Do we really want creative leaders?

creative productsLook though recent articles on leadership and you will find that creativity to be the newest rage. A few years back  (in 2010 to be exact) IBM’s Institute for Business Value conducted a survey of 1,500 chief executives and discovered that creativity had risen to top as the most valuable attribute of a leader. The ability to generate new idea, and solve problems creatively became the new competency that was suppose to ensure the success of a business in tight economic times. [1]

More recently a study by London School of Economics, showed that creative employees have more impact on innovation than an industry being part of the creative sector. Findings in this study “raise questions about the dominant perception of the creative industries as an ‘innovative’ sector.”  They also suggest that ” it might be more appropriate to focus on creative workers regardless of the sector in which they work.”[2] So not only are leaders to add creativity to their list of accomplishments, they are to encourage to add creative employees also.

But you cannot keep adding to new competencies without being willing to sacrifice some of the currently expected ones.  Basically any business needs to consider which attributes they are willing do without in order to hire a creative person. Øyvind L. Martinsen of the BI Norwegian Business School  recommends that “An employer would be wise to conduct a position analysis to weigh the requirements for the ability to cooperate against the need for creativity.” [3]

One of those attributes that might have to be sacrificed is leaders who fit the appearance of leadership.  Research from Netherlands indicates that in business, groups expect the leader to conform to the norms. This established a group identity and leaders who are typical of a group tend to be more influential because it appears that their self interests are also the group’s interest. [4] How many times have you been told to learn the company culture to ensure success at employment? Doing so is pretty much the opposite from being original.

In a study in India, employees at a refinery were rated for “leadership potential and creative idea expression.” The result showed  “that perceptions of creative performance did negatively and significantly relate to perceptions of leadership potential.”[5] In other words the more creative the ideas appear to others, the less they are willing to trust in the person’s leadership abilities. Is it the same in the USA as India? Further research conducted in United States universities showed that expressing creative ideas did lower perceptions of leadership ability. However when the person also appeared to be charismatic, their leadership qualities were not questioned as much. [5] Evidently the trait that people connect with  leadership in the United States is the ability to speak well and impress others.

However, as I look through studies on creative people I find scarce mention of the characteristic of charisma. Most indicate creative people in business are like the ones observed by Øyvind L. Martinsen.  They “are obstinate and find faults and flaws in ideas and people.”[3] Apparently, they are more concerned about what they achieve than how much others like them. On the other hand, charismatic people gain their power by drawing others, and they usually appear likable to do this. However, after extensive reading, I found few studies examining the relation of charisma and creativity. As the super “winning” personality rises in estimations of leadership, this relationship is something that needs to be considered.


[1] Kern, F. (2010,  May 18)  What Chief Executives Really Want. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved Jan 13, 2014 from  http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/may2010/id20100517_190221.htm
 [2] Florida, Richard. (2013,Sep 12) The Real Reason Creative Workers Are Good for the Economy, The Atlantic Cities. Retrieved Jan 13, 2014 from http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/09/real-reason-creative-workers-are-good-economy/6804/
[3] BI Norwegian Business School (2013, April 2). The hunt for the creative individual. Science Daily. Retrieved January 11, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2013/04/130402091133.htm
[4] van Knippenberg, D., van Knippenberg, B., De Cremer, D., & Hogg, M. A. (2004). Leadership, self, and identity: A review and research agenda. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(6), 825-856
[5] Mueller, J. S. Goncalo, Jack. Kamdar, Dishan (2011) Recognizing Creative Leadership: Can Creative Idea Expression Negatively Relate to Perceptions of Leadership Potential. Cornell University ILR School.  Retrieved 2014, Jan 13 from http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1342&context=articles
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