How to make your people more creative

Mark Schenk at Anecdote posted an article a while ago on the impact of management style on individual creativity and innovation.  He included a quote from an article by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School on the importance of team leader behaviour.

Teresa found that individual creativity is a critical element of productivity, efficiency and work quality in today’s complex work in organisations. This article gives five key leader behaviours that have a positive influence on people’s feelings – and thus on individual creativity.  My paraphrase is as follows:

  • Support people emotionally.
  • Monitor people’s work in a particularly positive way – give positive feedback on their work, or give them information that they need to do their work better.
  • Recognise people for good performance, particularly in public settings.
  • Consult with people on the team – ask for their views, respect their opinions, and act on their needs and their wishes to the extent that it’s possible.
  • Collaborate – actually spend time working with team members on specific tasks.

I was particularly struck by the second of these – “monitor work in a positive way”.  This has neatly encapsulated the whole field of performance coaching in a single sentence.  I recently attended training on this from Leading Edge Consulting, an organisation based in Adelaide, Australia.  While this was mostly aimed at Sales Managers, the principles apply to any staff leadership situation.  (They don’t appear to have a web site – contact phone number is +61 8 8373 3000.)

There is a lot more detail to the full course, but it included the results of a number of recent studies on motivational techniques.  These strongly supported the benefits of positive motivation.  It would appear that those that talk highly of negative motivation are merely the lucky few that have survived it.

I would suggest caution with the fifth point – there is a fine line between collaborating and being seen to be interfering.  I believe that the way to go about this should vary with individuals and their own work styles.

This full set highlights the reality of how to best manage people.  The manager is almost in the position of being the servant of the team – certainly the manager should be the mentor of the team, caring for and nurturing the individuals, but with an eye on the team’s goals and accountabilities. 

This is in stark contrast to the “command and control” approach that many managers seem to believe is necessary.  It is almost as if these managers are afraid of trusting their people; or they may have the expectation imposed on them either from above or from their own experience that they have to be seen to be taking control – particularly when times are tough. 

I have found that when you actually trust and respect people, your trust is honoured in the vast majority of cases.


  1. […] The next section refers to the material in this post on creativity in leadership, and briefly touches on my thoughts on Change Management. I then go over some of my past experiences with a Knowledge Management Toolkit, and how we went about developing it.  The final part of the presentation picks up on a recent post on story at Anecdote, which includes a link to the story of “the one-armed boy”. […]

  2. Partha –

    Thanks for your comment. I would need to understand your environment to be able to answer this question, but a good starting point would be to look at what your expectations of the team are and how this is communicated to them. You would also need to look at their current remuneration plans and what rewards and recognition they are receiving. I take it that you are based in Singapore? I will be over there on 30 Aug to 1 Sep – happy to meet with you and discuss further if you like.

    – Keith.

  3. Hi,

    thanks are bringing this to my mind as these are the five points that are the pillars of a good team.. However need your help in managing people who are not ready to change their three years old unacceptable thought process.

    Would be grateful if i can get a response..!!!

  4. Some time back there was a wonderful essay, published in the WSJ, by Edmund Phelps, recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. It addressed the impact of Entrepreneurship and the importance of creating stimulating work environments. Here are a couple of quotes from the essay.

    “The challenges that arise in developing a new idea and in gaining its acceptance in the marketplace provide the workforce with high levels of mental stimulation, problem-solving, employee-engagement and, thus, personal growth.”

    “Thus, high dynamism tends to bring a pervasive prosperity to the economy on top of the productivity advances and all the self-realization going on.”

    Your point that managers need be mentors (teachers) is so important in fostering innovation. Too often organizations can get caught up in unproductive searches for “the answer” often found in the “command and control” climates you refer to–encouraging an information mining mindset rather than creative adaptive solutions.

    Here is a link to the WSJ article if you’re interested. I believe it is archived so it may require a couple bucks to access, but it’s definitely worth the read.

    I really enjoyed your post…great stuff! Thanks!

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