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Leading for creativity: 10 ways to cultivate creativity in others

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Leading for creativity: 10 ways to cultivate creativity in others

Nurturing individuals and building their confidence is crucial if creativity is going to thrive.

Leading for creativity enables the right culture and environment for others to be creative.

A change to traditional leadership

As a leader, it’s likely that you had the chance to flourish in your own bit of space and/or time.

A question we have is this: Do the people in your team have the same opportunities? If the answer is ‘no’, then now’s the time to think about how that could be changed. Some years ago, ‘traditional’ leadership would have seen leaders as the ‘ideas person’. Time, however, has moved on, and to quote educationalist and author Sir Ken Robinson,

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.”


We think a huge difference could be made, both for the organisation and the individual, if everyone was allowed to have some time to be creative. Being creatively thought-led in business is vital in today’s world. A study by IBM of more than 1,500 CEOs across 60 countries found that creativity was seen as one of the most important leadership qualities. To quote Tim Brown, CEO & Director of global innovation company Ideo,

”Creativity is what keeps organisations ahead in the marketplace. That means you, as a leader, need to empower your team to generate and execute bold ideas.”


Empowerment is crucial in building on your team’s efforts in creativity. Employees who have encouragement and creative freedom are generally more fulfilled, and that’s almost directly affected by the type of leader they have.

Three different leadership styles

Ideo outlines three types of creative leader styles; the Explorer, the Gardener and the Player Coach. Each one has their own unique way of leading:

  • THE EXPLORER – The leader who points to the horizon and says, ‘let’s go this way’. They paint a picture of where they need to head and lead their team towards it.
  • THE GARDENER – The leader who nurtures and creates an environment for their people to be creative in. In this case, the environment is not only the physical space (which is important) but also refers to the non-physical environment such as team dynamics, workflow and mindset.
  • THE PLAYER COACH – The leader who has hands-on experience and applies it to a creative challenge.

10 ways to help you and your team

You may have identified with similarities from each of these leader types. Whatever your combination of attributes, a great leader may need to pull on all of these styles if the conditions call for it. We understand that leading and motivating teams is no easy task; the following are 10 ways that we think will be a help to both you and your team:

  • Permission: Allowing your team to find a way of working that suits them best, making sure they know it’s okay to be creative and to do things differently.
  • Trust: Trusting each other to explore without criticism. When you need to make decisions about one idea over another ensure that everyone knows that their input has been important in the process. Things might go wrong, you might fail, but people need to know that that’s okay.
  • Playfulness: Stepping away from the challenge, giving the brain the opportunity to move away and return with fresh perspectives. Playfulness also helps to build an environment of trust.
  • Constraints: Recognising them, working within them, using them to your advantage and knowing how far they can be pushed. The brain responds positively when presented with certain limitations. Constraints give us the ‘space’ to be creative within.
  • Collaboration: Working effectively as a solid team, benefiting from diverse characters. Learning from others. While communicating with colleagues across an organisation can be achieved through various social channels, physically getting a team together to share and discuss ideas cannot be beaten. While collaboration is great and is a hot topic with virtually everyone, let’s not forget that people need time and space to think, sometimes alone!
  • Persistence: Continuing towards your end goal positively. Persistence in reaching, and possibly breaking just clear of the constraint boundary is key. A project or challenge can be slow moving so you’ll need to keep bringing focus to this. Grit and determination are essential qualities when leading for creativity.
  • Presence: Actively being part of the team and the creative vision.
  • Resilience: Coming back from challenges, learning from failures.
  • Confidence: In yourself, each other and the end goal. Having belief in your own work. This shouldn’t lead to arrogance or mean that you need to be extroverted when sharing your ideas. It’s about being comfortable with who you are as an individual and encouraging others to do the same.
  • Strong Communication: Listening, empathy, questioning, reporting, providing feedback and constructive criticism when required.

Creativity thrives with leadership support

Leaders are not, nor should they ever be the sole source of creative ideas, it is the leader’s responsibility to encourage team members to think, collaborate and be present in creative ideas, have the confidence and resilience in the face of challenges and to embrace the constraints in which they work.

Leading for creativity is something which we understand and can help with. We’ve recognised that this is a subject that organisations are putting increased focus on, and we’re currently developing a workshop based on what we’ve highlighted here and more.

If you’d like to know more about our workshop plans, or if you think we could help with your IC needs, get in touch with us today.

Well worth a listen

Teaching Creativity to Leaders – Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, on breakthrough problem-solving.

How to be creative – Can anyone be creative? Does working in a team help or hinder? What about your office environment?

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Victoria Ford — Perago

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Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

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Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

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Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

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Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

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Matt Fletcher — Met Police

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Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

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Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

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Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

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Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

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Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

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Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist — StephTranter.com

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist — StephTranter.com

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

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