Why Do We Keep Creative People Out of Leadership Roles?

Um…cuz we don’t follow orders? Or – usually – like to give ’em. Loose cannons, that’s us. Although maybe it should be spelled as loose “canons.”

Of course, there are other theories too:

up against the wall

by David Burkus

We admire stories of creative leaders. We like to hear tales of CEOs and political leaders bringing about transformation with fresh ideas and innovative thinking. And there is good reason for it. Studies reveal that more creative people are better able to lead positive change in organizations and are better equipped to inspire followers. But while we love reading up on how these leaders turned the tide in their industry or organization, recent research suggests that most creative people aren’t given the opportunity to lead. We love stories of creative people; we just don’t want to be led by them.

The evidence, gathered and analyzed by psychologists Jennifer Mueller, Jack Goncalo, and Dishan Kamdar was drawn from 300 employees of an unidentified company and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The employees evaluated the responses of their coworkers to a problem-solving task. For each response, solutions were rated for both creativity (the extent to which the idea was novel and useful) and as evidence of leadership potential. When they analyzed all their ratings, the researchers found a negative correlation between creativity and leadership potential. The employees were assuming that those with more creative ideas were less prepared to be leaders.

While the study was confined to one organization, you don’t have to look too far to see similar results in nearly all organizations. Creative people are associated with breaking molds and working in unconventional ways while leaders are asked to provide structure and order to the organization, not the assumed disorder that comes with being “creative.”

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