In the past, many have placed creativity and leadership at opposite ends of the professional spectrum – each leading to entirely different career pathways depending on where your strengths lie. But there’s increasing evidence to show that creativity isn’t just reserved for artists, writers and designers – it’s also an incredibly powerful tool for today’s business leaders.

Creativity is a business tool

A McKinsey study shows creative company leaders outperform their peers on several key financial metrics, demonstrating above average performance for organic revenue growth, total return to shareholders and net enterprise value.

To understand how creativity has become such an important leadership skill and what it means to be a creative leader, it’s necessary to reflect on the business environment we’re operating in. Today, companies and their workforces are navigating the challenges of automation and disruption in an increasingly competitive and uncertain landscape.

In the context of the current business environment, the ‘intuitive randomness’ of human creativity compared to AI is expected to help future workforces leverage the benefits of technology rather than be replaced by it, and creativity is also what drives leaders to challenge existing assumptions and innovate. For example, smartphones, ride-sharing services and electric vehicles have all spawned from some of the world’s most noteworthy leaders who have engaged creative strategies to challenge the status quo.

Creativity helps turn challenges into opportunities

There’s no doubt having a creative mindset in leadership and building a creative workforce is key to turning modern business challenges into opportunities and gaining a competitive edge. With Australia expected to drop out of the G20 in 11 years as other countries invest heavily in infrastructure and cultural transformation, creative vision is said to be crucial to securing Australia’s future economic growth and prosperity.

There are many specific benefits and applications of creativity in business. In an increasingly data-driven environment, creativity is often the glue that combines insights about what customers need with new technologies and business models – arguably the magic formula for business success.

Leaders who have strong creative capabilities and an engaging narrative voice have the potential to permeate organisations and engage the workforce under a cohesive vision, ensuring creativity becomes ingrained in cultures and working practices. In turn, this alignment creates an enhanced understanding of business goals and exactly what the organisation needs to do to help achieve them.

Creativity is also essential for helping businesses adapt in a rapidly changing and sometimes unpredictable environment. For example, creative thinking is often essential for carving out a pathway for continuous improvement and evolution once new products have been launched. What’s more, creative aptitude in this context can also lead to faster and more agile decision-making.

How to develop leadership creativity

It’s possible to develop creativity as a business leader by adopting a few simple behaviours and practices. For example, leaders should always address their feelings of curiosity (however slight) by asking questions and carrying out further investigations. After all, their findings could help solve future problems or influence later decisions.

Making new connections with different people can also expose leaders to different perspectives, which enhances the quality of creative decision-making. This is especially important in a consumer-driven business environment. Meanwhile, a willingness to experiment with new ideas can sometimes unearth new opportunities that might otherwise have been missed.

An experimental attitude is key to developing a creative mindset, but this also comes together with a readiness to take calculated risks. While challenging the status quo means there’s no tried and tested example to follow, a positive outcome is likely to pay off in spades.

How to encourage creativity in your people

As part of embracing creativity as a leader, it will be essential to cultivate greater creativity across the wider workforce by setting the example and putting some key strategies in place. From a practical perspective, keeping employees engaged and on their toes with regular problem-solving activities and meetings for innovation could be effective ways to coach teams into more creative ways of thinking. What’s more, providing collaborative tools and workspaces could also encourage the type of communication and idea-sharing associated with creative workforces.

Similarly, management style has a huge role to play in driving creativity among teams. In this regard, leaders should always encourage healthy competition, recognise achievements and celebrate diversity by playing to people’s individual strengths and allowing different personalities to shine. With micromanagement known to stifle creativity, it’s also important to make employees feel empowered to make bold decisions and take risks.

What it takes to be a leader in the modern landscape has changed significantly. Today, the traditional line distinguishing between people’s creative aptitude and leadership potential has made way for a powerful combination of both, simultaneously empowering innovation and driving results.