Monday, July 18, 2011

CEOs and Creativity: A Good Match?

by Virgil R. Carter

Can creative thinking and activities be a positive characteristic for CEOs and senior executives? Your logic (not to mention your aspirations) may say yes. A recent article in Strategy+Business, cautions otherwise. “Is Creativity a Bad Trait for a Senior Leader” by Matt Palmquist cautions that “thinking outside the box could keep you out of the top management”. The article looks at how stereotypes about “creative types” and “effective leaders” often clash.

Many non-profit organizations historically tend to be organizations of habit, with predictable and consistent activities, year after year. “We’ve always done it this way” may often be the de facto organizational foundation. Typical leaders in such organizations are expected to have traits that reduce uncertainty and promote stability, “emphasizing shared goals and group identity to preserve the status quo”. Creative leaders, especially transformational leaders, have traits that “are at odds” with predictability and status quo. The very act of creativity, or transformation, is an act of “unproven solutions” that rock the boat with change.

Thus, if one is in the top CEO position, or aspires to be, creativity must be carefully nurtured and pursued, according to the article. Non-profits and volunteers who say they want fresh ideas and creative thinking may or may not actually support such efforts from their executive leadership. Interestingly, the article points to research that concludes that there is greater opportunity for creativity if the CEO and senior leaders involved show “stereotypically charismatic traits”, such as “uniqueness and individualism”. “A charismatic leader is expected to take the group in a new, novel direction”, according to Cornell University’s Jack Goncale. The S+B report concludes by noting that “…creative people who are also charismatic stand a better chance of advancing”.

For the full article, click here.


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Hey, Virgil, that may be why many associations prefer a CEO who is industrious, not charismatic. They want someone who will get the job done. They don't want a leader.

Plexus Consulting Group® said...

Hi David! Thanks for your comment. Yes, I certainly agree: many non-profits, especially professional societies, by the member’s comments and actions, appear to desire a CEO who “gets the job done”, and leaves the “leading” to the members. The only problem with this may be that every member may have a different vision and priority for what’s important and where the “leading” should take the organization! So where does this leave the organization? And where does it leave the CEO and staff? Inquiring minds want to know…!