What Leaders Can Do to Inspire Their Team’s Creativity

June 15, 2016 Katharina Lochner

team creativity

Inspiring Creativity and Innovation

Group brainstorming is not the method of choice for making a team come up with lots of creative ideas. The question is: how can we then promote creativity in a team? We know that having confidence in one’s own creativity is one key factor. How can we apply this finding to team settings though?

Recent research suggests that a team leader’s confidence in their ability to achieve creative goals, or so called ‘creative self-efficacy (CSE)’, makes teams more creative. Lei Huang from Auburn University, Dina V. Krasikova from University of Texas, and Dong Liu from Georgia University of Technology surveyed 544 employees and 106 supervisors at a large information technology company in the U.S. The researchers asked team leaders to rate their own CSE as well as their perceptions of the team’s creative outcomes. They asked followers to rate their creative process engagement, meaning the effort they expend on coming up with creative ideas. They found that, under leaders that were high on creative self-efficacy, teams were more creative and also more engaged into producing creative outcomes. This relationship became even stronger when there was a good leader-member exchange (LMX). So teams are more creative when their manager is confident to be able to achieve creative outcomes and when there is a good relationship between leader and team members.

There is an outline of the study on BPS Occupational Research Digest. The authors of this blog also discuss a caveat of this research: the team’s creative outcome was assessed by asking the supervisors themselves, so it was a purely subjective measure. This means that in fact the team leaders might perceive outcomes to be more creative, while in fact they are not.

However, there might be a few more aspects to consider. Is it really the leaders’ confidence in their own creativity? Or could it also be the fact that they are confident in their team members’ creativity? Or on a more general level, is this just one particular case of the well-known phenomenon that leaders’ confidence in their teams boosts team performance? There is for example one more recent study that found this in the context of sports teams. All of this again can be summarised under the concept of transformational leadership that states different leader behaviours that improve team performance: idealised influence (leader as a role model), inspirational motivation (leader is inspiring), intellectual stimulation (leader challenges followers to be creative) and individualised consideration (leader demonstrates concern for followers).

Now what does this mean for teams and their leaders? Leaders who believes that they and their team can solve problems creatively and that have a good relationship with their team members will make their teams more creative. Thus for organisations this means that they should try and find out how confident their leaders are when it comes to creativity. If their CSE is low they might try and develop it. As outlined in the Occupational Research Digest this is possible. A first step could simply be acknowledging whenever leaders have solved a problem creatively. Doing this again and again will then not only be beneficial for creative outcomes, but it will also create a more positive and appreciative climate within the company.

References:

Dionne, S. D., Yammarino, F. J., Atwater, L. E, & Spangler, W. D. (2004). Transformational leadership and team performance. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 17(2), 177-193

Fransen, K., Steffens, N. K., Haslam, S. A., Vanbeselaere, N., Vande Broek, G. and Boen, F. (2015). We will be champions: Leaders’ confidence in ‘us’ inspires team members’ team confidence and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. doi: 10.1111/sms.12603

Huang, L., Krasikova, D., & Liu, D. (2016). I can do it, so can you: The role of leader creative self-efficacy in facilitating follower creativity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 132, 49-62. DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2015.12.002

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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