Creative leadership: Why it's set to be the force that will shape the world

06/06/2023 | Santander Universidades

An ability to innovate is the most sought-after professional skill at present, according to the 2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report: The Skills of the Future  by Udemy for Business. Even more so in intermediate and managerial positions, where it's vital to cultivate a creative leadership style that boosts companies' progress in a volatile and uncertain environment

If you are currently studying or starting out on your career, it's important to have the knowledge and skills needed to carry out your functions and manage teams creatively and innovatively. To this end, training plays a major role, as it will help you to develop these skills, boosting your career development opportunities and increasing your employability.

What is creative leadership?

Creative leadership refers to the process of guiding others towards achieving a result in an innovative way, and encompasses three subtypes of leadership depending on the perspective of each:

  1. One that fosters team creativity.
  2. One that facilitates the realisation of the leader's creative vision. 
  3. One that brings diverse creative ideas together.

These three conceptual frameworks neatly represent what a creative leader is: a concept that's gaining evermore prominence and increasingly found in all areas of society. 

In fact, although you may associate creative leadership with specific fields, such as design, advertising or new technologies, this role is not linked to a specific type of business, but to how managers deal with adapting to a highly changing environment, regardless of the sector in question. "Creative leadership is not about leaders becoming more creative. It's about individuals fostering creativity”" says Tim Brown, co-founder of the innovation studio IDEO.   

The Santander Open Academy launched by Banco Santander were designed with the same objective: to promote talent and foster professional development against a backdrop of permanent change.  

The importance and impact of creative leadership on the world

The modern world is developing fast, with social changes that occur at breakneck speed. In this context, professionals can't afford to stick to a classic, unadaptable approach. Rather, it becomes necessary to adopt a much more dynamic and disruptive style to address new problems and tackle new challenges. 

Today, the idea of “renew or die" is more valid than ever and this is where creative leadership comes into play, as a way to enhance the development of new skills, facilitate conflict resolution in complex scenarios and boost the success of emerging companies. 

Creative leadership enhances soft skills

The Fourth Industrial Revolution currently underway is completely redefining the role of human beings in society. In 2017, the renowned businessman, investor and philanthropist Mark Cuban predicted to CNBC that “In 10 years, a liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree," because an open mind and creative thinking will be a professional's best value proposition. In this same vein, a few years back, the investigation Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation published by McKinsey Global Institute, was already forecasting that almost 50% of jobs done by humans would be automated by 2030

As a result, hundreds of millions of workers will have to change occupations and develop new skills that allow them to do any tasks that machines cannot. So, soft skills such as creativity, leadership, interpersonal communication, teamwork and empathy will become essential requirements to survive in the future jobs market.

The next generation of workers, executives and leaders will need to have a hybrid skill set that balances understanding of basic skills, such as programming and analysis, with power skills, i.e., soft skills.

Anant Agarwal, professor of computer science at MIT and president of edX

Faced with this new global reality, creative leadership plays a leading role in building the future generation of workers. In fact, with this visionary idea in mind, some 91% of companies already rate staff's soft skills higher than hard skills. That's according to the study 2019 Global Talent Trends by LinkedIn

Along the same lines, the UK's Chartered Management Institute points out that soft skills are particularly important in management, because they allow creative leaders to manage their staff in a persuasive way, thus influencing the team to strategically pursue the organisation's objectives. 

Creative leadership helps to foster employees' soft skills, helping them develop higher levels of engagement and even productivity. Companies are more profitable as a result.

In fact, one study by MIT Sloan states that the sort of creative leadership that promotes employees' soft skills, such as problem-solving, communications and decision-making, can lead to a 250% return on investment for the company in less than one year, even in technical workplaces such as factories.

Meanwhile, research conducted within the framework of Google's Aristotle Project reveals that the most important, productive and innovative ideas within a company don't come from the tech specialists, but rather from those teams on which the staff boast a wide variety of soft skills. In creative jobs, innovation is more likely to be achieved when people from different disciplines and specialisations share their ideas.

Creative leadership helps to solve complex problems

Creativity is the driving force behind solving problems, especially complex ones, those that appear immune to traditional and standardised methods, even in such logical areas as science. Indeed Rhett Allain, a doctor of Physics and professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, explains in Wired that science is a matter of creativity, because "If you want to explore the unknown, you first have to follow a trail to get to the uncharted regions".

Allain asserts that injecting creativity into the field of science is possible if we set aside the rigidity that restricts both imagination and the flow of thoughts. So, in a scientific context, team leaders need to become creative leaders and stop giving so many instructions to their team, instead giving them the opportunity to understand and solve a problem in a way that no one has ever done before.

For example, Lisa Piccirillo is a young woman who was able to solve a maths problem that had remained unsolved for half a century. The striking thing is that the answer came to her just a week after learning about the problem and devoting herself to it in her free time, as a hobby. Many brilliant mathematicians failed in their endeavour to resolve the riddle, but Piccirillo succeeded because, in a highly creative and ingenious way, she created a problem similar to the one she was trying to solve, but which was easier to approach. So, when she solved her own problem, she also found a solution to the other.

The same thing happens in the business world. Creative leadership constantly tackles business problems in an innovative way, as well as fostering that same capacity for disruption in their staff.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, while imagination embraces the entire world.

Albert Einstein

This is fairly evident, for example, in Game Theory, a mathematical discipline within the field of Economic Science that’s based on harnessing creative thinking to understand problems and make effective decisions.

In fact, game theory is taught on the most prestigious management development courses around the world and is perfectly applicable in business management, strategic planning, consumer analysis, marketing and advertising campaigns, politics, and psychology, among other areas. 

In this sense, creative leadership in a business setting breaks the standards, models and rules when it comes to addressing a complex situation, as suggested by Dr. Rhett Allain or like the young mathematician Lisa Piccirillo did. 

Creative leadership builds successful startups

A startup is a business venture characterised by developing an innovative solution, laying its foundations in technology, growing rapidly, making the most of the few resources available (financial, human, and technological) and with a fairly high level of uncertainty regarding its future. This final characteristic, above all, is what makes such companies a high-risk endeavour.

In this sense, within the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it’s creative leadership that has managed to reduce the risks insofar as possible. This is because an entrepreneur who is also a creative leader:

  • They are open and willing to pivot the business idea until they achieve the perfect fit with market needs, instead of trying to push it into a specific niche.
  • They can generate disruptive ideas to make the product or service increasingly attractive to potential users or customers.
  • They build a multidisciplinary team, with sufficient diversity of perspectives, experiences and knowledge to address problems holistically. They inspire team members to give the best of themselves.
  • They develop growth hacking techniques that pursue the growth of the project using the least amount of resources possible.
  • They manage finances wisely, prioritising expenses, eliminating money leaks and investing only in things able to return a significant immediate profit.

These last two points are of the utmost importance, given that, according to The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020 by Startup Genome, four out of every ten start-ups are currently in the “red zone”. In other words, they have the economic muscle to stay afloat for just three months, making creative leadership essential to achieve - by whatever means possible - a flow of capital that allows them to survive and thus avert the project's collapse.

Do you want to develop professional skills that will help you access better job opportunities? With the aim of boosting, empowering and promoting talent,  Banco Santander is launching 5,000 Santander Course | Business for All 2024. This program, aimed at those who want to enhance their business skills, has been designed in collaboration with top experts from Harvard Business School Publishing, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world.

With this course, you will gain access to a 100% online, 9-week training program on which you will acquire the key know-how and skills to further your career. Depending on your professional objectives, you can choose one of the following courses:

  • Business Fundamentals: learn the essentials of marketing, finance, negotiation and customer experience.

  • Managing yourself: improve your skills in decision-making, time management and influencing without authority. 

All courses are delivered by top-tier experts and are free to participants. And you don't need to have a degree or be a Banco Santander customer. On top of that, they are available in English, Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese.

You will have the opportunity to acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills via on-demand content, virtual discussions in live sessions with mentors and learning facilitators, interaction with your peers, exercises and tools with which you can practice, then transfer the knowledge to your workplace. In addition, upon completion, you will receive a certificate from Harvard Business School Publishing.


Are you over 18 and want to develop key skills to get ahead in the workplace? Sign up for Santander Course | Business for All 2024 and whether you get it or not, remember: never stop learning. 

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