The words creative and leadership seem like an odd couple. Many of the leaders I interact with would not view themselves as naturally creative and those who do might not be appreciated for their bold ideas.
Almost ten years ago my family visited Fallingwater, the world-famous retreat home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family. Located in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands the house is known for its unusual cantilever design that sits atop a 30-foot waterfall. It is a classic example of creative design and use of materials.
Many leaders would be unable, or unwilling, to challenge conventional wisdom, like Frank Lloyd Wright did with his exceptional vision for a vacation home. He placed the house over the stream rather than alongside it. Doorways, hallways, and living spaces (especially bedrooms) are small with low ceilings so occupants are drawn to the open decks outside the glass doors.
Organizational behavior researcher, Margaret Wheatley, observed in 2005 that “…ever since uncertainty became our insistent 21st century companion, leadership has taken a great leap backwards to the familiar territory of command and control…How did they (leaders) fail to learn that whenever you impose control on people and situations, you only succeed in turning people into non-creative, shut-down and cynical workers?”
Creative leaders aren’t always smarter or more innovative than everyone else. They tend to be servants who view the world through the lens of mind and soul.
- They seek, and sometimes see, alternative ways of doing things.
- They reject command and control for influence and inspiration.
- They focus less on solving problems and more on identifying opportunities.
- They seek ownership from others and offer them the freedom to fail.
- They communicate with clarity and emphasize what is behind each decision.
- They are curious and collaborative.
Most leaders are so afraid of failure they miss even small opportunities to be creative. It may be one reason why so many products and services look and feel the same.
As a leader, don’t expect to build the next Fallingwater. Instead, focus on finding talented people. Keep them engaged by making your workplace a sanctuary for truth, trust, respect, service, and love. Then watch the creativity flow even though you’re miles from the nearest waterfall.