Creative Leadership – Are there any tips?
Words by Bui Nguyen Dan Chi – s3360607
As a person interested in creative industries, I always prioritize creativity and try to be creative as much as I can in everything I do. “How can I make it different?”, “What is another better solution to this?” or “How can I turn it into something less boring?” are some of the questions that usually pop up in my mind. Therefore, when I was skimming at the list of topics to be posted on our Client Management blog, the words “Creative Leadership” stopped my eyes. I have believed that leadership and creativity are the gifts given for specific people. Neither anyone can be a leader, nor can anyone be a creative person. A creative leader – he or she must be really mesmerizing!
Is there such thing as creative leadership?
“I don’t believe in creative leadership”, Guy Truong, my interviewee, said, shrugging his shoulders. I would never expect that answer since I was looking for something such as “transformational” or “unconventional” to backup the theory from the academic sources provided. I also did a lot of research about tips to be creative in leading people: be flexible, be surprising, be unpredictable or be dynamic while being consistent with a view to finding the secrets behind a successful leader. “Well, those ain’t called creativity, Chi, they’re gained through practice and experiences”, he smiled. At that time, I realized that this director of Digital Marketing Agency (DMA) would totally change the way I planned the interview to be.
“Change is good”
“Change is good”, Guy continued, “changing to gain new knowledge and conquer new skills. But make sure you try your best to ‘almost’ master them before moving to something else. You should try to learn everything from them before you quit them”. Guy believed that expertise is the first and foremost thing a leader must own since we cannot ask people to do something for us if we don’t know how to do that. A person with expertise has more confidence and certainty over the other (Pearce & Manz 2005), therefore, he/she stands higher likelihood of becoming a leader. When it comes to client pitching, expertise is said to contribute to 75% of the agency’s success. About 5 years ago when Guy was working for an SEO company, he had a pitch with Jewel Senko – a big company that successfully finished projects for big brands such as V.rohto and Honda. His company at that time had a nude profile, but he won the pitch. It was the expertise that built up the credibility and proved the capability. “Be an expert in your field to be your client’s leader, and be a semi-expert in other fields as well if you want to be a leader of your agency. Keep learning and practicing.” I really like the fact that Guy is more a doer than a thinker (Kellerman 2004), whose inner power and knowledge influence others, not power. His role model, his father who is an owner of the family restaurant back in Belgium, has inspired him to have this personal trait. “My father leads by example. When he sees the kitchen’s dirty, he cleans it. People won’t let him do it though. When I see the phone’s dirty, I clean it. My staff won’t let me do it though”, Guy laughed, “it’s the secret”. I remember someone told me, “You are a leader when people follow you” and another said, “Good leaders create leaders, not followers”. These sayings make me think of Guy’s different sharing.
Leadership and Management: are there any differences?
“I don’t see many differences between these two, in fact, I think they combine as a good process. However, this process cannot be finished without “Coaching”. You see, Coaching, Leading and Managing – Leading and Managing can happen as them same time though”, Guy said. I expected a clear comparison that can answer my ‘research’ questions, but this finding was impressive. He commented on the lack of initiatives on Vietnamese human resources while Vietnamese people had a very big ego. Therefore, they were afraid to speak out, to give feedbacks and to propose ideas. “To be honest, people here have the ego like this *put his left hand about his eyes* but their talents are like this *raise his right hand to his chest*”. Guy believed the reason for overcharging in Vietnam markets was that people here did not have a long-term vision and commitment; therefore, they might not expect a long-term relationship. As a result, he emphasizes on expertise cultivating and initiative coaching when he works with his Vietnamese staff. Guy thought that people should be shown how to do something before being asked to do something that is not familiar to them. Coaching includes setting a clear vision, talking to them frequently and acknowledging their improvements. “Many people say I speak Vietnamese really well, so I speak Vietnamese more and more. It’s human nature that needs acknowledgement and recognition; but make sure you make honest compliments,” he smiled.
We talked more about leadership under both client’s and agency’s point of view during the interview. However, when I came home, expertise and coaching are two words that stuck in my mind. Tips on how to be good leaders or, more fancily, creative leaders, can be found by just a click of the mouse, but I have rarely thought of expertise and coaching as such important traits of a leader – and the tips are normally hard to apply. Nothing comes naturally; it is a process of practice and observation. For those who are looking for something called ‘creative leadership’, please leave it behind, start building up your expertise and sharing it with others. The reason is, your eyes can sense the effects they brought about.
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Jaussi, K & Dionne, S 2003, ‘Leading for creativity: the role of unconventional leader behaviour’, The leadership quarterly, no. 14, pp.475-498.
Pearce, CL & Manz, CC 2005, ‘The New Silver Bullets of Leadership: The Importance of Self- and Shared Leadership in Knowledge Work’, Organizational Dynamics, vol.34, no.2, pp.130-140.
Kellerman, B 2004, ‘Think about leadership – Warts and all’, Harvard Business Review, vol. 1, no.82, pp.40-45.