by Lynn S. Schwebach
An environment of spreadsheets and analytics seems far removed from art studios, but those who study motivation and problem solving say there is much to learn from studies on creativity, and it directly applies to the business world.
According to management researchers, it’s a specific type of leadership that ultimately motivates employees, and creativity is essential element.
John J. Sosik, PhD, professor of management and organization at The Pennsylvania State University, Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies in Malvern, studies effective leadership. He used more than 35 studies to provide business owners and executives with an effective leadership framework.
Sosik defines effective leaders as possessing the following three transformational qualities:
- Effective leaders motivate instead of demand. They constantly communicate goals, visions, and expectations for excellence and high achievement.
- Effective leaders actively participate with those they lead, forming strong, positive relationships.
- Effective leaders encourage unconventional or out-of-the-box thinking, holding back judgment for even the most unorthodox suggestions. Individuals are encouraged to question their own assumptions, as well as the leader’s ideas and assumptions without fear of recriminations.
In “Transformational Leadership and Dimensions of Creativity: Motivating Idea Generation in Computer-Mediated Groups,” Sosik and colleagues defined transformational leaders as using intellectual stimulation, promoting consideration of different viewpoints, and inspiring collective action to promote group creativity. This article appeared in the Creativity Research Journal in 1998.
Following Sosik’s study two years later, and also appearing in the Creativity Research Journal, research by Dong I. Jung extended the research of Sosik.
Jung, PhD, a management professor at San Diego State University, explains in “Transformational and Transactional Leadership and Their Effects on Creativity in Groups,” that to understand transformational leadership, it must be compared to transactional leadership. His study on brainstorming activities compared groups under both transformational and transactional types of leadership.
Mangers base transactional leadership on a more traditional management style. Leaders typically dole out rewards in exchange for certain levels of performance. Higher performance means more positive reinforcement. The leader sets the objectives and measures performance and results against the achievement of these objectives.
Subordinates are not encouraged to enhance their creativity by challenging the status quo or trying out creative solutions to problems, according to Jung. Instead, leaders monitor performance based on pre-assigned standards, and the leader only intervenes when the follower deviates from those standards.
In Jung’s study, groups performed significantly less creatively under transactional leadership than under transformational leadership.
Transformational leaders proactively encourage followers or subordinates to take risks, deviating from conventional or traditional approaches to problem solving. Like Sosik, Jung defines this type of leadership as having the following three components:
Intellectual stimulation. Transactional leaders encourage out-of-box thinking by creating an intellectually stimulating environment. This means that individuals aren’t afraid of experimenting with innovative approaches to problem solving. They don’t fear ridicule, punishment, or recrimination.
Questioning long-held beliefs, values, and traditions are an important aspect of intellectual stimulation. The leader, by asking the right questions, making appropriate, nonjudgmental statements, and modeling open-minded behaviors, encourages this type of intellectual questioning.
Individualized consideration. Jung states that research supports the fact that more creative outcomes result when individuals know that the leader genuinely cares for and respects them. Jung stated: “Transformational leadership involves active and emotional relationships between leaders and followers.”
He wrote that studies show that democratic, considerate, and participative leader behaviors are highly correlated with subordinate creativity.
This also means promoting an environment where others in the group or on a team are required to respect and listen to their colleagues’ perspectives in a nonjudgmental, open-minded manner.
Inspirational motivation. Jung refers to research by Harvard University’s Teresa M. Amabile, a highly respected and widely cited creativity expert, researcher, and psychology PhD. Amabile, Baker Foundation Professor and Director of Research at Harvard Business School, has researched and written extensively on motivation within organizations.
She writes in her research that regardless of individuals’ creative abilities or talents, if they aren’t motivated to produce, these skills are never actualized. She writes that intrinsically motivated employees generate more creativity than extrinsically motivated employees.
Leaders are the key to nurturing intrinsic motivation. By inspiring individuals to bond as a team, developing their interests and self-concepts cohesively, the individuals increase their intrinsic motivation. Leaders also can change an environment to promote intrinsic motivation.
Changing environments means encouraging nontraditional approaches to problem solving, encouraging a collaborative approach, and refraining from completely controlling the goal-setting and goal-achieving process. Employees who feel integral to the future direction of the company will exhibit more innovation and novel outputs than those simply following a set of standards established by management or executives.
Amabile argues that only promising extrinsic rewards will deter individuals from developing the most creative outcomes. However, bonuses or rewards for meeting or exceeding expectations correlate more positively with intrinsic motivation.
While the business environment is not the same place as artists’ studios, intrinsic motivation is an aspect of all careers. Understanding how creativity plays a part in cultures that nuture creative problem solving will help businesses and executives reach better—and more profitable—outcomes.