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Can creative people be good leaders? Leadership can be an art to an extent because it requires intuitive responses to different situations and can thus be creative to an extent. But is a person who is entirely creative, the right choice for a leader? This is a big question for many organizations, and with full justification.

Getting the most creative one to lead

This happens in team sport all too often. We have innumerable instances of very talented players going on to become captains of their teams, only to come a cropper all over, with disastrous results. Usually, the push to make the team’s most talented player the captain comes from the management. It is tempted to equate creative talent with leadership talent. The two are not always on par with each other.

In organizations too, the same temptation sometimes plays on the management. Whether creative persons go on to become successful leaders is always open to question. Many leadership pundits draw a parallel between the two by thinking that if creativity is all about thinking out of the box; so is leadership.

But leadership can be a science too!

This thinking is true, but to a limited extent. For that matter, leadership can be a science too, because it involves going about situations in a logical and process-oriented manner. Does just this much make leadership a science? To an extent, leadership can be both, but to get to the focus of this discussion –that of whether creative people necessarily make good leaders –one perspective we have to take is whether creative people can take logical decisions.

This is a major aspect of the discussion. By its very nature, creativity is bereft of logic. We don’t expect to see any rationality in a Da Vinci or Picasso painting. Do we? Creativity is the free and unrestricted and usually, unstructured flow of ideas. Does this make a person with this at his core suited for leadership? If leadership is all logic and if creativity is the exact lack of it; how does a creative person become an effective leader?

Leadership and creativity are two different boxes

Saying this much does not meant that there is any doubt about the leadership ability of the creative persons, but let us bear one fundamental point in mind: Creative persons can think of not just out of the box, but sometimes even out of the world ideas, but generally ONLY if it concerns their area of work. Leadership is not likely to be, for instance, a musician’s prime area of work. Stretching this example to organizations, we may have an animator who could come up with kickass ideas, but those will usually be design ideas.

Yes indeed, leadership is also a lot of inventiveness and thinking at the drop of a hat. But this is of a different nature altogether. A leader can think about business strategies and other aspects very creatively and differently, but this is creativity of a different type from the one concerning pure creative stuff. This is how it goes: Leaders can be creative, but seldom do creative people become leaders. Make no mistake –leadership does require creativity. But that is the kind of creativity that is confined to leadership skills. In fact, every profession requires a certain level of creativity of the kind and limit it permits.

We are all unique in our own sense

Why is it that creative people usually struggle as leaders? It is because of the human mind’s inability to think in different directions with the same effectiveness. We all come with unique talents. We all have our individual traits. Largely predetermined by genetic and many other factors, these are the very essence of our true selves. This explains why some people are born with the ability to run well, while others cannot. Some others are great singers, while others cannot think of a tune. To do something that goes against the basic grain of our core; it takes a lot. The person may do it out of compulsion or for the challenge, but it will never be accomplished with the ease with which someone born with that talent can.

There are a few leaders from the creative fields, too

There are many examples of creative persons who have gone on to become effective leaders, but they are more the exception than the rule. They are usually people with multifaceted talents that go on to perform these seemingly contradictory roles with ease and aplomb. It is akin to how charismatic actors have gone on to become well-known leaders. Ronald Reagan is perhaps the best example that one can think of. We have had quite a handful of such artistes who have become politicians in the developing world and led their countries for a considerable point of time and with reasonable success.

In the normal course, expecting an utterly creative person to automatically become or do well as a leader is a difficult proposition. One cannot come out with generalized answers. On the whole, if we have to answer the question of whether creative persons can become leaders, we have to judge on a case-to-case basis.

From India, Bangalore
That was really great meaterial.

I understand Creativity is required of every task, but then creativity is task-based. The above post in the begining talks about management of a company taking creativity and leadership as parallel to each other. It doesn't only happens in companies, but all of us I bet has known this fact since school days. The topper of the class will be made "class monitor" the topper of school made school captain, because they all combine "expertise", "creativity" and "best-being" in any field with leadership abilities, which is inappropriate, or completely out of place.

While reading the fist two paragraphs I wanted to clarify the big difference, but in the later paragraphs this difference was very well explained exactly meeting what I had to give to this thread.

It really is important that people in the management understand it. As I too am in this field, but, not the decision maker in these regards, I have seen it being done. A very good performer in a team was made the team leader, though he has also been quite a good leader as per the feedback of his reportee, it is not always that way. And also, I would like to highlight the REASON behind why the management has to do this, even when they are somewhat aware of this fact. Management has to do this more because they want to appreciate the good work and do not find any other way to do so, or even the team members have this feeling (as generated in them since school time) that one who is being made the leader is being thought to be the best performer of the team. Hence the actuall expert or creative employee will illogically understand that the management didn't notice his/her hardwork. Hence when the managent takes a decision on making leaders, they should consider leadership expertise and not leave the best performer unaddressed in any case of their being great performers. This way it would work for all, the managers, the best performer, and the team will get a good leader too.



From India, Pune
Dear Richarishabh

Thank you very much for your appreciative response! You are spot-on in mentioning about the class monitor example. We have all been victims of being pushed into doing something with which we are uncomfortable, only because we have been good at our own field of interest. It is such a pity, and is the surest prescription to disaster. On the one hand, you can’t perform as a leader because you are not a natural at it and are out of sorts, and on the other, the area in which you are a natural ability also suffers because leadership is sapping your energy. To take the example of Indian cricket, see what happened to Sachin when he was made captain. Both his leadership and his game suffered!

A simple remedy is to recognise the fact that people with leadership calibre need not be geniuses otherwise. Leadership mettle is something different and not related to very high ability in a creative field. The sooner an organisation’s management realises it, the better.

Nice to see these comments. Keep posting!

From India, Bangalore
Dear Trainhr1 (wish I knew your real name!!), and Richa,
Very well articulated thoughts on the subject! A lot of maturity and insight, indeed!! And some very keen observations, like, "By its very nature, creativity is bereft of logic" and, "Management has to do this more because they want to appreciate the good work and do not find any other way to do so..", and "..and on the other, the area in which you are a natural ability also suffers because leadership is sapping your energy.." !! (Just to cite a few!!!)
Good to read well written pieces - makes one come back for more, finally, on this site!!
With best regards,

From India, Mumbai
Train HR

The content is thought provoking and mind stoking because the issue is not whether some workable creativity is a necessary leadership trait since some creativity is required by a leader for strategising a solution for a problem, expected or unexpected but because the issue is whether a person endowed with pure creativity can be an automatic choice for being a leader. Richa has given examples from academic field in support of the premise that creative people are automatic choice for leadership positions. My views on the subject are as under.

Though leaders also need to think differently to come up with solutions to get over problems – whether social or organizational- in my view, it is the function of specific intelligence which leaders are endowed with, but not creativity. They may have a great degree of social and political intelligence, if they are leaders of masses or they may have copious levels of functional intelligence (whether marketing, finance, technical or HR) to churn out solutions, if they are leaders of organizations.

Thus in my view, intelligence and creativity are both faculties of intellect but operate under different laws. Intelligence is reflected in planning, organizing, logically thinking, perfectly timing and systematically doing to produce a desired result. Since intelligence is faculty of intellect, you may find leaders also driven by intuitive feelings also.But you cannot, for the same reason, bracket intelligence with creativity. Then what is creativity?

It is necessary to understand what is creativity. Pure creativity operates on a different plane. Pure creativity, in my view, is the ability to think different from what normal people think. No one can think of nature in the way a poet thinks. Creativity is to see things which normal people cannot see. No one could see the Earth’s gravity in the falling of Apple as Newton could see. Creativity is to feel excited about things which do not excite normal people. For example, the spilling of water from bath tub did not excite any except Archimides (hope the spelling is right).Thus pure creativity is found in the paintings of Da Vinci, in the melody of Beethoven, in the mystic verses of poets, in the electric bulb of Edison, in the foot work of foot ballers or in the crafty hands of cricket bowlers and so on and so forth.

Therefore creativity springs from strong instincts, intuitions, gut feelings, hunches, flash of thoughts and emotions. Creativity cannot itself be created by any guided thinking. It cannot itself be created by any lavishing logic or by reflective reason. It manifests on the spur of the moment. Therefore education, more so the formal education which preaches guided thinking, based on logic and regulated by reason can hardly encourage pure creativity of the kind discussed above. For example- an answer to a question shall have the same ingredients, though each student may have chosen to present it intelligently to make his presentation more effective.

.In fact many creative people did not have formal education. Therefore an academic brilliance is more an accomplishment of a guided, organised and systematic effort of a student to study the content and present it intelligently to achieve high performance. Thus it is the indicator of intelligence but not creativity. It denotes a competency but not creativity. Thus it is not surprising that an achiever in academics can be an automatic choice for being a monitor or captain, since he has the specific (academic) intelligence. . So is the case with a CEO of an organization who has shown exceptional intelligence in manning operations. I have not come across a Bethoven or Newton becoming a leader. There may be exceptions but it is not the general rule. Therefore creativity and leadership may not go hand in hand since both operate in different palnes.


HR & Labour Law advisor


From India, Mumbai
The topic should be can good leaders be creative ...?
Yes. The Good leaders can be creative not the vice versa...
As leader ship involves lot of qualities (like stragey, motivation, risk taking abilities etc) in built or got, wheras creative person only has only creativeness attributes in him. Besides leaders by and large use creativeness to do unusual problems(like brain stroming etc) or bring out the ways to implement a new ideas.
The creative person only job is to introduce or invent a new idea or product etc...
Hence in my opinion, it adds value for a leader to be bit creative and leave the entire creative jobs to creative oriented persons...
It is better for a creative person to be a creative person and leave the task of leadership to other , as this will enhance his creativeness to a great extent, without bothering about other tasks..

From India, Mumbai
All creative persons need not be leaders, but all leaders ought to have 'creativity' as a competency, defined often as the ability to do things differently. Such creativity is always 'situation sensitive' & is based on ' intuitive pragmatism'. Its dimensions may vary when we discuss about leaders from business, military, political & other environments. But in all cases, irrespective of environment, creative leadership impacts directly on the followers & is guided by integrity and optimism.

When we talk of business environment, leadership invariably relates to the creative management of resources. Biggest aspect of leadership in this environment is the ability to provide creative solutions in situations which are highly ambiguous. Some experts have termed this competency as 'Managing Ambiguity'. It is to be noted that Leaders exist at all levels, but all Supervisors & Managers are not Leaders. When a Manager deals with business situations for which no processes exist and is still able to carry his/ her team & achieve the objective, one can notice the emergence of a leader in that manager. Why? Because, he creatively managed ambiguity arising out of the absence of a process and simultaneously motivated his subordinates to remain focused on results.

From India, Delhi
Dear Saikumar,
Thank you for your very nice words about our post! In fact, your response could have been an article in itself You are right –leadership is essentially linear while creativity is nonlinear. Of course, there are occasions when they could overlap –for instance leaders also having a creative side to them and vice versa, but these are far and few between. Remember Dr. Raja Ramanna, the Father of the Indian nuclear programme? He was an accomplished pianist in his spare time. Albert Einstein was quite a violinist, and could possibly have become a very famous one at that. The list could go on; yet, these are not the norm, as you so rightly say.
Thanks again!

From India, Bangalore
Dear Murdhar
Right…leadership can show creativity within its parameters. There is scope for creativity in leadership, although this is not the kind of creativity that arts is associated with. Thank you for your response.

From India, Bangalore
Dear Bhatia,
Yes. Leadership requires creativity of the kind you have mentioned in your response. I really liked these lines, which summarise your thoughts: “When a Manager deals with business situations for which no processes exist and is still able to carry his/ her team & achieve the objective, one can notice the emergence of a leader in that manager. Why? Because, he creatively managed ambiguity arising out of the absence of a process and simultaneously motivated his subordinates to remain focused on results.” Excellent analysis!
Thank you for your insights.

From India, Bangalore

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