60-Second Science

Creativity Can Lessen Leader Image

College students viewed people with innovative ideas as having less leadership potential than those whose thinking remained in the box. Karen Hopkin reports

Think of a quality that defines a strong leader. Do I hear: dynamic, driven, decisive, original? Well, I probably didn’t hear "original." Because people who are considered "creative” are generally not viewed as leaders. That’s according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. [Jennifer Mueller, Jack Goncalo and Dishan Kamdar, "Recognizing creative leadership: Can creative idea expression negatively relate to perceptions of leadership potential?"]

People who show imagination can be seen as dreamers because their ideas have not been proven. Those seen as leaders, on the other hand, are expected to maintain order and to keep things moving forward. Yet in today’s business world, companies say they’re looking for creative CEOs who can promote change and lead their businesses in profitable new directions.

To examine what we really think about creativity, scientists asked students to present ideas for how airlines can get more revenue from their passengers. Half the students were told to come up with novel solutions, and the rest were asked to stick with something more tried-and-true. Other students who then listened to these pitches rated those who were innovative as having less leadership potential.

So go ahead, think outside the box. But if you want to scale the corporate ladder, you might consider keeping your most interesting ideas under wraps. At least until you’ve nailed that corner office.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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