Creative Problem Solving: Your Role as a Leader

By Glassman, Edward | Supervisory Management, April 1989 | Go to article overview
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Creative Problem Solving: Your Role as a Leader

Glassman, Edward, Supervisory Management

Creative Problem Solving: Your Role as Leader

You, as manager of your work unit, are on the hot seat. What you do sets the style for the rest of the work unit. And according to some observers, you are interrupted on an average of once every nine minutes. Unless you lock yourself in and tear out the telephone, you will not be able to find the uninterrupted time necessary for creative thinking. But then this may not be your job anyway. Your job is to manage and develop your people, give them the resources they need, and buffer them from distractions so that they can engage in the uninterrupted time creative thinking and effort require. As a leader, are you doing this?

Your leadership style

Research has shown that most leader interactions at work fall into two basic types: task behaviors, which are directive, one-way communications explaining what each person is to do and when, where, and how it is to be done; and supportive behaviors, which involve two-way communications, non-evaluative listening, stroking, and encouraging behavior. The relative frequency with which you combine and use these two types of interactions constitutes your leadership style--and influences the level of creativity in your work group.

Various task and relationship interactions can be combined into four useful leadership styles, each defined by an array of effective behaviors (see page 39).

Style 1. Directive style. Your predominant behaviors are telling, asserting, and modeling.

Style 2. Participative style. Your predominant behaviors are coaching, negotiating, and collaborating.

Style 3. Catalytic style. Your predominant behaviors here are encouraging, facilitating, and consulting.

Style 4. Nondirective style. Your predominant behavior is delegating.

One factor in choosing which leadership interactions to use is the ability of the person in your unit to work independently of you. That is, he or she is willing and motivated to do the task, has the ability and skills to do the task, has a high performance level with respect to the task, and is confident he or she can accomplish the task. A directive style is needed if the person in your work unit has low abilities to be independent.

Adjust your leadership


Can you see how this relates to creativity, how you can make your leadership style work for you in encouraging creative problem solving? Admittedly, it is fairly difficult to change a leadership style. Yet to help your work unit be more creative, you need to be flexible and use the skills from all four leadership styles. How can you do this? One way is to add on enough skills one at a time so you can respond flexibly to the people in your work unit. To become a more flexible leader who encourages creativity, you might decide to obtain training to 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 nonevaluatively for a more catalytic style; how to delegate for a more effective nondirective style; and, of course, how to manage and motivate for on-the-job creativity.

Many managers are unaware that their own habits, productive at other times, can contribute so directly to their work unit's lack of creativity. To stimulate the creativity of work units, managers must form the habit of setting direction, of giving a clear idea of the end product wanted, of delegating within the person's areas of expertise using the non-directive leadership style, and then of taking the risk of letting people set their own goals and run their own business with occasional encouragement and support using the catalytic style of leadership.

Help creativity through

responsible self-direction

Self-directed activity in which intrinsic motivation is high has been shown to help creativity.

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