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Is empowering leadership the key to creativity?

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Is empowering leadership the key to creativity?

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Most organizations want to be more creative and innovative than they have previously been.  As such, creativity is a topic I’ve discussed quite a few times on the blog.  I should say, that when I talk about creativity, I’m not generally talking about the kind of innovation that has more systemic and organizational roots, but more the kind of creative thinking we can all do as individuals.

For instance, I’ve written previously about how things such as caffeine, dim lighting and even a cafe level of noise can all boost our creative thought processes.  Studies have also shown how important observation skills are for creativity, and one even went as far as to suggest that being bored is actually great for igniting our creative thoughts.

From a collective perspective, studies have also highlighted the role competition can play in our creativity, and even the importance of group identity.

If nothing else, it highlights the variety of thinking surrounding this topic.  As a leader, is there anything you can do to try and invoke creative thoughts in your team (apart from dimming the lighting and so on)?

A recent paper set out to find out.  They focused in particular on the role of so called ‘empowering leadership’, and especially the way it interacts with things such as trust and the removal of uncertainty.  The study, conducted amongst employees at a Chinese manufacturing company, suggests that empowering leadership can boost creativity in environments where employees often look to avoid uncertainty and lack trust in their leaders.

“Empowering leadership may be especially effective at promoting creativity for those who have high levels of both uncertainty avoidance and trust in their supervisors. In addition, we also found that creative self-efficacy (the degree to which the employees themselves believed they are capable of being creative) was a psychological mechanism that explained the three-way interaction’s effect on creativity,” the researchers reveal.

What does empowerment mean?

In this context, the researchers suggest that employees can be empowered by their managers by being given the autonomy and freedom to do their work in the way they deem best.  Alternatively, they may be involved in the decision making process by their boss.  The study found that this was particularly effective for employees who would traditionally avoid the uncertain world of innovation.

The researchers believe that their findings should have some strong implications for the way managers engage with their teams.

“To effectively encourage employee creativity, managers need to be aware that their own leadership behavior plays a key role in eliciting creativity from employees with different characteristics,” they say. “Our results suggest that to set the stage for enhancing creativity in their employees, managers first need to establish whether they can demonstrate empowering leadership behavior.”

The one caveat provided by the researchers was that the empowerment had to be trusted by the employees.  If they regarded the responsibility given to them as somehow faked or insincere then it would have no impact upon their creative output.

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