[May 29, 2020] If we look at professional literature on leadership, there is a solid consensus that two factors allow us to foretell leader success. Intelligence (as measured in IQ) and conscientiousness are hands down, the strongest predictors of success. These two also measure success in higher education, military careers, and mid-level managerial positions. Based on my observations, this is true.
However, as I’ve pointed out here before (see link here), creativity is another strong trait of leaders. Senior leaders, who are not creative, rarely last long in their jobs. Yet, as a personality trait, creativity is a poor measure of success in higher education, the military, or management. Creativity is negatively associated with success in these fields, and thus it seems creativity retards growth and success in leaders.
That fact seems counterintuitive. The many stories we heard in our childhood seem to support the notion that creative people are especially successful. One of the meta-stories we’ve all heard about is of a leader who leads his people out of danger by doing things, not in the rule book. The old stories typically employ dragons or serpents to symbolize evil. The hero is the one who helps his people escape the dangers of where they live.
The biblical Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land. It is written in the Bible about the journey that Moses led his people using God’s word. But Moses was also creative to hold the Israelites together during their long trek. For example, for Moses to prove he was God’s servant, he struck a rock to get water to come out of it. But God was not amused, and for this transgression, Moses was not allowed to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. It appears that Moses’s creativity was not rewarded.
Creativity means not following the well-worn path. It is about thinking of ways to accomplishing our tasks better, easier, and less expensively. All organizations tend to stultify. Bureaucracies slowly become fixed with rules and regulations, which become more than the original mission. This ossification is why organizations must employ creative leaders.
It certainly takes more than a conscientious and intelligent leader to succeed. Many traits matter a great deal. But these are the two principal elements that no leader can be without. These are preconditions, and there is no substitute other than a bit of creativity.