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How to Lead Without Neglecting Creativity

Creativity isn’t just for artists; it’s an essential skill for leadership too.

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BY Leah Weiss - 07 Aug 2018

How to Lead Without Neglecting Creativity

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Creativity is strongly linked to the arts. Referring to someone who writes or paints as "the creative type" is widely understood to mean that someone has imagination. It's a personality trait that had no place in leadership programs until very recently.

We know that that soft skills like creativity are not only important, they're essential to developing unique concepts that often translate into profitable companies.

Recent research from Cornell University has linked genetics to inherent creativity, but hope is not lost for those that didn't get dipped in the artistic side of the gene pool. There is strong evidence to suggest that creativity can be taught just as any other skill. What's important is that the environment for teaching creativity is structured to foster original ideas.

In the working world, this means that companies have to allow leadership to grow in all directions. Here are a few ways to do this:

1. Invest in training workshops based on soft skill development.

"We don't really do those," "Yeah, we have an annual workshop but that's it," "We don't put a ton of time into leadership development." Those are some of the common replies I hear when speaking with human resources heads and leaders of prominent companies. Not spending time developing training workshops doesn't make sense. Investing in employee development is essential to cultivating better workplace culture.

2. Encourage leadership to create problems and find ways to solve them.

Nothing is cut and dry. It is possible to look at the simplest task and devise three or four different ways of looking at that task or creating potential problems. Exercise creative thought by allowing leadership teams the time they need to think of every potential angle.

2. Don't structure every minute of the workday.

I often say that there is no such thing as multitasking -- there's only task switching. You cannot be completely focused on one task while simultaneously attempting to execute another task. It's impossible. Work often involves benchmarks, deadlines, and progress reports that are all based upon the number of tasks completed within a certain time frame. It's not uncommon for those tasks to be overwhelming and even impossible to complete within the time allotted.

The stress of an overloaded workday leaves no time for thought, which is an essential component to creativity, according to neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin. In order for leadership to create in the Hemingway or Einstein sense, unoccupied time is the underlying and vital element. Creativity, by the way, not only leads to innovation but also leads to talent retention, a happier environment, and increased productivity. It's also the number one skill that CEOs admire, appreciate, and seek in leaders.

3. Draw upon a multitude of disciplines, thought leaders, and research when facing a problem.

Your company might have many different experts and thought leaders, but sometimes bringing in someone with a different opinion or from a unique business background is the best way to develop new and fresh perspectives. Consider hiring a consultant to work on problems with your team and create new solutions.

4. Create a culture that encourages the challenging of authority.

Let employees know that it's okay to challenge leadership -- and make it clear to leadership that ideas can come from anywhere. It might be hard on egos to create this type of "challenge culture" at first, but it will eventually become second nature.

These steps will help develop a leadership team that can learn to be creative or can further develop that creative gene, but the one thing that may be a leap for some companies is allowing leadership time for literal thought.

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