Sunday, June 5, 2011

Creative Leaders...Are We Biased Against Them?


Last year IBM's Global CEO Study titled "Capitalizing on Complexity" was released. It discussed the concept of creative leadership and CEO's perspective that it would be very important in the future to have creative leaders in the organization based upon an uncertain and complex future. I wrote about the implications of the study in this blog piece late last year...Are CEOs and CHROs Aligned on Leadership?

I personally think that the CEO and CHRO studies brought the important and salient points of what kind of leaders we need to develop in our organizations.  During the recent recession, this type of leader really had the spotlight as the economic environment required new ideas and ways of conducting business in constrained resource situations that many organizations found themselves.  Additionally, creating growth opportunities then and now require leaders with the creativity and ability to manage the innovation process.  In fact, I would say having this type of leader actually positioned to lead the organization in the future might be something that organizations may want and strive for...

Guess what...that assumption may be incorrect.

Academic research conducted by Jennifer S. Mueller (University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School), Jack A. Goncalo (Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations), and Dishan Kamdaris (Indian School of Business) is shedding light on what we really think about creative leaders.  The same ones that CEOs think they need for the future.  You can read the research here "Recognizing Creative Leadership-Can creative idea expression negatively relate to perceptions of leadership potential?" or a synopsis of it here at Knowledge@Wharton - "A Bias against 'Quirky'? Why Creative People Can Lose Out on Leadership Positions" 

But here is the gist and some highlights from the research...

Basically...we say we value creative leaders, but after three experiments that is not really the case.

"By integrating attributional theories of creativity and prototypical theories of leadership, we demonstrate that the expression of creative ideas can trigger impressions which, at least for leadership potential, are not automatically positive. Unless charismatic leadership is brought to mind or is chronically accessible, creativity might not necessarily signal leadership capability."

So if we don't also consider creative leaders as charismatic or transformational leaders in our organizations...our initial impressions are these people are not the kind of leadership potential we are looking for in the organization.

Additional findings included the following...

"Our findings also suggest that organizations may face a bias against selecting the most creative individuals as leaders in favor of selecting leaders who would preserve the status quo by sticking with feasible but relatively unoriginal solutions. This may explain why in their analysis of scores of leaders, IBM's Institute for Business Value found that many leaders expressed doubt or lack of confidence in their own ability to lead through times of complexity. Our results suggest that, if the dominant prototype of leadership favors useful, non-creative responses, then the senior leaders in the IBM study may have been promoted based on this prototypical perception of leadership and now find themselves in a world that has vastly changed, one that requires much more creative responses and thinking. Indeed, this bias in favor of selecting less creative leaders may partially explain why so many leaders fail and why so many groups resist change, as the leaders selected may simply lack the openness to recognize solutions that depart from what is already known."

So what are the implications to organizations, Human Capital Management (HCM) leaders and creative leaders themselves? For might want to rethink your position on creative leaders and their overall potential to lead your organization...not just the creativity and innovation efforts. You also have to keep in mind that you want leaders with different strengths, so creativity is just one strength, but you should take a measured approach from a succession planning approach to look at the whole leader and not bias decisions on just one strength.

For HCM leaders, your job is to help organizational leadership identify these leaders in the organization and make sure your organizational leadership is not just asking questions, but asking the right questions about their contribution to the organization. Additionally, think about the creative leaders that are on your do you think about them from a leadership potential perspective? This research may change your ideas about what these creative leaders bring to your team.

For creative leaders, you may not want to hang your hat just on your ability to be creative and innovative...particularly if you have aspirations to be the CEO one day. You have to sell the collective you and ensure that your bosses know all of your strengths. Think of yourself from the actor you want to be typecast as a creative leader or a transactional leader?


J. Keith Dunbar is a Fearless Transformational Global Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change...He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter: JKeithDunbar
LinkedIn: J. Keith Dunbar
Blog: DNA of Human Capital

The opinions or views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Defense Intelligence Agency.

1 comment:

  1. These are some great points, Keith. I have long believed that people say they want change but really want things to be the same only better. That is, they only want to change the outcome not their input.

    Leadership by definition is creative and innovative. If you're only doing what those before you have done you're a follower not a leader. But most people who do things differently are looked at with suspicion and fear.