The traditional vs. the creative leadership

Ledarskap 800x500The traditional organisation is led by a traditional leader. The traditional leadership is focused on improving, streamlining, standardising and cutting costs. This requires managers who are goal-oriented, strong-willed, results-oriented, and can show the direction with the whole hand.

The leader should have a broad experience, on which he (the leader is usually a man) can make his decisions. The traditional leader builds a hierarchical organisation and focuses on getting the management team to work well together, pulling in the same direction and ensuring that the decisions are implemented. He recruits the best employees he can find based on the applicants’ qualifications, merits and past experiences. He also values efficiency and achieved results. The ideas of the employee ideas are happily embraced, as long as they do not appear to be inaccurate or unrealistic – in such cases, the manager’s task is to intervene. The traditional leader also has a wide contact network of like-minded peers where he can find strenght, inspiration and impetus for change.

The vast majority of managers emphasise the importance of creativity and express their personal support for a creative climate within their organisation and a willingness to take care of the creative ideas of their employees. However, when it comes to the harsh reality, it often happens that the support does not go beyond words if the same manager is not first convinced that the idea will bear fruit and be profitable. And in that assessment, he often uses his own experiences and reference frameworks. As I wrote in a previous blog post, experience very quickly becomes patterns in the brain that are very difficult to break. It goes without saying that this does not represent the best basis for a bold new thinking and true creative climate in the workplace.

To be successful in a competitive environment, it is therefore necessary that the qualities of traditional leadership be complemented by a creative leadership. In contrast to the traditional leader, the creative leader leads through inspiration based on a sharp vision of where to go. He or she (a new generation of creative leaders also includes many women) challenges existing rules, processes and business models, and tries to find innovative ways to address tomorrow’s problems. The creative leader spends more time on strategy than on operational issues delegated as far as possible. Personnel policy focuses on capturing and strengthening the employees’ innovative potential. New employees are not recruited solely based on past merits, but equally based on potential and creativity. New ideas, risk-taking and a safe and playful mood are encouraged and ideas received from the entire organisation, no matter who came up with them. Divergent opinions are encouraged as long as they concern things and not people. The technology is there to be able to do things differently.

A genuinely creative leadership is not primarily to direct and show the way, but to dare (really dare) to bring out the creative employees and the creative ideas, that is to create the conditions for a good internal work life for the employees. The foundation is a direction based on a strong vision, but once it is well defined and well communicated, much of the leadership is dedicated to creating the conditions for the creative processes, but also daring to let go and embarking on uncharted waters.

Creative leadership has four key key tasks:

  1. To meet tomorrow’s challenges
  2. Take care of the staff and nurture them
  3. To support a creative working climate
  4. To support a creative physical and social environment

This leadership is not only creative but also creativity-promoting, and is the foundation of an organisation that combines the leader’s own ability and capacity to be creative, and his/her ability to promote the creativity of the staff and the employees’ ability, willingness and capacity to express their creative capabilities.

The more creativity required by the organisation, such as in advertising, design, game development, product innovation and service development, the more important it is to fully drive in this direction with courage and consistency. If you work in areas that require less everyday creativity, such as accounting or public administration, the room for creative manoeuvres may not be as big, but also in these areas there is a constant need to challenge current methods and processes. Courage, creativity and job satisfaction are needed in all workplaces.

The creative leadership does, however, not rule out the qualities of traditional leadership. Just as a an organisation needs to develop its core business to become better, cheaper and more efficient while at the same time focusing on innovation, the leadership needs to take care of both production and innovation. The two leadership models should rather be seen as complementary to each other, a leadership yin and yang, but where creative leadership is allowed to dominate wherever possible depending on the size and structure of the organization and the business objectives.

Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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