Creativity is the most important leadership skill, say 1500 global CEOs

15 Jul

To better understand emerging global business trends, IBM has conducted extensive personal interviews with chief executive officers every two years since 2004. The theme of its 2010 report is “Capitalizing on Complexity”. As the preface notes, “complexity” challenges us even more than “change” because “it’s not just that threats and opportunities are coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations.”

These conditions demand a new mix of leadership skills, according to the survey. Specifically, global CEOs cite “creativity” as the most important leadership quality for business success in the next five years. Drawing on their insights, here’s my take on what makes a creative leader for communities and nonprofits as well.  (Hint: it’s not about talent with a paintbrush!)

A creative leader . . .

  1. Embodies the mindset of a navigator who reads and reacts to the environment rather than the mindset of a weather forecaster who aims to predict correctly
  2. Takes an iterative approach to strategy rather than relying heavily on a formal annual planning process. Prepares for multiple future scenarios
  3. Uses many communication channels to listen to, influence and “co-create” value with a new generation of employees, partners, and customers. Encourages flow of ideas and knowledge from all directions
  4. Embraces the challenge of making decisions without the luxury of protracted study. Is biased toward action despite uncertainty. Makes decisions quickly, tests them against reality (supports pilot projects!), and corrects course quickly.
  5. Draws on clear values and vision to mobilize timely action around windows of opportunity
  6. Enthusiastically tracks technology and customer trends, borrows and adapts ideas, seeks diverse case examples to inspire fresh thinking
  7. Focuses not only on new ideas, but continually tests, tweaks, and redesigns core activities. Expects that the future will be  different from the past, and has courage to radically change the business model (what products and services, to whom, for what price, delivering what kind of value?) as needed
  8. Champions ideas and actions that don’t add more unnecessary complexity to the work of the organization/business/community. Always asks “can we simplify it?”
  9. Always asks “why“? Relishes in discovering the answers!

In the IBM interviews, even the most high-performing CEOs confessed to feeling uncertain and sometimes overwhelmed by complexity. Drawing more intentionally on our creative sensibilities can, however, not only renew our energy, but also lead to more success in meeting our goals.  How does this framework of creative leadership compare with what you’ve already discovered; with what you might choose to do going forward as a leader?