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Creative Leadership

Last updated 23rd Sep 2022

Most of the leadership models discussed in this publication date back to the earlier thoughts on the subject. Creative leadership is one of the more recent additions to this area of study, and in some ways has redefined the way people think about this topic.

Robert Sternberg of Yale University, with funding from the Army Research Institute, the U.S. Institute for Educational Sciences, and the National Science Foundation is responsible for developing the model of creative leadership. These three agencies charged Sternberg with the task of outlining a model for the development of expert leaders.

Creative Leadership Goal

One product of this research was a goal statement, around which the model was developed:

"Good leadership is, in large part, a decision. Developing leadership is thus guiding future leaders in the kinds of questions they will ask and the decisions they will make about how to use their skills."

Sternberg points out that one of the keys to achieving this goal was to understand traditional approaches to leadership as well as newer models, leveraging the strengths of each. For example, more traditional approaches emphasize attributes, traits, and behaviors. Current theories include those from researchers such as Bass, with his thoughts on transformational and transactional leadership styles.


The foundation of the creative leadership model is built upon the skills and attitudes of what Sternberg terms "expert leaders." Simply stated, this expertise comes from WICS:

  • Wisdom: allows the leader to balance and understand the long and short-term impact of new ideas on oneself and others.
  • Intelligence: the skills needed to analyze ideas to determine if, in fact, the creative ideas are good ones.
  • Creativity: the ability to generate new ideas using creative skills.
  • Synthesized: to make ideas functional, and convince others the idea is valuable.

For many people, it is difficult to think creatively. They know what they're supposed to do, but for some reason they don't always do the right thing. This can occur because of internal or external burdens, such as political pressure at work. This can also occur when someone knows what needs to be done, but they're just not sure how to do it.

By putting these two concepts together - what it takes to be a creative leader, and the obstacles they encounter - it's possible to see how Sternberg draws the following conclusion:

Creative leadership is not just about having the ability or necessary skills; it is also about choosing to lead. Not everyone is up to this task.

Paradigms and Creative Leadership Styles

In this model, Sternberg is particularly sensitive to the role of creative leaders, and how their ideas mesh with the current operating environment or paradigm. The model identifies eight types of leaders, and three levels of paradigm acceptance:

Styles Accepting Current Paradigms

  • Replicators: individuals that do what previous leaders did, making only small changes.
  • Redefiners: recycles the ideas of previous leaders, but they are able to redefine the reason for doing it.
  • Forward Incrementors: moves the followers forward in small increments. They tend to continue down the same path started by previous leaders.
  • Advanced Forward Incrementors: moves followers well beyond the efforts of past leaders. They may even move well beyond the comfort zone of most followers.

Styles Rejecting Current Paradigms

  • Redirectors: picks up where the past leader left off, but then takes followers in a new direction.
  • Reconstructors: revisits the efforts of former leaders, perhaps even those of the distant past, and then starts to move in a new direction.
  • Reinitiators: moves the followers in a new direction from a completely different starting point.

Styles Integrating Current Paradigms

  • Synthesizers: examines two or more ideas from the past, integrates these ideas, and moves forward from that point.

To summarize the above; the creative leadership model and the styles described therein can accept, reject, or integrate the current way of doing things. Sternberg believes the style that will be most successful depends on the leader's abilities, the job that needs to be done, and the impact or interactions with others.

About the Author - Creative Leadership

Moneyzine Editor

Moneyzine Editor