4 Ways to Become a Creative CEO — Even If You Think You’re Not One

Chief Executive Officer

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Want to know your biggest mistake as a CEO? It’s assuming you’re not creative. You are. You’re just using the wrong semantics.

Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t about visual design or artistic ability. We’re taught creativity is an innate gift, but it can be learned like any skill. Creativity in business is about problem-solving, inspiring others, and pivoting on dimes. And with a global pandemic whirling around us, all CEOs can benefit from developing their ingenuity.

If you want your company to get ahead, you’ll need to invest in being creative as a leader.

Harnessing Creative Leadership

What’s a creative CEO? It’s the leader who constantly looks for ways to differentiate. It’s the founder who connects with audiences emotionally, builds memorable connections, recruits superstars, and makes lasting impressions. It’s also the CEO who is more apt to stay ahead of the pack, as determined by LinkedIn Learning research, which dubbed creativity the most important skill anyone can possess.

The biggest upshot to being creative as a leader is that you’ll connect with others on a visceral level. As such, you’ll enter markets in unique, innovative ways. Employees, colleagues, future prospects, shareholders — they’ll be drawn to your words and actions because you’re not peddling the status quo.

The benefits of creativity extend beyond that. It’s also the secret sauce to higher fiscal performance. McKinsey probed into what made certain organizations stand out and discovered that creativity was the shared thread that ran through highly profitable corporations.

How to be More Creative

Want to beef up your creative leadership skills? Follow these principles to master your ability to innovate and find one-of-a-kind solutions:

1. Seek inspiration everywhere. Want an inspiration kick? Look at what executives in other industries are doing. For instance, take a hard look at retail. How are brick-and-mortar stores innovating in the age of Covid-19? What are their tricks to making and keeping customer connections when brand loyalty is on rocky ground? Use what you learn to inform your own business practices.

2. Embrace workforce diversity. As author Scott Belsky discusses in “The Messy Middle,” amassing a diverse group of employees is an investment in creativity. Without access to differing viewpoints, you lack perspective and can’t be innovative. Heterogeneous teams outperform homogeneous ones, so if you’re not already working toward bringing together people with various backgrounds and experiences, make it a priority.

3. Read and discover. Reading cultivates ingenuity. Set aside daily reading time, but don’t worry about choosing a particular genre. Read fiction, biographies, even old comic books. Your objective is to have an “aha!” moment of connecting one idea to another. Picking up a book can provide the spark to finally solve that conundrum you’re tackling.

4. Schedule mental and physical breaks. Time management has been shown to nurture creativity because it gives unexpected solutions a chance to rise. Creativity requires energy, and that means giving yourself time and space to refresh. I block off three-hour windows several times a week to conserve my cerebral currency. During those times, I mull over CEO riddles. Often, answers magically appear because I’ve given them time to percolate.

Being creative as a leader is vital, especially today. Stop saying you’re not the creative type. Instead, pursue creativity and its inherent payoffs.

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