Shakespeare’s take on creative leadership – Harvard Insights 4

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For the past 10 years I have been engaged in the development of creativity and creative leadership. One of the tools that I use to come up with new ideas is through forced connections. Connecting things that are unrelated to come up with new ideas. In our last class, when we were discussing the sustainability of leadership in relation to social media, the voice of Shakespeare’s Ulysses from the readings popped up in the back of my mind. This led me to the idea to connect the two and write a blog to lead you into my favorite leadership style, being creative leadership, since this might be a new idea to some of you.

I don’t believe in “one-knows-all” leaders. I believe in the power of collaboration to become stronger and smarter. I don’t refer to people who lead, because they are higher in rank, but to people who lead because they inspire others. Especially in our fast-changing world we need to move one another to come up collectively with inspiring solutions. We can no longer assume that our leaders have the sole right to all the knowledge. Knowledge is available everywhere and can be find 2/7 on the Internet. Questions can be answered in no time by a range all people around the globe via social media. Linking the need to work with others to social media might lead you to believe that this is a very modern thing, but in fact it was already a Shakespeare thing. In his Troilus and Cressida, Achilles is being set to side by the Greek generals and replaced for Ajax. When trying to understand why, one of the Greek generals, Ulysses, provides him with some sensible answers. He says: “No man is the lord of anything. Though in and of him there be much consisting, till he communicates his parts to others.” Now for me this really is an avant-la-lettre creative leadership lesson that alone you are not worth much, but that you can add value when you collaborate with others.

So leaders better do their best to maintain their leadership reputation by inspiring others and offering others to take the lead that they want in any layer of the organization.

I am inspired by creative leadership which links creativity and leadership, because leadership is also about managing change. To change effectively you need creativity. A creative climate in an organization and creative leadership help increase the willingness and ability to change and teh accomplish the goals of the change. In this philosophy leadership is not about your position (authority), but about the influence you demonstrate (what you do). By demonstrating influence, you can effectively steer a group towards effective change:

“Deliberately engaging one’s imagination to define and guide a group towards a novel goal – a direction that is new for the group.”: Pucchio, Mance & Murdock

When you develop a creative climate, you create openness for the unknown and more flexibility to deal with that. Our natural tendency is to go back to what we already know and learn. In a fast changing environment, this does not always lead to the best results or even we will need to deal with situations we have never seen before, so need new thinking to come up with solutions to new problems. In that situation authoritive leadership works against you. Or at least it is risky to pretend to know better in an open environment where much is shared online, meaning you should be more tansparent yourself. Also you need the collective mind of your employees to stimulate them to actively participate in change. The time has gone where employees simply took the opinions and assignement that were given by their “boss”. At least in most of the organizations in our era. Here too this goes back a long way. As Ulysses continues his advice to Achilles: “The present eye praises the present object. Then marvel not, thou great and complete man, that all the Greek begin to worship Ajax, since things in motion sooner catch the eye.” So yes, there is a case for change now in our dynamic current world. And there was already a case for change in Achilles’ world, because change is the only way forward. When you stop changing, you start to deteriorate.

So what does it take to become a creative leader, I hear you think. First of all by becoming aware of the effectiveness of creative leadership. Simple exercises quickly demonstrate how inefficient autocraticand democratic leadership are in comparison to creative leadership. Secondly by giving and gaining insight in the qualities that help act as a creative leader. Like charisma, creative leadership can be practiced and learned. A creative leader, among other things, is open to the ideas of others and looks at situations from different perspectives. He is more prone to ask questions than to tell what he already knows. He takes calculated risks and can tolerate ambiguity. He can stand on the side line. He is capable or forming groups and facilitate the exchange of ideas. And, very important, he recognizes and rewards creative effort.

Creative leadership is particularly important for organizations going through change. In those environments leaders need to solve problems that are new, ambiguous or ill-defined. In these cases creativity defines the difference between good and great leaders. Great leaders enable change, because they are flexible, and equipped to deal with ambiguity and they feel comfortable wit hit. It may even make them tick. And they are capable of developing a creative climate in which employees feel safe and invited to search and find unusual solutions to their challenges.

Creative leadership invites ownership and commitment. Committed employees feel responsible for more than their own task. They understand the bigger picture and the role they play in it. That’s what it takes to get in the flow to actively participate in a structured, cohesive plan that leades to realizing the vision.

So what do you do to make sure attention for you is maintained, instead of stifting to the next moving target, such as Ajax?

Vanaf de prachtige campus op Harvard schrijf ik voor mijn Leadership course blogs waar ik met mijn mede-studenten over discussieer. Om geïnteresseerden een inkijkje te geven in wat ik leer op Harvard deze zomer, deel ik mijn blogs, of wanneer het te inhoudelijk wordt het te volgen als je er niet bij was, zal ik er fragmenten van posten. Opdracht voor deze vierde blog was te reflecteren op het vierde college waarin we hebben gekeken naar de wijze leiderschapslessen van William Shakespeare’s Trolius and Cressida.


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