What creative leaders do you know and admire? What makes them special? Why do you admire them? Take a few minutes to think about these questions.
At Thinkergy, we often set the scene for a session on creative leadership —or a full-fledged Genius Journey training course— with a little warm-up exercise. We break up the learning cohort into small groups and let them work on the above questions. The exercise and ensuing discussions create curiosity for delegates on how they may further their individual creativity and develop their creative leader potential.
Would you rate these people as a creative leader?
In a course in creative leadership, the delegates naturally think first of well-known creative business leaders, such as Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, David Ogilvy, Edwin Land, Charles Kettering, Nikola Tesla, Jeff Bezos, Masaru Ibuka, Akio Morita, Jack Ma, or James Dyson.
But is the concept of a creative leaders limited to business leaders only? How about leaders in other fields, such as science, the arts, in politics and in sports:
- On almost every list of creative leaders, a few universal geniuses such as Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci feature prominently somewhere close to the top.
- Other universal and/or scientific geniuses such as Benjamin Franklin, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, or Richard Buckminster Fuller are also widely considered to be creative leaders in their field.
- How about creative leaders, top achievers and geniuses in the creative arts in the widest sense? Would you rate the painters Pablo Picasso, Salvatore Dali, and Vincent van Gogh as creative leaders? How about the writers William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Or the musical geniuses Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and John Lennon? How about the movie directors Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron?
- How about if we consider spiritual or political leaders, too? Do Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, or Lao Tze qualify as creative leaders for you? How about famous political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela?
- How would you rate outstanding top achievers and kinesthetic geniuses in sports? Would you consider Mohammad Ali or Bruce Lee to be a creative leader?
If you asked me, I’d loudly say “yes” to all the creative leaders listed above. You may disagree with me in some cases, and that’s fine. It’s all depends on how we define the concept, and we will come back to this point below. But first allow me to share with you what I take away from the little warm-up exercise.
So what does this exercise teach us about creative leader?
In the past years, I’ve asked the above questions to workshop participants from different parts of the world. The exercise has provided me with some interesting insights about the concept of a creative leader:
- Creative leaders abound in many fields. When working on this exercise, the groups suggest a similar selection of creative leaders from a wide variety of fields. The concept of a creative leader seems to be universally understood and interpreted in a multifaceted way. It is not limited to business leaders only, but also extends to geniuses, top achievers and extraordinary creative leaders in science, the arts, spirituality, politics and in sports.
- Creative leaders can be found on all levels all over the world. Most lists also include a few creative leaders that are known only locally, nationally or regionally — such as founders of innovative start-up ventures or creative agencies, renowned artists and entertainers, and the like. Do those people also qualify as creative leaders? Probably yes. Someone who creates extraordinary outputs or creatively influences others in a field at a local, national or regional level can qualify as a creative leader, too. The concept of a creative leader does not require a person to be world famous.
- Creative leaders stand out from the crowds through their deeds and their minds. How do people justify why they rate someone to be a creative leader? Typically, they make their case either by pointing to breakthrough ideas or the extraordinary outputs that the creative leader created, or by citing some unusual, “abnormal” creative mindsets that differ from those of normal people. Because they create standout outputs, and because they think and do things differently, creative leaders influence and inspire others to be more creative, too.
- Calling someone a creative leader doesn’t make them a creative leader. Do I agree to every person listed as a creative leader? Nope. In some cases, I have my reservations or even openly disagree. For example, while I admire Mark Zuckerberg’s achievements as leader of Facebook, I also take note that the original concept behind his social networking site is rooted in the ConnectU concept from the Winklevoss twins. Moreover, the assessment of why someone qualifies as an authentic creative leader may change over time. In the end, it all depends on how we argue our case, and how we define the concept of a creative leader.
What is a creative leader?
At Thinkergy, we define creativity as an idea, product or other concept that is at the same time novel and original and meaningful. This definition ensures that we exclude concepts that are secondhand, copied, and unethical or meaningless.
A leader is often defined as “a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country”. However, expanding on this narrow view, some define a leader as a “person that holds a dominant or superior position within their field, and is able to exercise a high degree of control or influence over others.”
Let’s combine both aspects into one definition and define a creative leader as:
“a person who creates extraordinarily novel, original and meaningful outputs in a particular field, and/or creatively leads or influences others to create novel, original and meaningful outputs.”
In many creative leadership sessions that I ran in recent years, I noticed that there seems to be an universal, almost intuitive understanding of what the concept of an authentic creative leader encompasses. Take a look at the people who you listed as creative leaders. Are some of your favorite geniuses and creative leaders on my list? Chances are that we have a couple of exact matches.
In any case, creative leaders think and act differently. They are courageous and curious, confident and positive, inspiring and passionate, creative and all-embracing, flexible and present, focused and balanced. And because they work and live their lives creatively, they are able to come up with breakthrough ideas and create extraordinary outputs that delight and influence others to follow them in their creative footsteps.
Do you want to become an authentic creative leader yourself? Then, check out Genius Journey, our creative leadership development method. And consider booking a Genius Journey training for your organization? Contact us to tell us more about we can help you begin your creative leadership journey.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2018