by Robert B. Denhardt
Director of Leadership Programs, Price School of Public Policy
University of Southern California
Question – I know you are interested in the creative process and what leaders can do to promote creativity and innovation in their organizations. But how can leaders be creative about leadership itself? That is, where are we going with this idea of creative leadership?
Bob - As I work with students and executives, I have come to believe that future leaders will need to improve their own creative capacities and encourage others in the organization to unleash their creative powers. But they must also exhibit creativity in their own leadership. Fortunately, there are many leaders who are already modeling creative leadership and from whom we can learn a great deal. Interestingly, what we learn first, is that these creative leaders “lead from the inside.” That is, they have or have developed personal qualities or “aspects of character” that support their creative leadership.
As individual leaders grow, mature, and evolve, their impact on their organizations grows as well. The Greek historian Plutarch once said, “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” By changing your inner world, you will impact the outer world. Hintendra Madhwah of the Columbia Business School writes that, to be an exceptional leader, you “need to be both flexible and at the same time, centered and grounded – anchored in a sense of direction and purpose….great leaders need to have the capacity to be both adaptive and resilient and to surround this ability around a stable core, an inner anchor.”
Creativity often begins as we see a crack in an existing reality. But creativity can occur in other ways as well. For example, if you were able to suspend the realities you have accepted, you would be forced to come up with creative or novel solutions to the problems or opportunities you face. While it’s probably not possible to completely suspend those realities, there are ways that they can be reduced in terms of their constraints on your actions. Many suggest that mindfulness and meditation comprise a practice that opens the possibility for clearing away those realities that have been imposed on you. Others talk about the importance of a curious, playful attitude, an almost child-like ability to be open to anything.
And, finally, simply “being present to the moment,” that is, fully engaged in the existing moment without regard for past or future, allows you to suspend old realities and create new possibilities. That, in turn, may produce the feeling of “flow” that musicians, dancers, and even leaders often experience. Here is where you lose the boundaries between yourself and the external world, and simply let the words, the ideas, and the social energy flow through you and into the external world. Only then will you be able to grow and develop, communicate empathetically, integrate your values with your actions, and maintain a sense of confidence and humility. You will be creating leadership!
Robert Denhardt is the Director of Leadership Programs in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California (USC) and Director of the Executive Master of Leadership program at USC. He is the author of a dozen books on leadership and management, including, The Dance ofLeadership (with Janet Denhardt), Book: Just Plain Good Management, and Book: The Pursuit of Significance.