Human resources professionals have been tackling 21st century challenges for better than a decade. But determining just how a bombardment of change affects leadership, innovation, and creativity sometimes get lost in the effort to keep up with an array of dizzying developments. Research exists, though, that can help focus HR’s thinking.
Creative Age leadership
Employee training company Skillsoft prepared a white paper after conducting a survey in 2012 about effective leadership in the 21st century. The paper’s executive summary says the survey was meant “to compare the traits that defined 20th century leaders with the characteristics of their 21st century counterparts.”
The survey found that 21st century leaders “must be more flexible, collaborative, and creative” than 20th century leaders, a notion that has yet to catch up with some employers. “While many organizations understand how leadership is changing, their cultures have not yet adapted to encourage these new leadership traits,” the summary states.
The white paper identifies six top leadership characteristics effective 21st century leaders should possess:
- They should have a global perspective.
- They should be forward-looking.
- They should be relationship-builders.
- They should be of high integrity
- They should be collaborative.
- They should be open-minded.
The white paper claims that companies that recognize and capitalize on initiative, creativity, and passion are the ones that will thrive in what it calls the Creative Age. “The upshot is that today’s workers are looking for leaders who have a broad vision, both geographically and temporally, who have integrity, and who want to work with others to form a new vision of the future for their organizations,” the paper states.
“At the heart of this is for leaders to not only be creative in their own thinking but to foster a culture of innovation through supporting those who diverge from the norm in their thinking, build relationships, tolerate risk, persist in their ideas, take action, and strive for deeper meaning in everything they do,” the paper says.
Tips for fostering creativity
Here are a few ideas Skillsoft offers on how leaders at various levels of an organization can foster creativity.
- Understand what you can control. Leaders preparing to tackle projects who take the time to write down the things they can control and the things they can’t are likely to find that they can control more than they think.
- Understand time use. When considering goals to accomplish, leaders should take a close look at how much time they spend concentrating on those goals and how much time is used on lower-priority tasks.
- Recognize the top motivator. “Leaders may think they can dictate obedience, hope for loyalty, and even buy expertise, but these qualities no longer constitute real competitive advantage,” the paper states. “Instead, we need to foster an environment in which people feel connected, engaged, and can move forward together to create next-generation, innovative value.”
- Reward effort. Instead of concentrating praise on just talent, leaders are encouraged to praise effort. The paper quotes author Stephen King as saying, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” The paper offers this advice: “Next time you see excellence, praise the effort it must have taken to get there. You’ll not only be rewarding excellence but also building growth and confidence.”
The paper concludes by saying that “elements of intentional challenge and adversity” are part of the process. “Unless we are reaching and stretching ourselves in both our behaviors and beliefs, we are short of our own potential.”
Innovation through hiring
Another study has found that although organizations value creativity and innovation, too many are missing opportunities to drive innovation through hiring. A report released in July 2011 presents evidence that most companies aren’t attracting innovative people even though 70 percent of the companies surveyed said innovation was more important at that time than it was just two years before. The report, “Innovate or Perish: Building a Culture of Innovation,” was a project of the Institute for Corporate Productivity and the 3M Corporation.
The research found that the top ways to recruit and select creative people weren’t being utilized by most companies. The report says that innovative and creative people know others with the same qualities, but less than seven percent of respondents used referral programs to attract innovative people.
The report also said that searching for and tracking innovative people in graduate school and other organizations is an effective way to hire creative people, but less than 15 percent of the high-performance organizations in the study used that strategy.
Many organizations in the study admitted that they don’t do a good job of managing innovation internally. Just 31 percent of the companies said a culture of innovation permeated their culture to a high extent.
Tammy Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR Web and print publications. In addition, she writes for HR Hero Line and Diversity Insight, two of the ezines and blogs found on HRHero.com.