutes late" read her text message.

  • What if she knew something I didn't?

  • What if she studied something I hadn't?

  • What if she was the preeminent source of all knowledge about creative leadership and I wasn't?

  • What if she went to the School of All Things Leadership at Harvard's Secret School for Leaders, and came to tell me kindly to pull my head back in?


She arrived, I smiled and said hello as she ordered her own coffee, exchanged some "how was your weekend" small-talk and she jumped straight into it.

"Jim, I've often struggled with my own sense of who I am as a leader and when you told me about your interest in creative leadership it peaked my interest."

"For a long time I've tried to solve my own organisational problems with the same old methods, and they're not working. I need new ways of bringing new solutions to the table if I am to grow as leader. 

I need to new ways of managing the people I'm hiring who have skillsets I've never heard of before.

I need new ways of bringing my board of directors together to set strategy and I need new ways to work with the community I serve to solve their real world problems, because above all, that is why we're all here doing what we do."


She took a breath.

"So, creative leadership is interesting to me and I want to hear all about it."

I took a breath.

This was music to my ears. In my mind's eye I was already building my ideal persona of the person I wish to work when it comes to creative leadership work and the picture looked like this woman I was sitting and speaking with.

I spoke with her about the misunderstanding of creativity in the closed-world of the past, and the emergence of a new kind of creativity that can be harnessed by many rather than a select, celebrated few.

I spoke with her about the both the hard and soft skills that are needed to operate at our highest potential in the world we're living in. The blend of technological insight, with entrepreneurial endeavour, of course creativity and an empathic obsession for human needs — and of course the ability to build and manage teams to meet those needs.

We agreed the need for resilience, good health and safe spaces for new, creative thought — and the leaders that could create this space.

And, above all, at scale, these skills can be taught, codified, managed and in fact grown into a new kind of creative leadership that doesn't see a single entity sitting on a throne with a crown on their heads celebrating their all-creative-power, but rather an emerging culture of leaders that can all wear that responsibility across domains. 

(I felt an imaginary thud as the many creative directors I worked with through my near-30 year career, fainted)

We spoke about the old world of creativity slowly drifting away at sea as the new world of creativity waved at them from the shore. Thanking them for what they've achieved so far and walking back to their warm homes. We reminisced but also thanked the death of this old world for most of it is now steeped in a bewildering spiral of sexual discrimination cases, a lack of diversity (white men still weird the power) or an apathy for the new with a tight grip on the throne.

We spoke about capability, training, empathy, strategy and playfulness in creativity. 

We spoke about purpose; finding it, harnessing it and instilling it in the rituals and rhythms of our day-to-day.

The conversation lasted almost two hours with us both agreeing that much work had to be done in righting organisational and industry wrongs, but, for us, our journey was a different one. Not to right all the wrongs, but to walk the path of the leader we were just talking about.