A new view of creative leadership — Part 1

This week I attended a presentation. 

I was the one presenting in the hope that we would win a large cultural transformation program with this organisation. 

(I'll let you know how we go — haven't heard back yet).

My team and I were invited to put forward a proposal for a piece of work that would touch on customer experience, community experience, brand values and culture within the organisation. It was a big piece of work and one that ticked all of our sweet-spot-skill-sets.

The room was filled with an array of leaders from within the organisation and naturally the conversation turned toward the topic of creative leadership. A favourite of mine.

One panel member said that "creative leadership sounds like another fluffy buzzword" and this peaked my interest. 

The room turned to me and awaited my response.

In those few seconds of awkward silence, a million thoughts ran through my mind, but the main one was that this single leader, the key decision-maker whom I was trying to win over today thought that creative leadership was just another "fluffy buzzword."

My ego crumbled slowly, shrivelling into a fetal position in the corner of the room, and quietly telling me "you handle this Jim, I'm just going to sit here quietly..."

My self esteem turned around and looked at me saying "OK dude, you stuff this up and I'm gone."

My imposter syndrome ran to the front of the stage and said "I'm ready when you are!"

Everything I've read about leadership, everything I've experienced flashed through my mind. Half of me was angry she didn't immediately understand the importance of creative leadership, and the other half was consoling me and preparing me to convince her of the critical nature of it in an organisation that will aim to stay relevant in this century and beyond.

I felt challenged and yet, at the same time inspired to take centre stage and answer her statement with clarity and a little persuasion.

I prepared myself and answered carefully.

Creative leadership, I told her, is a new view of leadership. In today's world, creativity is understood, harnessed and codified to the point where we can see inherent value and return on investment for its efforts, and its presence within all levels of organisations — especially the board room.

Creative leadership is an empathic form of leadership that places all stakeholders, not just customers, voices at the key decision-making table. It provides insight, empathy and the ability to empower others to feel the same for the people that are central to the challenges the organisation is facing.

Creative leadership demonstrates early measurable impact through simple, evidenced based, universal methods such as design thinking, human-centred design, agile methods and others. It isn't a process-following system of leadership but one that takes the best of different aspects and applies them realistically within the organisational context. 

Creative leadership creates a safe place for new thought to emerge from anywhere; and therefore it is an inclusive form of leadership that accepts that good ideas, and creativity, isn't harboured by the few, but allowed, afforded and arises from anyone. 

This requires safe places to work, nimble environments to share ideas with colleagues and the ability to communicate the need, the value and the impact of change to senior leaders — in turn empowering them to give voice to creativity, change and innovation.

I then admitted to her, that her perception of creative leadership being yet another fluffy buzzword was in fact the fault of the old-world of creativity, not her own. 

A world where creativity was harboured by the few, and shrouded in mystery. And in fact some still value this because it serves them to create a veil of mystery around themselves. 

I admitted to her that much needed to be corrected in that arena, but the new arena of creative leadership saw people with a range of skills coming to the table in a completely different way.

"How?" She asked me directly. Without blinking.

The game was on.