Leadership and creativity aren’t words that are usually brought together. There’s an unwritten assumption that leadership is a serious business and that ‘creativity’, well that’s for the arts and media. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

For one, if you replace ‘creativity’ with ‘innovation’ those serious business types start to sit up and listen. Being creative is all about taking what you have and what you can influence and delivering something that others might find unusual. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering or a world first but it has to be effective. How leaders lead has to be effective so creativity is very much part of the game.

If leadership is about setting vision, direction, motivation and developing new leaders (it’s so much more I know but this is a good start) the HOW someone goes about leading is critical. It can be so tempting, for new leaders in particular, to try and copy what they see others do. They read so much in the myriad leadership books and what they get introduced to theories and ‘best practice’ at Business School and on training courses. So much to take in!

The trick of course is to take what you can from each of these and everywhere else and absorb them into HOW you intend leading. This doesn’t take away from the authentic you, it builds on it. If your mentor suggests something that worked for them but really doesn’t sit comfortably with you why would you adopt it?

I’ve always been a strong advocate for looking outside your normal working environment for inspiration. This applies for HOW we lead too. I like to think that no-one is so focused on their work or business that they don’t see what’s happening in the world around them. Everyone has a life outside their work don’t they?

Creativity Is All Around Us

Look to your ‘outside interests’ (such a terrible phrase that suggests there’s a solid wall between work and everything else – there never has been). Whether it’s the entertainment industry, sports, travel, food, family, the arts, whatever in fact, I promise you can take something you see there back into your day job. And that applies to HOW you lead too.

The way a coach or manager of a sports team operates may make you think about how you interact with your immediate reports or perhaps how you engage with the press. OK, maybe that’s an obvious one but how about what you see in a famous picture in an art gallery? The more you diversify your own experiences the more opportunity you have to come up with creative leadership solutions to the issues you face.

In my opinion this is why those who have many and varied early life experiences are often best placed for leadership positions later in their careers. They weren’t born as leaders but their early experiences put them ahead of the game.

Boost Your Leadership Creativity Today

Whatever stage you are at in your career and leadership experience it is never to late to boost your creativity. Many find this a difficult concept and think to themselves ‘I’m not creative’. Others don’t see it as relevant. Believe me, it is and always has been.

So if you need a little help to get you kick-started on your creative leadership journey try these three activities.

  1. Go out and buy a magazine you have never bought before, one that is about something you really know nothing about whatsoever. Go on, buy one that if someone you know saw you with it they’d be really surprised. Now read it through and make notes about what you’ve read and how anything, and I mean anything, can be used in your day job – in how you interact with others. You might want to reflect a little on what you read, perhaps sleeping on it and coming back to it the next day.
  2. Take a walk. Go outside and look around you. Look closely at those everyday objects you take for granted. Look at how they are made, the shapes and textures, the materials used. How does what you see relate to the leadership role and activities you get involved in?
  3. Pick two objects at random. This could be from your imagination or what you see around you, or a combination. How do those objects relate to each other? What do they have in common? What’s different about them? How do they work in combination? Sounds a little odd I know but this is one of the most powerful techniques I know for sparking creative ideas. Let your imagination run wild and see where it leads. And like the best brainstorming, don’t close anything out too early because it seems too wacky.

Each of us is creative. We have been from the day we were born. Conformity, especially within large and well established organizations can prevent us from doing things differently, i.e. creatively. But it’s those who are willing to do that something a little differently to everyone else that are remembered. They are the ones who get things done. They are the ones who get noticed. That can be you.

Go on, start today. Everything you do is about leadership and you owe it to yourself to be as effective at it as possible. And that means being creative about it.

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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2015.