Creative Leadership


Recently my friend David Lermy asked me to do a guest blog for him on Creative Leadership and I felt like I needed to share it with you here as well.

The world to a leader looks very much like a canvas. It may be an empty canvas. Or, it may already have some paint on it. But either way, a leader with no creativity won’t be able to do anything but sit down and play with the colors or existing concept and won’t make any forward progress. In most cases the un-creative leader will try to erase or paint over what had been started.

However, enter the creative leader. Before the creative leader even begins to dip his brush into the paint and well before that brush meets the canvas, they’ve already have in mind infinite possibilities about what could be. The creative leader in my mind should always questions authority. Even when it is his own. By doing so, he opens the door to vulnerability and the ability to change.

I’ll be honest, the thing that really gets me upset is how people think creative leadership = chaos; that is so far from the truth. Its if there is a clash of the two and we are all involved in the cosmic conflict between chaos and control/structure. But creative leadership is about understanding a particular subject with extreme intensity, and then expressing that intensity with the available means to the organization.

What about right or wrong? Well sometimes there is no single, right answer.  I was never good in Math, but I rocked in science. What the subjects teach is there is a single correct answer based upon logic and rules that are “black and white.” Creativity teaches one to be open to multiple perspectives and interpretations that are often “gray.” In the ultra-complex world we live in today, leadership needs to work comfortably in the “grayness” of society.

I define leadership as a creative action of leading a group of people or an organization and that leader must have a vision for the organization and the passion to transform that vision into action. More so they must be able to travel into an unexplored path and know how to manage both success and failure. Sure there are other traits like courage, being transparent, posses and succeed with integrity. But at the end of the day, creativity drives change and leads people in the pursuit of the vision.

Matt Knisely

Matt Knisely is an Emmy Award–winning visual storyteller, creative director, and author who loves telling stories of the extraordinary. Make sure you check out his book Framing Faith, it helps connect the seemingly unconnected, see the beauty right in front of us, and revealing how to be present in the moment.

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  1. Good post Matt!

  2. My initial thought on this piece (right or wrong): I aree with all the aspects of being a creative leader. However, my initial reading of the post says that the "gray" area is never the black or the white. As a leader of Marines I have to make the gray area disappear. We make life and death decisions and they deserve a creative leader who can decide on a single color. We make adjustments on the fly, but they are based on black or white decisions. If I told my Marines we were heading into combat and my plan was gray, they would tell me to "go pound sand sir." What led to the black or white decision is the creative leader who saw the all the colors of the rainbow, prayed about it, compared possible solutions and made the final decision. That is where the gray goes away….your definition of leadership is spot on….finally, In our line of work, a creative leader is one who does not question a lawful order; the creative leader can accomplish the mission that he has been assigned in any circumstance (again, lawful)….great thought provoking post. Thank you so much….Luke Chesla

    Lucas Chesla // Reply
  3. Luke. Thanks for your thoughts and you're bang on. I should have elaborated more on the "grey areas." A creative leader needs to know how to navigate those "grey areas" with precision and poise and making tough decisions to come to result conclusion no matter how "black or white" it is.

    When I mentioned this "A creative leader in my mind should always questions authority. Even when it is his own. By doing so, he opens the door to vulnerability and the ability to change." I never intended for anyone to question the chain of command or law, but rather have health dialog with oneself or executives in a professional and growth building moment. I believe and know that by disrupting and disturbing natural order from time to time in a professional way leads to exponential growth.

    • Matt, thanks for the reply. I concur with the comments. I thought your readers may enjoy a military perspective; a more rigid approach to leadership, such as the Marine Corps. Thanks again.

      lucas // Reply
  4. Matt, Great stuff, I've always been a believer of creatives challenging the process. Always makes me think of kids & coloring. In school we're always taught not to color outside the lines. I believe the creatives are the ones who always color outside the lines. Literally and Figuratively. Enjoying your posts on Twitter and blogs here. Thanks for all the solid material. I wrote something last night I called color blind last night, that had a few similarities. Check it out at my blog if you get a second.