Are creative people less likely to become leaders?

Excerpt from the recent article “A Bias against ‘Quirky’? Why Creative People Can Lose Out on Leadership Positions” in Knowldge@Wharton.

“Creativity is good — and more critical than ever in business. So why do so many once-creative companies get bogged down over time, with continuous innovation the exception and not the norm? Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller and colleagues from Cornell University and the Indian School of Business have gained critical insight into why.

In a paper titled, “Recognizing Creative Leadership: Can Creative Idea Expression Negatively Relate to Perceptions of Leadership Potential?” to be published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Mueller and co-authors Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell and Dishan Kamdar of ISB undertook three studies to examine how creative people were viewed by colleagues. The troubling finding: Those individuals who expressed more creative ideas were viewed as having less, not more, leadership potential. The exception, they found, was when people were specifically told to focus on charismatic leaders. In that case, creative types fared better. But the bottom line is that, in most cases, being creative seems to put people at a disadvantage for climbing the corporate ladder. “It is not easy to select creative leaders,” says Mueller. ‘It takes more time and effort to recognize a creative leader than we might have previously thought.'”

If this study is correct, could this be the reason why innovation in many companies has yet to reach to secior executive levels. Or has the study missed important points. What is your opinion and have you ever met a truly creative senior executive? Would Apple’s Steve Jobs from the viewpoint of the studybe the exception rather than the norm?

Have your say here?



One thought on “Are creative people less likely to become leaders?

  1. Thank you for being so astute as to question the study! It looks like you are one of few who are raising the question – as you should.

    You ask if the study is correct. Well, in my opinion after hours of review I think it is so flawed as to not be useful.

    It is tempting to jump on the bandwagon and beat the drum of innovators being prejudiced against in hiring but please think about it before you accept the commentary of the subject research paper.

    They measured something but it is not clear what they actually measured. I’m surprised that Wharton let them push this out to the popular press. The first big problem is that they primarily used college students on average just barely old enough to legally buy a beer. So that raises the question: what do they really know about creativity, innovation and leadership to begin with at that age? Then they used internal raters of innovation and leadership without any real statistical control between the test groups. The questions themselves were poorly selected and were likely to invoke a bias against the more innovative answers and thus make the presenters appear to have less leadership potential than those who gave less radical answers.

    It’s too bad that this type of “science” is polluting the field of leadership study.

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