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Is Creativity The Number 1 Leadership Skill Needed Today?

A study by IBM of 1,500 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) from different size organizations, 60 countries and 33 industries determined creativity to be the number 1 leadership skill needed by CEOs managing companies today.

As one CEO stated “We need to find, recognize and reward creativity.” The seeds of creativity must be spread throughout an organization and employees must be encouraged to question the way things have always been done. Today’s CEOs “…must be ready to upset the status quo even if it is successful. They must be comfortable with and committed to ongoing experimentation.”

In order to deal with today’s fast changing complex environment CEOs are undertaking two key steps:

1) Reinventing Customer Relationships – by adopting ways to engage and stay in touch with a new generation of employees, partners and customers. They are going beyond being close with customers by actually bringing customers inside their organizations through technology and social media to co-create products and services.

2) Restructuring Their Organizations – CEOs are refashioning their organizations to make them faster and more flexible. Whenever possible they are simplifying interactions with customers to make doing business with them as easy as possible.

This same approach needs to be adopted by government leaders. In your opinion is creativity the number 1 leadership skill needed today in the public sector?

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Lauren Modeen

Andy, I read that same article, too! I was a little surprised that creativity is on the list because this is still something I think is lacking. Maybe people just know it is desired and put it on the resume alone with “innovation” and “problem-solver” to assuage the resume readers.

Paul Wolf

The article you reference Andrew is an interesting one. I agree with the article that simply referring to yourself as creative is overused without concrete examples to prove your creativity. As the IBM study I posted about indicates CEOs today are reinventing their relationships with customers by co-creating products and they are restructuring their organizations to make them faster and more flexible.

If someone in government can accomplish either of these items they certainly have the right and the proof to brag about being creative!

Paul Alberti

I had a discussion a few weeks ago on curiosity and the seeming lack of it in many offices these days. To get to creativity you need to be curious about how and why things are the way they are. Was Galileo creative or curious? Todd Kasdan’s book “Curious” talks about curiosity being the recipie for creating and enjoyable and meaningful life (http://toddkashdan.com/).

I think we get to “creative” by encouraging “curiosity”.

Faye Newsham

Andy and all, I recall reading the recent article about overused terms in resumes, I think the key to this is not to just use the term in your resume but show how you are creative. Give examples. Your creativity is really, really important but differentiating yourself from everyone who wrotely adds it to their resume is just as important.

Kathy Strauss

creativity has many different connotations in what you are saying here. When people hear the word, they immediately think art, paints, kid stuff. But, the truth is creativity is everything that applies to you, your job, to leadership, etc. It’s thinking outside the box, it’s “how do I fill in the blanks in my evaluation report?”, it’s play, meaning, empathy, team work, design…. revenge of the right brain! Check out Dan Pink’s book, “Whole New Mind”. http://www.danpink.com/whole-new-mind

I’m a creative coach & I teach how to exercise your right brain through simple creative exercises. I do team building with corporate teams and demonstrate how they are working as individuals – but in organizations, they are working as teams…. the creative exercises help demonstrate this.

I love the curiosity aspect of it as that too is a right brain function…. it relates to creativity. So, no – it’s not an overused word – it’s something that needs to be brought back into the work place, education, our communities & let’s the left brainers stop telling us we’re not creative……. because we are & good leaders are creative! (if any of you want to experience one of my sessions, just let me know – I’ll be glad to work with you & your team)

Jack Shaw

Creativity is great in “creating” a vision, but flexibility and the ability to recognize creativity of others and put it to use in the organization is more important. More to the point, I think creativity may be a desired trait, however, it is not the most important trait to consider in leadership. Leadership has to bring all others together and motivate them to one vision. His or her own “creativity” in the process could actually hamper the efforts of others who will simply follow suit.

Rodney L. McCall

In your opinion is creativity the number 1 leadership skill needed today in the public sector?

Actually no it isn’t. Organization skills, disciplined, structure, being able to focus on the job so as to finalize the results. Creativity is a excellent tool at times in finding answers and getting results, but creativity is only part of the equation. Most people have a strong solid foundation with being creative but do not know how to put it to use. Knowing your limits and saying to yourself I need to discuss my situation with another or a supervisor. If you are a super and need creativity let your team or organization know and let these professionals know that there is a way for them to be heard. Don’t make it hard for them but give them a go to person to discuss their thoughts with. Whoa now your talking!!! Open the door to communication which is a key to being creative. How many CEOs, or Company Boards or Presidents of large companies are doing this. How many leaders in the government are doing this.

The one item here is that a lot of upper managerment is indeed afraid of change and and yes afraid of growth. This is indeed true and they will send out messages for help and then not respond. They must get past their fear and open the doors for growth.

Carol Davison

I believe that integrity, collaboration and results focus are the most needed competencies; and that these allow other competnecies to be employed.

Mark Hammer

Advertising agency Benton & Bowles used to have an ad slogan for their company that went something like “It’s not creative unless it sells”. The gist was that , while “creativity” was all well and good, and a noteworthy characteristic of many successful ad campaigns, it was ultimately subservient to a higher-order principle: getting the job done.

Sometimes, clear thinking and pragmatism is the most “creative” thing a leader can offer.

Alexandra Ritchie

So, why don’t we throw out the whole idea of a resume or at least the notion of a resume template and let prospective employees use ingenious ways to demonstrate their value? We just need the HR community and managers to embrace these radical new submissions. Maybe I am a dreamer, but I love to think that we have entered the age of the Video Essay that Elle Woods introduced to us in Legally Blonde! How’s that for creative thinking?

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I wanted to be an artist when I was growing up, a musician, a fashion designer, but life happens or doesn’t and we have to move on. What I discovered was I could be creative in so many different environments, lead and influence people, help them grow and be creative. My children found some of my art and urged me to get back into it. My explanation to them was that there are so many outlets for creativity in our every day lives. This is where inventions happen, innovation, and I agree with Paul Alberti, curiosity and need drive creativity.

I still love art, music, and style but found my need for survival, once I was old enough that my parents would no longer support me in those artsy pursuits, led me to greater discoveries in life. That I could use my creativity in almost any setting. It has made me a perpetual student and teacher. Curiosity drives me to learn a new skill, create something from that and teach that new skill to the next person.

I found less creativity in public sector (been here almost 10 years). The factor that I perceive as being a stumbling block to creativity is an unwillingness to take risk. Risk could cost a career. Everyone I consider to be creative is willing to accept risk as a part of life.

Yes, leadership needs to be creative. How do you find ways to inspire people to follow without it?

Mark Hammer

There are contexts where “creativity” is permitted, and maybe even encouraged or vital, and contexts where it’s the last thing you want.

Do you want creativity in someone who manages a border patrol, or manages inspection of dangerous goods? I don’t think so. Do you want it in agricultural policy development? Maybe. Do you want it in police work? Not so much. Municipal planning? Yeah, from time to time.

Much like ANY leadership quality, context is key to what matters.

Angel Llerena

Yes, I agree.

However, I feel that before “creativity” takes the lead role in leadership, better leadership qualities overall is what’s needed. Too many in leadership roles are there because of who they know, being good test takers or provided opportunity by new administration. Imagine how much of a learning curve is necessary when placed into a position that you need to learn the culture, programs, services, previous outcomes, what is shared with you on what works and what has not by people with many years in government that may or may not provide you the best information possible to perform at the best of your ability, and hope that you are not blocked by those who refuse to change even if your suggestion is better than what in practice for years that needs to be changed for the better. Personal agendas of others can quickly take over what you intended to do when you arrived, and you could easily fall into survival mode by not creating waves and stay with the “status quo.”

What can change this is having Government be limited to a certain amount of appointees that in some states reach across all positions, including those “protected” under “Civil Service.” This practice does nothing but stump morale, demotivates good employees, creates chaos and resentment among employees, with the exception being that some employees “stay their course” no matter what knowing that regardless what is happening their efforts and accomplishments will warrant their opportunity for advancement at some point in their career, which are few with this mindset, while others just start to “cruise” until retirement, and others stop caring about making a difference.

Other change needed is perhaps adding to the “test scoring” and “ranking.” May want to include the following in the selection process; evaluations of personality, creativity, motivation, ability to communicate effectively, sales abilities, customer service and people skills. The current “test and ranking” system allows for too much play, allowing management to manipulate results to an outcome desired.

Paul Wolf


I think creativity can be applied every where. I don’t see why it could not be applied to border patrols, inspection of dangerous goods and police work? Every job has things that are done for no reason other than “we have always done it this way”. Every job in my opinion has room for doing things differently/creatively.

Mark Hammer

I agree that performance of every job, no matter what the level or context, can be improved when incumbents are more insightful. I also agree that “we’ve always done it this way” is one of the lamest excuses in history.

That said, we work within organizations, governed by statutes, legislation, policies, and expectations, from citizens, from other work units, and from government, and “how things are done” merits some respect.

Perhaps where we differ is in terms of what we are calling “creativity”. The study cited is of private-sector leaders, not public sector. I can see where very divergent thinking can be an important component of what permits a business to “elude” their competition, and remain viable. Here, we work in the public sector, where the goal is not to compete, but to deliver on expectations. Sometimes, as I say, divergent thinking assists us in doing that, but not always, and not in all cases. Now, if you want to repackage practicality as creativity, and call a manager, who deems that a redvision of the tasks in their workplan will permit the work to be done more effectively and efficiently, “creative”, be my guest. Personally, I associate creativity with something a little further from the beaten path, but I can see where others would hold a different interpretation.

Dale Rupright

I would take listening over creativity any day. I mean, if you don’t listen to people, you won’t ask the right questions that will generate the information you need to be creative in developing a solution. If you don’t know what is really wrong, how will you know how to fix it?

Paul Alberti

So many competencies – so little time. A leader has to have a well-rounded set of skills and competencies and know when and how to use them. No one competency supersedes another – it is the timing in which you need to use it that is important. If you are thinking about being creative when you should be listening, or delegating when you should be leading – it doesn’t matter how good you are. Maybe “Timing” should be a competency also?