It is said that creativity and leadership are
a great team. Some say they hold the key to brand. In the
case of three very different companies, this has been true
they are the Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group and Australia's
Yet, working in a creative industry, I have
heard so many in senior management positions say "I just
can't be creative". My view is that creativity can be
learned. For the successful manager or CEO, wanting to play
a role in promoting development, being creative represents
the greatest opportunity and hardest challenge.
In the case of Tata Salt, a brand of Tata Chemicals,
it was creativity on the problem of iodine and health that
launched it to where today it has 41 per cent share of the
branded salt market. For Aditya Birla Group, creativity has
been to break down the borders within its diverse operations
to become one company. And for Macquarie, branding creativity
was to link itself with one of the oldest names in Australian
history, Governor Lahlan Macquarie while building a reputation
for entrepreneurial flair.
Each of these demonstrate that becoming creative
is not necessarily about become another Einstein or Picasso.
They do show that if you lock into your own creative juices,
you will become a better leader and push your brand forward.
Here are some quick creativity tips from my
study of how advertising creatives work, balanced by how corporates
have achieved their goals:
Re-build an open mind
When we were kids everything was new and we had an open way
of looking at things. It's worth trying to get this back now
that you are in leadership. As you become more open and more
creative, your leadership persona will develop.
For the Aditya Birla Group, the challenge to
open the mind was expressed by chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla,
"Before we can truly benefit from a borderless world,
we need to build a borderless organisation. We visualise free
flow of knowledge and information across the group."
The company adopted five core values: integrity, commitment,
passion, seamlessness and speed.
The mind of Tata Salt leadership was certainly
open in the early 1980s when the World Trade Organisation
and the ministry of health identified a health issue for India
and it was decided to iodise salt as the only way to deliver
the solution cost effectively to the nation. At the same time,
the company ran an awareness campaign on goitre and the role
of iodine in solving the problem. The twin strategy had an
economic and social benefit.
As Satish Sohoni, chief operating officer, food
additives business, Tata Chemicals, says "This is the
single largest penetrated brand in the Tata Group. It embodies
the Tata brand, evoking respect, partnership and trust."
Don't censor yourself
One of my colleagues would be the one to say "I know
this is a dumb question, but
" and then he'd ask
the very question that was on everyone's mind. We don't ask
these dumb questions because our mind acts as a censor. It
says "you should know" or "they will laugh
Just because you are in a leadership role, this
does not mean you know everything. Importantly, you are not
expected to know everything, so you'll lead better by being
the first to say; "I don't know".
Move on from mistakes
I watched a creative team of art director and copywriter working
on an advertising campaign. Some of their words or ideas were
clearly ridiculous. As they talked, one or the other would
come up with a lousy line or a weak joke. They just moved
on. They did not keep reminding each other of the pathetic
effort. They did not fear mistakes; nor should you as a leader.
The Tata brand has shown that, like human beings,
it is fallible, but when it does make mistakes it is candid
enough to acknowledge its error, correct it and move on. This
is consistent with the Tata brand, that "behaviour is
Keep active, be involved
Creativity needs feeding, and the best food is the wonderful
diversity of human life. If all you do is work and attend
board meetings, you will become dull. To keep your creative
energies growing, get out of the chair. See a movie. If you
must watch TV, watch something you would normally reject.
You don't have to sit glued to the business news or current
affairs. Buy a different magazine. Don't keep closing more
and more doors on the outside world; start to smash some of
them open. That's a big step towards real leadership.
Macquarie Bank has a strong system that provides
its businesses with a balance between operating freedom and
controls on risk limits and observance of professional standards.
This combination fosters an entrepreneurial spirit among staff.
Tata Salt has not rested on its "brand
laurels". In 2002 it launched a campaign allocating funds
from each sale to the education of under privileged children,
benefiting 30,000 in the first year and 40,000 in the second.
Leave things alone
Sometimes you need to get up from the boardroom table, walk
away and not come back to the issue for a while. "Let's
sleep on that" can be good advice, and it takes a leader
to know when to say it.
As Birla expresses it, "Great businesses
are never built on the quick sands of opportunism. I reiterate
that, if living by our values means perhaps growing at a pace
slower than we would otherwise have liked, so be it. For us,
leadership lies at the heart of knowing what we stand for."
Act on the idea
Once creativity arises, you have to put it to work. Pass it
on, write it down, take the action, share the idea with friends
or colleagues or take any action that commits the creativity
to memory. One of the big differences between real leaders
and the rest is the courage to put ideas into action.
When Macquarie Bank was first established in
1969 it was called Hill Samuel Australia Ltd. But 15 years
later it knew it needed a more relevant brand and it chose
to be named after Australia's most successful governor, Lachlan
Macquarie. He created the country's first bank and solved
a supply of coinage problem by buying Spanish silver dollars,
punching out the middle to create two coins for every one,
and adding 25 per cent to the total worth of the coins. The
idea was strong, and Macquarie Bank still stick with it today.
For Aditya Birla Group a strong activity to change the brand
has been on the people front. Birla says "Over the last
several years our focus as regards people has been, in a nutshell,
to build a meritocracy. The most obvious outcome of our efforts
on the people front is that our brand as an employer has enhanced
significantly, enabling us ready access to some of the best
minds and talent available in the country."
To get ahead in leadership today, you need more
than technical or professional skills. You need to be more
than a well-read lawyer or accountant, more than an MBA, and
more than a management expert you also need creative
communication, the ability to get the message across. Even
in sports, the most successful sporting figures are also good,
highly trained, communicators. It is also vital for those
who want to get more out of community involvement.
The beauty about learning good communication
is that you win in both ways you'll be more likely
to be a leader and you will be happier. We are living in a
time that is uncertain yet creative. Leaders need to think
about the wonderful opportunities ahead. Economic development
and growth depend on creative leadership. Knowledge is exploding.
We can talk to anybody, anywhere and anytime.
Even corporations are looking for friends and
partners. Nothing is impossible. A sense of creativity will
make this century great. The human spirit can make it different.
To develop as a leader, get out of your seats. Talk to someone.
Talk to employees you've hardly even met. Talk to your family.
Communicate. The future awaits us, what are you going to do?
is a communication consultant, professional speaker and trainer.
His training programs include creating a corporate communication
culture, and how managers and leaders can create engaged employees.
Stephen is the author of You Can Communicate (Pearson 2002).
He is a member of the committee of management of the Australia
India Business Council.