5 Ways Leaders Stifle Creativity

We often get asked by leaders “can you help us make our people more creative?” Our answer to that one is “of course”. But we also know that leaders and managers play a crucial role in the success of that. So rather than just diving in, we first look at what leadership is and is not doing that either nurtures or stifles creativity in their people.

Not every leader is the same, but over the past few years we have seen these topics bubble up. All of these are barriers, but if you flip them upside down, you turn them into enablers.

Here are five ways leaders and managers are stifling creativity and innovation within their business:


Creativity is a core ingredient in innovation. Without it, innovation cannot and will not happen. I believe all people have the capability to be creative and there are things you can learn to bring out, harness and channel this creativity. But, like muscles, they have to be worked to get stronger. And once a year simply isn’t enough.

Try this: Rather than waiting for that once a year town hall meeting or creative pow-wow, find ways in your every day life that work and strengthen that creativity muscle. You can start with: how can we cut our meeting time in half?


Innovation is hard. Very hard. And by definition it implies treading into territory you may not be familiar with. Because of that, you cannot always apply the same business metrics to measure success. When you want your team to try new things, they will need time to explore. It is easy to shoot holes in things you do not understand. The trick is to take calculated risks and allow yourself to wander and get lost. After all, if it’s familiar territory, it is probably not very novel.

Try this: Tell the team you are not looking for quick results, but rather, give people ample time to really immerse the challenge(s) and learn before jumping to conclusions. Push people to explore rather than come up with answers.


So you say innovation is important, but you play it safe yourself. You say creativity is important, but you are not willing to step outside your own comfort zone and explore newness. You have to lead by example. If you just say it’s important, but don’t get involved in the actual work (no, just kicking off a project is not enough), you are not

Try this: Don’t just leave it to your teams to give you customer data; take off that tie and go out into the world of your customers to ask the hard questions around what they like and don’t like about your business. Then take the learning back and innovate around those areas.


Far too often, innovation is merely talked about and creativity is seen as an ad-hoc extra-curricular event. If innovation is indeed important to the organisation, then it should be reflected in terms of reward. At the end of the day, it is one of the easiest ways to show that you really value it.

Try this: Make creative thinking and innovation part of people’s deliverables; for instance, x per cent of the bonus is to reward people for pushing the boundaries and having the guts to disrupt.


Innovation benefits from a wide range of perspectives. I have seen many business only engage a handful of people for their innovation. Often these people are from “the creative side of the business”, such as Brand, Marketing, Innovation or even external agency partners. Often these people come from similar backgrounds and thus think in similar ways. Innovation needs a whole lot more than that and tapping into this select few is

Try this: Get people from all sorts of teams. Even from teams you do not deem “creative”. You’ll be surprised what people will come up with.

So, in short: before you ask to skill up your people, take a hard look at yourself and make sure you are leading by example.

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