The Conundrum of a Creative Leader

By Kathleen Listman

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

If you have been pursuing studies on what corporations want in leadership, you may have noticed the term “creative” appearing more frequently. At least until a year ago or so. The problem came with reminders that creative people can be difficult to get along with.

For example, Øyvind L. Martinsen, professor at BI Norwegian Business School, studied the characteristics that repeatedly appear more often in creative people, including people in the fields of art, music, drama, and marketing.

Despite the fact it is not a traditional “artistic” field, people in marketing have similar traits. Compared to the average population, they tended to be less considerate, persisted in finding faults in ideas and people, and their attitude was anti-authority.

Behavior Traits

People in marketing had a personality closest to the visual artists who exhibited social skills that were not as adept as the performers. Another researcher and L.A. King found that people who were more agreeable tended to be less creative and vice versa.

These traits are not exactly what you would expect to find in a person that others would want to follow. When businesses try to recruit leaders with creativity, they need to be aware of the costs.

The sometimes irritating behavior of creative people is not really a new finding. It is simply a reminder of previous research on creative people by psychologists such as Hans Eysenck and E.P. Torrance.

They found that those who achieved fame for their creativity showed disregard for cultural norms and higher levels of independence and rebelliousness. It makes sense that a person who is driven to come up with new ideas will have a disregard for the status quo.

Some may dismiss the attributes of creative people as being simply eccentric. Most people prefer someone who is more stable and more in touch with authority to manage and lead them. Companies want leaders who reflect their standards and values.


The term “innovative” eventually became popular in the lists of traits required for leaders. Innovation adds the implication that a new idea is put to practical use as a new process, product, or service.

However, being innovative still requires a large amount of creativity. This results in a conundrum when a business desires a leader who is both creative and excels at consensus building.

The true task is to determine where leaders are on that spectrum. An innovative leader will need to have a close working relationship with someone who can pick up any slack and provide a harmonizing influence.

The first lesson to learn in recruiting or becoming an innovative, effective and respected leader is that no one can do it alone.

How Are You A Creative Leader?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Kathleen Listman
Kathleen Listman
Kathleen Listman is an instructional designer and training consultant with a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and over 15 years’ experience in researching, designing, developing and implementing instruction. She has created instructor-led courses, computer-based instruction and e-learning in multiple fields including aviation, manufacturing, medical devices, property accounting, telecommunications and retail sales.
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