Generating ideas, connections, and action

What About Creativity?

Donna and Cynthia build models by eekim on Flickr

A former LLC Board Member recently mentioned that she was going to be teaching a course this semester on Leadership and Art. I would've begged to sit in if it weren’t on the other side of the country. I have wondered for some time why we are not talking more about leadership and creativity, at least in the nonprofit sector.

When I search leadership and creativity online, most of the links are focused on creativity in business with some discussion of the topic also taking place in academia. Many of these articles offering tips and keys to creative success, suggest that creativity requires openness, multiple perspectives, metrics that support creativity, time for musing and experimentation, a willingness to take risks. Most of us in the nonprofit sector would argue that we are very creative and have to be to accomplish what we do with very little resources. Still, in looking at the curriculum of leadership programs we are much more likely to find programs focused on helping participants to develop vision, commitment, management skills, personal awareness and reflection, communication skills, a knowledge framework related to their field or issue, accountability, and team building. Sure, many programs focus on courage but we do actually emphasize the courage to make mistakes?

This difference among nonprofit and business leadership programs does make me wonder what in the systems of how we operate would drive the need for a different emphasis on the capacities we are trying to cultivate. I think the good news is that we are very focused on results, although this may be the good and bad news. Very few nonprofit organizations (and their leadership) seek funds for the big wager, an idea that hasn’t been tried and could have a huge impact, or flop. Instead we usually request support for the outcomes that we believe our work and activities can deliver. I don’t mean to imply that this type of integrity between what we promise and deliver is not good, of course it is! I am worried about how we will create more of an opening in our current system to encourage and reward creativity and innovation, all of which carry some risk. There may be a reason we don’t find much emphasis on innovation in our leadership work. Even those who are doing great work, and know they are having a measurable impact, also know that it’s not enough when we need breakthrough change.

I would love an exchange among leadership programs that are trying to foster creativity and innovation. How are you integrating this into your leadership development work? Can you share components of your curriculum or program designs that are cultivating creative capacity among your leadership program participants?