What do good leaders look like? This is the modern-day billion-dollar question as organisations quickly learn the value of diversity in business. Gone are the days where the big boss can only be an inscrutable, suited and booted middle aged (and mostly likely white) male. When it comes to leadership traits, new research reveals that analytical engineer-type managers are still vital for business, but they lack the qualities required to lead innovation and innovators. This is one of the conclusions of University of Vaasa’s Piia Uusi-Kakkuri’s doctoral dissertation in the field of management.
“It is understandable that people who value facts and best practices are typically selected as leaders. They are logical and competent, which creates trust. However, it has been found that leaders have a major impact on the creativity of organisations and individuals, and unfortunately these task-oriented managers do not excel in this,” says Uusi-Kakkuri, who defended her doctoral dissertation at the University of Vaasa last Friday.
Uusi-Kakkuri points out that creativity calls for the freedom and courage to experiment, present proposals and make mistakes. A leader who supports creativity must be surprising, inspiring and challenging in a positive way.
“It is easy to talk about the importance of innovation and say that you support creativity, when in truth most of us want to demonstrate our competence by spotting flaws in ideas, criticising and demanding better justifications instead of being curious and working on ideas, even playing around with them, even if this never leads anywhere.”
According to Uusi-Kakkuri, persistent innovators follow through their ideas, but without support they will do this as entrepreneurs or find a place where they receive support. Creative persons can also stay, but if their previous proposals have been shot down or, in the worst case, belittled, they will no longer share their ideas. Leaders should not lull themselves into thinking that recruiting creative people will guarantee success. They need support, and increasing the number of ideas will also increase the probability of finding the most profitable strokes of genius.
Creative people need motivation and intellectual stimulation
It is sometimes believed that creative people do not need leadership but freedom. The findings of the dissertation do not support this statement. Creative people want a transformational leader, especially one who uses motivation and intellectual stimulation. Other dimensions of transformational leadership include taking individuals’ needs into account, visioning and modelling.
Finnish leaders still have much room for improvement in the area of intellectual stimulation, says Uusi-Kakkuri. It may be a priority on the R&D side, but creativity is needed everywhere. Anyone can have an idea that will prove instrumental in developing a new process, product or way of organising work.
“Leaders have to stop, question their own actions too and encourage others to do the same: are we tackling the real problem, is there another way to do this. They seek for ideas, do not criticise mistakes or differing opinions” Uusi-Kakkuri emphasises. Individuals to whom this type of behaviour and creativity is most natural are not necessarily that interested in leadership when they notice that their abstract way of thinking and their habit of outlining opportunities and the big picture are not what is expected of leaders.
Where can you find creative leaders?
What can companies do then? According to Uusi-Kakkuri, they need to look for and recruit people with creative characteristics, as they are also more transformational leaders. Personality analysis can be used as one means of identifying creativity.
The dissertation shows that especially spontaneous women as well as intuitive and extraverted women and men are the most creative leaders. Intuitive and extraverted female leaders are the most transformational.
“I do not believe that companies lack the means to identify the characteristics of candidates. The problem is the values of the business world: we must embrace many types of people if we want to increase innovation,” Uusi-Kakkuri says. Of course, it is important that creative individuals appreciate their own insightful viewpoints and aim for leadership positions.
For individuals, Uusi-Kakkuri recommends leadership training and finding a creative mentor.
“If you know yourself to be more of a traditional, engineer-type leader, it is time to recognise how you react to creativity and ideas. When you begin to see your behaviour patterns, you can start to change them. It is understandable that inspiring creative employees and stimulating them intellectually is not easy when you are used to using your other strengths,”Uusi-Kakkuri says. “The results show that it can help if you focus on developing your emotional intelligence. In other words, you can improve your leadership by taking the feelings of others into consideration and truly caring about them.”
See also: Are women better suited for leadership than men? – a Peterson-EY study reveals that profitable companies include women across top management