Most Important Leadership Quality

By Hans Norden

Recently, IBM published the results of over 1500 face-to-face interviews with CEOs, General Managers and senior public sector leaders from around the world, in a paper called “Capitalizing on Complexity”.

They found that the most pressing challenges facing CEOs today are:

Coping with change
Increased complexity

The interviewed leaders identified Creativity as the most important leadership quality for coping with change in an increasingly complex environment.

Unfortunately, there’s no Dummy’s Guide, or Best Practice to becoming creative. Just as much Art schools do not produce artists, Business schools do not produce creative leaders. Art and business Schooling only provide the component parts, each with their own theories and methodologies. The component parts of a business are business functions or processes such as Finance, Branding, Information Technology, Logistics, Marketing, Leadership or Social Media. Each component part has its own tools of the trade.

The magic with which one organizes or arranges component parts into a business system or network is called creativity. Creativity is a form of craftsmanship; knowing which combinations of component parts has structural integrity given a certain environment and which combinations will fail that critical test.


Curricula of business education, the questions business people ask online in a forum such as LinkedIn and advise given in blog posts or other articles suggest that leaders are only interested in collecting the right component parts while trusting that implementation (read organizing and arranging) will magically take care of itself.

Everything, even human beings, is reduced to component parts and classified according to their inherent commodity specifications. The advantage of specs is that you eliminate qualitative data and now only have to deal with quantitative data. Quantitative data can be compared and ranked as if they are fully interchangeable within any industry, any business, any Geo-Political environment, and any Socio-Economic situation, now and in the future; very efficient.

As a result, professional conversations tend to revolve around the following pursuits:

Which component part is more important than another?
What are the top # of steps/mistakes/secrets/characteristics/etc. of any component part or to achieve any specific desired outcome?
Which tool to use for addressing a specific symptom?

My mind conjures up this image of a business-improvement store with numbered isles and shelves filled with component parts and tools. I see leaders shopping for the cheapest, best, fastest, most efficient component parts and tools, filling a cart and pushing it to the check-out counter.


Complexity is the result of relationships and interdependencies among component parts and the tight coupling of scarce resources that actually perform the intended business functions, such as people and computer systems. Every additional resource, component part or function ads to the complexity.

Therefore, the challenge that complexity poses to leaders is the interaction among component parts. How a business performs is thus dependent on relationships and interdependencies among component parts. One can invest in only the very best of component parts but when they fail to interact with each other properly, the business system will perform poorly due to unnecessary friction and conflict.


Creativity is the art of organizing component parts and directing them intelligently towards the realization of a business’ purpose. Creativity is thus concerned with relationships between means & ends and cause & effect, which require the perception of a business as a singular, unique, integrated and open network of component parts. An interesting characteristic of craftsmen is that they truly KNOW their tools; they need fewer of them and realize better results than any apprentice equipped with the latest and greatest could ever wish for. When one asks them about that you’ll find out that they just don’t know any better; for them there’s just one way to do it; the Right way!

In other words, leaders need to appreciate the character and nature of the business system for which they are responsible. How a business system or network behaves is all about the interactions among people, processes and technology; in THAT order. Remember that neither tools nor technology make a business succeed but people do and people use their minds. Creativity, how one organizes and directs component parts and wield one’s tools, is a mind game for which there are no best practices. When it LOOKS good it seems to have integrity.

The first step towards creative leadership is studying the character and nature of a business system so that you’ll know instinctively what it is doing at any time and what action is required in order to meet a set performance. Pilots call that study basic Stick & Rudder skills, which is far more realistic, and far more likely to save lives than any heroic measure. And yet, over 80% of all errors are skill based. We need more true craftsmen at the top of a business!

Reprinted from the Anticipated Outcome Blog by permission of the Author, DC member Hans Norden.


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