Henry Ford. Thomas Edison. Steve Jobs. These visionary, legendary business leaders all have something in common: a boundless creative streak. At first glance, business acumen and creativity are two traits that don’t seem to correlate — one is orderly and logical, the other is unrestrained and untamable. So, how can we explain the massive success that creative businesspeople like Ford, Edison, Jobs and others enjoyed throughout their careers? Does it really take mixing traditional business leadership with vast creativity to create the ultimate leader?
It actually takes creativity to lead.Innovation is usually at the heart of any business’ progression. Even if a leader isn’t actively involved in new product creation, they still have to think creatively to develop different, better ways of working to produce better results. However, they may have more of a “big vision” type of personality, where others need to work out details and actually produce the new product.
For instance, David Slocum wrote that a great deal of Steve Jobs’ creative genius was “to envision and market new horizons for emerging technologies and existing industries alike.” He could see where the opportunities for products like the iMac, iPod and iPhone would develop before they actually did, and he was able to drive his company’s work to profit from those opportunities. However, his vision had to be combined with the technical knowledge and ability of Steve Wozniak to ensure Apple’s technological dominance.
As Seth Rogen’s Wozniak says to Michael Fassbender’s Jobs in the film “Steve Jobs,” “You can’t write code, you’re not an engineer, you’re not a designer, you can’t put a hammer to a nail … what do you do?”
Jobs: “I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician.”
It also takes leadership to foster creativity. A significant part of leadership involves the ability to curate a workplace where strategies and goals are clearly defined, but an organization’s culture allows employees to take a variety of routes to achieve them. Strong leaders put faith in employees to work in their own way without supervision, but they articulate their vision and the ultimate destination they’re working toward. This ensures that everyone is working in the same way, and allows the leader to retain ultimate approval if they wish.
The role of a creative leader requires a lot of work married to a natural mindset. With that in mind, what traits do creative leaders need to be effective in their roles?
Intuition: Creative leaders need to facilitate new developments and change, and they achieve this is by intuiting what the population needs and creating products to meet that demand; these products might not even exist yet. This trait isn’t something one can learn or develop — it’s either there or it isn’t. That doesn’t mean a leader can’t facilitate someone else’s idea or concept, though. It just means they lack the creative streak of a Jobs or Ford.
Conviction: Creative leaders have to be brave and stubborn to push their vision forward in the face of objection. This can be difficult for a lot of people because deep down they crave stability and security. Making themselves a target for those who would go against them threatens that stability. The best creative leaders resist opposition because they believe their vision will be borne out with greatsuccess or lead to progressions made by other people.
Speed: When creating the greatest innovations, time is often of the essence. Creative leaders know they might not necessarily have the time to make the first version of the product absolutely perfect — in fact, pursuing perfection might actually stand in the way of progress and give competitors a killing edge.
Leadership and creativity, if blended in the right way, can be a potent mix for any company. The two are not mutually exclusive; they feed off each other and make each other stronger and more effective than they otherwise would be.