Creativity and the Successful Leader

Mary Marshall stained glass leadership development
Stained glass window by Mary Marshall

I work with a lot of amazing CEOs and one of the things I noticed is that they almost always have an outside interest that in some way involves creativity. I took up Stained Glass Art a little over three years ago and was amazed at how “alive” it made me feel. Additionally, I was able to solve a lot of my business problems while working on my glass, (and cutting my fingers!), when I wasn’t even thinking about them. I wondered if that was the case with other leaders?

I asked Kim Obbink, CEO of Filter Digital, here in Seattle what “creativity” meant to her and how it affected her role as CEO. Here’s what Kim had to say:
sinclair snow Kim Obbink
Sinclair Snow by Kim Obbink

“I have been painting and drawing since I was very young. It was then, and continues to be, the one thing that I absolutely must do alone to do well. It’s my meditation and gives me all of the same benefits: peace, quiet, total abandonment of stress, and focus. I lead with vision, and so practicing executing on a vision through artwork is a great reminder that this is essentially the same value that I bring to my job. Envision something – the future state – then make it happen.”

I love how Kim uses the future as the blank canvas of the business and to paint it – one only needs to see it, then make it happen. This is creativity at it’s best. Kim’s gift as a leader is that not only does she see the “painted future,” she is also able to help others see it as well. Seeing something and being able to engage others in the vision to make it happen is a talent. Were it not for Kim’s creativity and ability to not only envision the future but to paint it for others to see, the business would not have been as successful as it is today.

Creativity is not one of the “soft” skills that only certain people have and it’s not “weak.” It’s a door into a future for the business that creates all sorts of possibilities. Think about when you’ve been stuck on a business problem and I mean really stuck. You know that the same level of thinking that created the problem is not going to solve it but yet you can’t see a way out.  Creativity is your friend here. It’s allowing all those possibilities that you dismissed to come back into play. An idea will come and a solution will follow.

The process of being creative outside of the workplace will allow you to build that muscle of “creativity” inside the workplace. It will start working all the time because you have practiced your reps and built up your access to creativity as a strength.