Monday, October 29, 2012

Creative Leadership is a practice requiring ongoing, even daily reflection, development and implementation

I just completed an energizing weekend leading a course on the Business of Creativity in the executive MBA program in Creative Leadership at Falmouth University College in Cornwall.* One of the learnings we dwelt on was the importance of understanding how creative leadership is an ongoing practice that involves regular, even daily development. 

It's far too easy in charting out creative leadership as a distinct model of or approach to leadership to imagine that it can be embraced through a simple decision or change. While it is useful for learning (and, frankly, for teaching) about creative leadership to cite models or provide case examples that draw sharp contrasts with traditional leadership, the realities of individuals, teams, projects or organizations necessitate a more incremental evolution toward exercising and implementing of creative leadership values and principles.

Take the core principle of creative leadership being democratic. This can be readily contrasted with the more autocratic, typically hierarchical command-and-control principles of traditional leadership. Yet while the contrast is instructive, its application by individuals in specific organizations is hardly straightforward: one doesn’t simply decide one day to re-make one’s own approach to decision-making or collaboration, much less the structure or culture of an organization, to be more open and democratic. It’s a transformation that takes time, both for individual practice and development as well as organizational transformation.

That’s obvious when stated so directly, but it’s important to emphasize when we’re asked to step back and consider how creative leadership, and particularly its core tenets and principles, can help us in our own development as leaders in our own organizations. One of the participants in the Falmouth program, for instance, works at the National Health Service, which she described as a tightly closed and hierarchical system averse to democratic decision-making, genuine collaboration, or non-traditional leadership and problem-solving. No individual act of will or decision to embrace new values of creative leadership will change that or have immediate impact. Yet during the course, this participant recognized that she could productively act upon her belief in values such as democracy, humility, and risk-taking – at least by starting in her daily work and focusing the application of these values on effecting small wins on a specific project.

Creative leadership and its tenets can’t be implemented wholesale or overnight. Instead, they need to be grown incrementally to be maximally successful. Perhaps the best closing example of this concerns the core tenet of introspection and the value of self-awareness. To become more self-aware requires regular reflection and self-assessment. Ultimately, like the embrace of other principles guiding creative leaders, developing and exercising such increased self-awareness involves changing our habits of mind and enacting them consistently, even daily, as a way toward re-making ourselves as more effective creative leaders.

*My thanks to Dr. Maria Jemicz, Helen Wood and all the thoughtful, engaged Falmouth EMBA program participants for their Cornish hospitality and an inspiring course.

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