Creativity is the Single Most Important Leadership Skill

Why is creativity so important? That’s a question I’m sometimes asked. IBM did a study not long ago where they asked CEOs what leadership competency they needed more than any other. Their resounding response? Creativity.

The report concluded: “Creativity is the single most important leadership skill in a world that is more volatile, more uncertain, and more complex than at any time before.”

Stop for a moment and take a look around at the world we’re living in today. You’ll quickly understand why your relationship with your creativity is so significant, no matter which industry or career path you’re in. Today, creativity isn’t just for artists, it’s for everybody. It’s for engineers working to solve a tough technical challenge. It’s for job-seekers trying to gain the attention of prospective employers. It’s for parents trying to help their kids prepare for a world that will be vastly different by the time their kids graduate from college. It’s for all of us needing to do more with less.

The challenge is to embrace the innovator within. Embrace originality and to focus on quality and beauty in everything you do. There’s always room for improvement; there’s always a better way – if we’re willing to seek it. If you’re planning a party, or writing a report, or cooking a meal – There’s a creative way and a routine way.

Creativity is coming up with ideas – and innovation is bringing them to life. The way I come at innovation is a bit different than the way most people think of it. Most times we think of innovation as that which occurs in the research laboratories. It’s patents, it’s test tubes and science. It’s also smart phones and virtual reality and artificial intelligence. But I believe innovation happens in the mind. And it occurs in all our minds; we’re all innovators really.

Anything less than a constant flow of life-changing ideas won’t be sufficient in a world of continuous change. The world is more overwhelming than ever before. The future is more unpredictable than ever. Resources are scarcer than ever. And all of it takes a certain willingness to be a creative change-maker. To come up with ideas and bringing them to life. There is a need to invite ideas into our lives every day to meet the challenges we face.

Organizations and society need people who are creative, who can bounce back from setbacks, who can lead and follow, and who are flexible. Some people call this resilience. Others call it grit. Grit is a big theme today. Employers are increasingly skeptical of educational attainment alone as a proxy for success in a job. They look for grit. The term is loosely defined as creativity, a knack for problem solving, an openness to learning, and the courage to persevere. People with grit welcome feedback, work harder, and bounce back faster from setbacks.

Up until recently, innovation was confined to a few people in the organization. I wrote Innovation is Everybody’s Business: to dispel the myth that you’re either born with the innovator’s skillset, or you are out of luck. We asked people in organizations to identify colleagues whom they thought of as innovators. And we interviewed dozens of them and asked them to identify the attributes that enabled them to get new projects done. We asked them about their techniques and strategies overcoming the barriers and the bureaucracy and the constraints to build ideas through to implementation. Not a one said they were born with these skills. They learned them by doing. In a world of uncertainty, creativity has become the most important leadership trait.