The world needs creative Leaders. So why are they so rare?

Posted by on July 22, 2009 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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As you may know I try to keep an eye on the Harvard Business Review. Although many of their articles and books are theory-based, they seem to have recently adopted a much more practical approach. This week I came across this article about an address at a confernce by Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former President of India. The article was written by Navi Radjou who is the Executive Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Kalam’s lecture at our School was titled "Creative Leadership in the Global Knowledge Economy." In his engaging talk, Dr Kalam overviewed the dramatic socio-economic and technological shifts occurring worldwide, as the geopolitical and economic gravity shifts from West to East, the pace of technological change accelerates, and the world grapples with the increasing scarcity of resources.

To thrive in this turbulent world, Dr Kalam argued that corporations as well as nations desperately need what he calls "creative leaders," a new breed of visionary and empathetic leaders who act less as commanders and more as coaches, less as managers and more as facilitators, and who foster self-respect rather that demanding respect.

Drawing from his experience, Dr Kalam articulated eight key tenets of creative leadership that are critical for driving innovation and growth in the emerging global knowledge economy:

  1. The leader must have a vision for the organization
  2. The leader must have the passion to transform that vision into action
  3. The leader must be able to travel into an unexplored path
  4. The leader must know how to manage both success and failure
  5. The leader must have the courage to make decisions
  6. The leader should have nobility in management
  7. Every action of the leader should be transparent
  8. The leader must work with integrity and succeed with integrity

To illustrate his point, Dr Kalam cited leaders he has personally encountered who are/were imbued with these eight wisdom qualities. For instance, when India’s first satellite launch mission failed in 1979, the chairman of the Indian space agency Prof Satish Dhawan took full responsibility for the failure, even though Dr Kalam was actually the mission director. But the following year, when they successfully placed the first Indian-built satellite in orbit, Prof Dhawan didn’t attend the ensuing press conference; rather, he asked Dr Kalam to share the success story with the media, thus giving him full credit for the mission’s success.

As I was listening to Dr Kalam, I started counting with my fingers the leaders that I know — besides Dr Kalam — who actually embody these eight creative leadership attributes. I couldn’t count more than two or three! I was baffled. I am sure others in the audience conducted the same exercise and came to the same conclusion.

Indeed, as the world economy sank deeper into a recession over the last ten months, we got exposed to the utter lack of creative leadership across the corporate and political spheres.
As the recession worsened, rather than making bold decisions and courageously acting on them, CEOs of leading Fortune 500 firms behaved like the captain of the Titanic: they took no timely action to save their sinking companies, and refused to assume an iota of blame for their management failure. Lack of transparency — let alone nobility — was rampant among leading financial institutions, which eventually led to their downfall. And recent political scandals starkly remind us of the utter lack of integrity across the entire political spectrum.

As we emerge from the economic recession (which I actually view as a ‘value recession’), I sincerely hope that corporations and citizens will elect business and political leaders who practice creative leadership with nobility and integrity. In particular, I wish Indian corporate leaders follow Dr Kalam’s recommendation to act less as commanders and more as facilitators; otherwise Indian CEOs will fail to ignite and harness the creative minds of the 550 million young Indians. Finally, I share Dr Kalam’s dream that business schools around the world cultivate creative leaders endowed with a moral compass that allows them to work with integrity — and succeed with integrity.

I am eager to hear from you whom you consider as creative leaders, and what steps your organization is taking to produce such leaders.

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