Creative Leadership: 5 Tips to Being More Creative as Women Leaders
You do not need the title of Chief Director of Creativity to be a creative leader. Or to lead creatively.
Nor do you need to be in a field traditionally stamped as creative in design, advertising, fashion, marketing, the arts, graphics or illustration. The stereotype of a “creative type” does not mandate a tousle of pink hair, an open office with ping pong tables and afternoons spent doodling and daydreaming.
To be a successful creative leader, what you can cultivate is the commitment to being nimble, encouraging, transparent and open in your communication. Creativity in any field can augment the work you do and the outcomes of your team, regardless of niche.
“As robots increasingly take on manual labor, we will need to foster what differentiates human from machine (at least for now): creativity. Evidence that psychological and physical well-being is paramount to creative thinking will turn the historic exchange of human health for economic growth on its head. As Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum writes, “I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production,” Palti writes.
A workplace culture that fosters innovative thinking and rewards creative thinking out of the box is helpful. This does not have to mean as women leaders you are required to make the office a playpen with ping pong tables and video games. It can just offer a serene communal place to sit and think, an inviting meeting room to collaborate with peers, or an outside area to go for a walk for a breather.
But we can learn from tips on creativity from those in creative fields and apply them to our own work lives.
“Culture is not about beanbags and football tables, said Vicki Maguire, executive creative director at Valenstein & Fatt. Instead, it’s about building an environment that empowers and understands creatives,” writes Katie McQuater in The Drum.
In an interview with Maguire at the recent #CEFutureLeaders event, held by Creative Equals in London to promote the growth of female creative leaders, Maguire advised one way to boost your own creativity and that of your team: “Hire people that are better than you.”
Tip #1: Hire great people.
Instead of trying to always be the only bright creative star in the team, actively and regularly nurture that creativity in others. That can mean having regular meetings to bring in new ideas, organizing idea luncheons, have an idea box where people can contribute their new thoughts and creating an atmosphere that welcomes new ideas, fresh thinking and input.
“I’ve made a conscious effort to build a legacy, rather than a folder. My legacy will be the teams, talent and the work that I’ve built around. It is your job to get the best out of people,” Maguire added.
These are small, yet specific steps and managed consistently, can create a culture where creativity is harvested. Granted, not all ideas are worth pursuing and will turn out to be the next big thing for your organization, but earning the reputation as women leaders who talk openly and collaborate smoothly can lead to innovation.
“Creative potential is in all of us but removed through schooling and work. So how can we unlock the creative potential inside of us?” Vala Afshar asks in Huffington Post.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “CCL research has long shown that leading employees effectively is essential to both individual and organization impact. A leader’s performance and reputation within the organization is only as strong as their team. That means leaders need to know how to recruit the right people and then motivate and develop them as they progress throughout their careers.”
Tip #2: Encourage people on your team to be creative.
Christopher P. Michel, founder of Affinity Labs and Military.com and director of Nautilus Ventures, a seed venture fund, “believes that it starts with us giving ourselves the permission to be creative. Just a little encouragement and positive feedback can help cultivate creativity in others. All we need a little encouragement before we start doubling down,” he writes.
As women leaders, that means do not shoot down an idea that comes up in a meeting about a project or a suggestion from a team member. Discuss the idea and look for pieces of it that may be useful. Discouragement is a creativity silencer.
Designer, creative mogul and DVF chairwoman Diane Von Furtsenberg has built her brand into a company with sales in excess of $500 million, writes Lydia Dishman in Fast Company.Her success stems from the seed of her creativity in imagining a simple way for women to look professional and stylish in the 1970s in the form of the wrap dress, bringing her to a personal net worth of $1.2 billion today.
If you are a strong creative leader, “The executive team will perform better, but they’ll also learn to think differently, individually, and together,” write Alice Cahill and Laura Quinn in the Center for Creative Leadership.
“The CEO (and board) will benefit from deeper insights about the business landscape and internal gaps, faster access to new ideas, and the ability to rapidly test, develop, and scale new ideas. Furthermore, the entire organization will function more efficiently, with more diversity and more coherence,” Cahill and Quinn write.
Tip # 3: Acknowledge your power to be creative and the power of others to do the same.
Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, created the 9 Leadership Power Tools that demonstrate shifting from the framework of “power over” into the “power to” accomplish anything. It is similar to Von Furstenberg’s expression that her own power and creativity is at the core of her success.
“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt. That’s what I repeat when I feel down. Don’t doubt your power,” Von Furstenberg told Fast Company.
One global leader in the creative world of advertising is Charlotte Beers, former Chairman/CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy & Public Affairs, now serving on the Board of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and conducting seminars throughout Europe and the United States called “The X Factor.”
Beers spent her career thinking and leading creatively while nurturing the creativity in all of her teams.
Nicola Kemp writes in Campaign Live, that Beers, “one of the most trailblazing women in advertising, is focused on tapping one of the industry’s most potent and under-used resources – female talent.”
Tip # 4: Be authentic and open to communication.
In top management and as a leadership mentor, Beers says that being your authentic self can augment your leadership and increase creativity and productivity of your team. But she offers a caveat: “Being authentic doesn’t mean you don’t need to have many faces,” she asserts.
Kemp writes, “Beers says taking your whole self to work is an ‘artform to learn’ and knowing how much to give of yourself is a challenge that defies gender stereotypes.” Beers adds, “This is why I have had more men crying across the table from me than women. It is about knowing how much of yourself you need to give.”
Tip # 5: Take a breather occasionally to recharge.
As women leaders, being consistently creative and coming up with new ideas on how to lead and be effective can be draining. So you do have to give yourself a break, and simply take a few minutes every day to let your mind wander. Take a walk around the building, go outside, perhaps just stretch at your desk.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com