Why creativity makes better leaders

Mahatma Gandhi toppled the British empire without firing a gun, Elvis Presley could not read music and Steve Jobs, a college dropout, revolutionised communication. Pancho Mehrotra examines what the trio have in common with great leadership.

Why do Gandhi, Elvis and Steve Jobs stand out in their respective fields? What is it that makes them different?

It’s simple – creativity.

Their ability to think outside the box. Their ability to dream and act on that dream.

We see leaders, big and small, in everyday life.

Every leader has basic problem solving, awareness, communication, decision making and delegation skills, but the one thing that will set a leader apart is their intuition and creative thinking.

An industry that has a heavy focus on process without creative insight is one on the path to decline and open to competitive forces from the outside.

If we examine disrupters such as Airbnb and Uber, these creative thinkers filled a need for change in long standing industries, which had not evolved for decades.

Why do leaders need to be creative?

In any industry, leaders who are innovative and can think outside the square are highly sought after, because we need the imagination to come up with new ideas to deal with present day problems.

If a leader wants to rise above the rest then dreaming what could be possible is a required attribute.

Who was considered a trailblazer in the real estate industry 20 years ago, before becoming like the others?

Once the focus moves from innovation to managing by numbers, often what makes a business a ‘game changer’ is forgotten.

Therefore, there is a continual need to think innovatively to continue to be ahead of the rest of the industry.

An outstanding example of this is the way Japan embraced W. Edwards Deming and his management methods, which elevated the Japanese electronics and automotive industries way above the then leader, America.

This led to the decline of the automotive and electronics sector in the States.

Innovation and creativity trumped traditional leaders.

How do you become a charismatic, innovative leader?

Let’s examine what circumstances create a charismatic, innovative leader. By all accounts, this is often not a deliberate strategy.

The environment they were brought up in as a child has a significant influence on who they become, as do their experiences, a watershed moment and of course the big variable – luck.

Inspirational leaders can deal with fear – the fear of breaking tradition, the fear of not doing things ‘correctly’.

Creativity can be fostered and encouraged.

Rising to the challenge of the environment involves overcoming fears.

The ability to see the silver lining in every adverse event truly arms leaders with the ability to think outside the square. They dream and make their dreams come true.

They are always asking themselves the question, ‘What if we did it this way?’

The excitement of curiosity and imagination can never be underestimated. Think of a curious child’s questions; they draw you in with their enthusiasm for knowledge.

Einstein’s vision allowed him to see what traditional scientists could not.

Imagination combined with intuition is an unbeatable combination. Intuition is based upon having a variety of experiences; it’s the different experiences that stimulate creativity.

Think of Steve Jobs here. He had an assortment of life occurrences, from an ashram in India to taking calligraphy classes, that helped him reach the point of creating the Apple Mac.

On the other hand, complacency is detrimental to creativity.

The leader who becomes completely complacent and routine-bound becomes a victim of their sense of security.

They and their businesses settle into the pack.

Had Walt Disney listened to his critics, I doubt if Disneyland would have existed. The fact that he dreamed of fairy tales and created the ‘happiest place on earth’ proves imagination creates.

The crux of the matter is that inspirational leaders can deal with fear – the fear of breaking tradition, the fear of not doing things ‘correctly’ – and use the emotion to take them to levels that the average leader cannot fathom.

This leader has a vision of what he wants his business to look like and chases that vision relentlessly.

Creative and innovative leaders seek the company of wise people who can provide them with feedback and guidance that fast tracks their development as a leader.

Change and creative insights often come from interactions with people outside the industry.

I see many leaders who go to the same conferences, do the same things year in, year out and wonder why they can’t come up with new ideas.

The fact is, if you don’t expose yourself to new knowledge and try different things then the experiences you have will not act as a catalyst for creative thinking.

How do you start becoming creative?

A simple way to start the process of thinking differently is to write down everything you know about your job as a leader in your business.

Next, list all the things you don’t know, but know what you are missing, in the ‘should know’ sector.

The third step is to get creative with your team to come up with solutions, so brainstorm new ideas to address step number two.

The paradox that most leaders struggle with is the more they know something, the more resistant they become to changing it.

Why change something that works, right? If that was the thought process the All Blacks leaders had, I doubt they would be able to sustain their dominance of World Rugby.

How can a nation of four million people produce rugby players who outperform their highly resourced opponents?

It’s their thinking. Their rugby continues to scale new heights in thinking, which is one of the reasons why their coaches are so highly valued around the world.

It’s their innovation and ideology that drives their demand.

As a guide, some of the behavioural traits of innovators are that they:

• have a high tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty. They will set aside time to think about knowledge and contemplate how to use it. They don’t dismiss something just because they don’t understand it

• have exposure to different experiences

• generally, read more

• have a great deal of confidence in themselves

• have extraordinary levels of energy

• are not afraid to fail often, but get back up fast to try again

• have an unbelievable passion for making a change and a difference

• know their ‘why’ deep down.

Ask yourself the key question as a leader.

What have I done to change?

Are you a game changer or one who sits on the sidelines and watches?

Are leaders perfect?

The quote from Aristotle says it all:

“No great genius is without some mixture of insanity.”

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Pancho Mehrotra

Pancho Mehrota is the CEO of Frontier Performance and a recognised leading expert in the area of communication, influence and the psychology of selling.