Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Creativity & Innovation Depend On Your Leadership Style

You can increase creativity and innovation of your work group by varying your leadership style, that is, your roles and behaviors with your subordinates. Four useful styles exist, each with effective behaviors:

Style I. DIRECTIVE STYLE: Your predominant behaviors: telling, asserting, training, and modeling.

Style II. PARTICIPATIVE STYLE: Your predominant behaviors: coaching, negotiating, and collaborating.

Style III. CATALYTIC STYLE: Your predominant behaviors: encouraging, facilitating, and consulting.

Style IV. NON-DIRECTIVE STYLE: Your predominant behavior: delegating.

Match your style to your subordinate’s ability, willingness, and confidence to work independently.

That is, if he or she:

has the willingness to do the task

has the ability and a high performance level

has the confidence he or she can accomplish the task.

Use the directive style if the person has low abilities to operate independently. Otherwise, use styles that exert less control.

What is your leadership style?

A quick look may reveal your natural tendencies. Circle the number that best describes how close the style resembles your leadership style.


I. Directive Leader:

I enjoy taking charge and getting things done. I prefer specificity and objectivity. I believe if I clarify and define the facts and procedures, then personalities and feelings should have no significant influence. I like to decide the way to do a task, and then tell the people in my work group how to do it. I have a sincere wish for my people to succeed at what they do. I generally solve problems and disagreements alone. People sometimes resent my controlling behavior. Sometimes they perceive me as dictating, dominating or overprotective.


II. Participative Leader:

I believe that hard work and learning helps the people in my work group to realize their potential. I put my energy and focus my commitment on their development as well as on accomplishing the task. I solicit their ideas and show a great interest in their work. I give frequent informal feedback and coaching on their performance. I negotiate disagreements through mutual problem solving procedures. Sometimes they perceive me as compromising too soon.


III. Catalytic Leader:

I ensure that people in my work group grow in confidence and ability to perform their tasks. I recognize achievements and let them make decisions and solve their own problems. I listen non-evaluatively and encourage them with a warm personal approach. I solve problems and disagreements in a catalytic way, that is, I do not actually involve myself except as a catalyst. They sometimes perceive me as patronizing, condescending and meddling.


IV. Non-Directive Leader:

I like to concentrate on the big picture and enjoy planning the future. I delegate. I assign tasks or make requests, and allow the people in my work group to work and make decisions on their own. I occasionally monitor their work to stay informed and make sure needed resources are available. I let the people in my work group set their own pace and determine the ways to accomplish their work assignments. I interact minimally in a straightforward factual way, with little or no daily contact. I ensure that disruptions beyond my work group’s control do not occur. I do not make decisions or solve problems for my work group. Sometimes they perceive me as avoiding, withdrawing, permissive or indifferent.



To help your team become more creative and effective, use skills from all four styles. Learn to do this by adding one new skill at a time.

For example, you might learn…

how to assert for a more effective directive style

how to coach and how to negotiate disagreements for a more effective participative style

how to listen and respond non-evaluatively for a more effective catalytic style

how to delegate for a more effective non-directive style

Change Your Habits To Help Creativity & Innovation

Managers have habits that may be productive in some situations, and still impair creativity and innovation at work. For example…..

The Quick Fixer settles for the first adequate solution to a problem, and thereby halts creative ability to find a better solution. Avoid the Quick Fix by setting a quota for 5-10 different ideas before choosing a solution. Another way is to set a time minimum and non-evaluatively list new ideas for at least 5 minutes.

The Stifler is a habit of managers that involves quick negative criticism of new ideas. Premature negative criticism is one of the most devastating stiflers of creativity at work. Still, a manager must give honest opinions about new ideas. Try pretending the new ideas come from your boss to insure that each idea is given careful consideration and respect.

The Gauntlet is a habit carried out in meetings where each idea has to run the gauntlet of the group’s critical thinking before it is taken seriously. The danger is that most ideas are lost because one or several people dominate the discussion, or control through status and position. The antidote to the Gauntlet is non-evaluative listening. Merely reducing evaluation is not enough. The habit of total non-evaluation when listening or listing ideas is absolutely necessary.

The Timer is a habit of managers that can be very productive, and yet, if overdone, will impair creativity at work. Time is needed for creative problem solving: to explore and define problems; to non-evaluatively generate all types of ideas; to generate criteria to evaluate ideas; to evaluate and select ideas; to develop the solution to be implemented. Short cuts produce solutions of lower quality and less creativity.

The Controller is the habit of not giving enough freedom to people to decide what to do or how to do it. Still, good management is essential to achieve results, and some balance is needed between total freedom and consultation with others. To stimulate creativity at work, managers can form the habit of setting direction, of giving a clear idea of the end product that is wanted, of delegating within people’s areas of expertise, and then, taking the risk of letting people do their own job.

The Rewarder is another habit of managers that can seem very productive, and yet impairs creativity. External rewards, or even focusing on external rewards, lowers creativity. In contrast, self-direction, in which internal motives operate, increases creativity. Internal motivation to do a job includes challenge, enjoyment, interest, novelty, the sense of control over one’s work, curiosity, etc. Focus the attention of people on the daily enjoyment and challenge, and watch creativity soar at work.

Other habits of managers interfere with creativity at work

One of these is not expecting people to be creative, in part because of job descriptions.

Or not tolerating ambiguity or loose ends, and moving to closure too quickly.

Or over emphasizing reason and logic, coupled with a belief that fantasy and intuition are a waste of time.

Or not allowing creative people to individualize their working conditions.

Or not encouraging humor.

Or failing to allot time for ideas to incubate in the mind and mature in the hidden complexities of creative thought.

Or not questioning why or how things can be improved.

Or playing it safe and not taking risks.

Or believing that… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Many managers are unaware that their own habits, often productive, can lower creativity at work. The good news is that habits can be changed by substituting a new productive habit for an old, outworn one.

What spoils your team’s creative thinking.

What stimulates creative thought? Ask your team, directly or with questionnaires from my book.

Some people will respond they want more freedom of choice: time to think creatively; freedom to choose what to work on; freedom to decide how to accomplish goals. Some caution, however.

First: Farris1 reported that the most innovative N.A.S.A. teams, as judged by senior management, included mainly those whose supervisors’ leadership styles remained moderate, neither too tight nor too loose.

(1 Farris, G. F. (1973) The Technical Supervisor. Technical Review 75 (5), April Issue.)

Second: Andrews and Pelz2 found that scientists in industry who were judged most effective by others in terms of scientific contributions and usefulness to the organization, had moderate controls, neither too tight nor too loose.

(2 Pelz, D. C. and F. M. Andrews (1976) Scientists In Organizations. Institute for Social Research. University of Michigan.)

See also my books on ‘Team Creativity At Work’ and Glassman3 for a summary of this topic.

(3 ‘Team Creativity At Work’ and my article Glassman, Edward (1986) “Managing for creative thinking: Back to basics in R&D.” R&D Management. Volume 16: pages 175-183.)

This research indicates that the leadership habit of exercising too little control works less well. In other words, for highly innovative outcomes, complete freedom of choice does less well than moderate freedom combined with supportive consultations.

And checkout my NEW 2016 book: “CREATIVITY FOR UNCREATIVE PEOPLE: How To Be More Creative Than You Think You Are.”


©2016 by Edward Glassman


His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available. CLICK here OR HERE

Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.