Creative? We need you to lead us

Two things happened this week to make me sit down and write this post.

The first was an article in a small business magazine about creative people and business planning. In the most patronising tone, it implied that we creative folk are unlikely to be good at planning.  Big generalisation I would think.  It may be true of some creative people, but it certainly doesn’t take account of different thought processes and approach to planning.  That’s why tools like the Business Model Canvas are so successful, because they provide an alternative, non-linear way to plan for your business.

The second prompt came from a meal with an ex-colleague – actually my ex boss. I was bringing him up to date on my adventures and said that I thought I wouldn’t make a good CEO on the basis that although I love to bring together my tribe; I was less good at the ongoing management and the operational minutiae of running a business.  He disagreed, saying that it was precisely my skills in leadership and the ability to connect people together that would make me a good CEO, providing that I included partners who were able to pick up on the operational strategy and make it happen.

Why is it that we assume creative people aren’t leaders, planners or good at the finance?

The empires of the future are empires of the mind. – Winston Churchill

I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of several rejections for jobs in the past where the safe candidate got the job.  I learnt that although the job role asked for innovation and ideas, the organisation rarely wanted them in reality.  Even as a freelancer, I’ve found that the proposal that outlines a radically different strategy for change can scare potential clients off.  But at least you can choose which projects you take on.

The problem is that society’s view of creative people is completely at odds with the values it expects of its leaders.  Just look at why representational politics has got itself into such a mess.  Our political leaders are hamstrung by the expectations of the voting public, often articulated through the media.  There’s no room for creativity in that.  A recent post at Behance’s 99U blog makes this observation:

‘Creativity is associated with nonconformity, unorthodoxy, and unconventionality. It conjures visions of the artist, the musician, the misunderstood poet. In other words, not the sort of people you usually put in charge of large organizations. Effective leaders, it would seem, should provide order, rather than tossing it out the window’. 

I hadn’t realised just how strong this societal bias has been over the years.  And it could make you angry, were it not for the fact that the worm is turning.

I agree with my ex-boss.  The personality traits and creative behaviours that make me good at what I do are exactly what’s needed in the 21st century world, in modern organisations that understand how to survive.

1. Being a rule breaker

We should value the ability to find ways to do things better, more effectively, more sustainably. It’s about time that we starting inventing things at the scale they did in Industrial times.

frame your vision2. Painting a vision

How do companies expect people to follow the leader if they can’t articulate a where they are heading as an organisation?  Great leaders have the ability to show their tribe what good looks like, to stretch their horizons.

3. Constantly learning

Creative people have a thirst for knowledge and the ability to continually learn as they go along, always striving to be a little bit better.  That’s a very good trait to have as a leader, or your organisation will soon get left behind.

4. Instigating change

You need to approach change like a campaign. Wartime Generals and military leaders know just how to do that and are incredibly creative and strategic thinkers – and you couldn’t accuse them of poor planning.  It is all the more necessary to have creative thinkers and leaders within your organisation to start to change it.

5. Being fearless

Artists and creative people have to lay themselves bare. It takes real guts to go against the grain, to be remarkable.  But unless that happens, nothing happens.  It can be uncomfortable being the only one who is trying to change things, and that’s another reason why creative people make great leaders.

Let’s not put up with the patronising any more.  Let’s show them what we are made of, make heroes of the creative people that have made it to leadership positions and start to reward people for making things better.

There are a few blogs that you might find useful if you’re interested in this topic:

John Meadas: Laws of Simplicity

Behance’s 99U blog

The Thnk Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership

Do Lectures




Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

One comment

  1. harry davies Reply →

    I find that the distinction between creative (and what? Not creative) is unhelpful. When people are given the opportunity to be creative, they take it, some of them would be good CEOs some would not.

    On the subject of CEOs generally if they spend long enough leading, they become unstuck. You need good people at all levels, a single person is rarely able to drive an organisation on their own. We put too much faith in individuals, it is a network of great people that makes an organisation successful.

    Great post BTW!

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