Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Leadership Jazz – 4

How does a leader ensure good, creative work and how does a leader effectively lead creative people?  Max DePree in his work, “Leadership Jazz” reminds us of the following related principles.

1. How does a leader approach the process for creative work?
A leader protects unusual persons from the bureaucracy and legalism so ensconced in our organizations.

“A leader works with creative people without fear.

“While respecting them, a leader is wary of incremental changes.  Don’t let small changes—perfectly good in their own right—replace true creativity and real innovation.

“A leader arranges for projects to proceed along a narrowing path.

“In the end, true innovation will never be a democratic event–it’s just too risky for group-think.  Majorities seldom vote to change.  A small group of accountable leaders together with the creative people involved must make the decision and take the risk.

“Peter Drucker once said:  ‘When you have a real innovation, don’t compromise.’

“A leader paves the way for change.

2. What do creative people need to be fruitful in the worlds of organizations?  First they need access to (even intimacy with) senior leadership.

“Creative work needs the ethos of jazz.

“It matters a great deal how leaders give work to gifted followers.

“Creative people, like the rest of us, need constraints.

“A leader needs to give creative people license to be contrary.

“Leaders welcome the committed skeptic, who wants to be held accountable and demands a share of the risk.

“Leaders give odds to creative people that their work will get to market.

“Creative people need a fundamental level of trust from leaders.

“The work of creative people is only part of a whole; it cannot be taken in isolation.

“Finally, creative people need to work with others of equal competence.

3. What should a leader be careful about when dealing with creative people?  First, a leader will be careful about the utilitarian self-concept so much in favor with administrators.

“Second, just as moving up in the hierarchy does not confer competence, so organizational power does not guarantee wisdom.

“Be wary of setting out to win prizes.

“Good work is the goal; recognition is a consequence.

“A last caution: Don’t fail to give credit.  People who through their unusual gifts bring change and innovation and renewal to organizations need to be identified.”

Are you leading well those creative people around you?  Are you encouraging or stifling their creativity?  Have you defined their contribution and identified their boundaries?

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