Creative Destruction—The Role of the Leader!
Believe it or not, one of us at the Kimono actually worked for a really great boss once. This boss earned a bit of fame with a maxim that he’d spit out on a moment’s notice. His maxim was: the very best leaders influence how followers see the world around them. From what we get at the Kimono, many followers see gobs of sadness, despair, and, generally, hell all around them. But it got us all to start thinking—can leaders really frame up a better world for their followers?
According to Professor Naidoo, the answer is YES and he offers some good research in a Leadership Quarterly article that you can find HERE.
This researcher launched a rather bold claim. He said that leaders influence follower creativity by how they frame issues. And he based it on the following logic. When leaders frame issues as opportunities, they are, in fact, encouraging followers to approach and engage a problem in a creative way and to take liberties to seize upon the opportunity!
In contrast, leaders can frame the issue as a threat. And, according to the Prof, threat-framing puts us in an avoidance posture where we take less risks. Because risk taking is critical to creative thinking, the reasoning goes that creativity will suffer when leaders frame the work context as a threat, as opposed to, an opportunity.
The Envelope Please!
This scholar got sneaky. He got an actor to pretend he was the Provost of Student Recruiting at a university on the East Coast. And the students were divided into two camps to watch a video of this so-called leader of student recruiting. In the first scenario, the actor assumed a positive orientation while facing the challenge of declining enrollment. The actor thundered, ‘I believe that our best strategy for resolving this [enrollment] crisis is to focus on the potential that this crisis presents!’
The other group of students got the Debbie Downer. Here, the Provost of Student Recruiting framed the enrollment crisis as a threat with statements like, ‘the potential damage to the university can’t be ignored’.
Both groups were then told to come up with a new logo to deal with the enrollment crisis. Two trained, independent raters or design experts then rated the logos that the students designed. They looked at inter-rater reliability (did the experts agree on their assessments, generally) and it was a solid YES.
And here’s what we’ve been waiting for; when the leader framed the enrollment crisis as an opportunity, creativity scores were meaningfully higher and were also statistically significant. That means the difference between the groups was not due to chance or a freak event.
The cool element of this paper is that he replicated the same results at a different university hundreds of miles away. This time, it was a parking crisis. As in the initial study, opportunity-framing by the leader, as opposed to threat-framing, resulted in higher creativity scores to address the issue.
Why Should We Care?
The Kimono really does care about the quality of leadership all around us. From this study, and as leaders, we should know that words mean things. And the way we frame up a problem—as an opportunity or a threat—can mean all the difference in the world.
So, Kimono says choose our words carefully!