When properly managed, creativity can be found in any employee, regardless of the job description. On the whole, creative people typically fall into a variety of categories, ranging from those who are quick and dramatic to people who are careful and quiet. But one thing remains true of all: most creative ideas are not flashes of inspiration in an individual’s head but rather come from how people identify, create, store, share and use the knowledge they’re exposed to in their surrounding environment.

And fostering that environment (not the act of creativity itself) is the task of creative leadership.

Defining Creativity

According to the Snowflake Model of Creativity, developed by Professor David Perkins of Harvard University, there are six common traits present in creative people:

  1. Strong commitment to personal aesthetics
  2. Ability to excel in finding solutions
  3. Mental mobility
  4. Willingness to take risks (and the ability to accept failure)
  5. Objectivity
  6. Inner motivation

The first three traits are largely cognitive and the last three refer to aspects of personality. As none of the six are viewed to be genetically inherited, Perkins argues that creativity can be taught and, as it relates to modern business, cultivated.

Managing Creative People

Managing for creativity and innovation differs slightly from other methods of management due to the level of freedom employees are given in comparison to those in other job functions. But like any other process, managing creative functions must strike a balance between employees, clients, audiences and partners, achieving satisfaction between all involved for it to be effective.

This balancing act is reportedly achieved by employing five distinct leadership tools to stimulate the creative mind that include: the amount of challenge given to personnel, the degree of freedom granted to minimize hassles related to procedures and processes, the design of work groups to tap ideas from all employees, the level of encouragement and incentives provided (including rewards and recognition), and the nature of support provided by the organization as a whole. It goes without saying, but managers must be motivated themselves to achieve a peak outcome.

Fostering a Creative Environment

One of the key components mentioned above is encouragement. In fact, if you really stop and analyze each of the leadership tools mentioned, they all boil down to one basic function: support. And since creativity springs from a highly personal reaction to one’s environment, it’s the leader’s task to create an environment that fosters creativity. To do so:

  • Organize regular team brainstorming sessions, allowing employees to produce a high quantity of ideas, regardless of whether they’re immediately viable or not. Once you’ve amassed a large pool of potential ideas, analyze and select those of the highest quality and move forward with them.
  • Establish a positive and continuously-reinforced work environment. When employees realize their ideas are not only encouraged but accepted, they’ll naturally tend to think more creatively, which will lead to the potential for innovation in your products or services.
  • Build a collaborative work environment. Do this by tearing down walls and barriers. Creativity and innovation often stem from employees working in close proximity toward a common goal. You can create an open channel of communication between employees (or departments) by rewarding those who work together on solving problems.
  • Encourage risk taking. The thing that kills creativity the fastest is fear. Your team won’t be creative or innovative if they think their actions may result in failure (and a potential backlash from management). So foster a working environment that rewards success and learns from failure but does not penalize for it. And above all, don’t assign blame.