Creative Leadership for 21st Century Success

creative leadership

What is creative leadership? Why is it so important in today’s business world? Surprisingly, creative leadership is – in many ways – the antithesis of how leadership has been traditionally portrayed. In other words, creative leadership isn’t about giving orders or being the sole catalyst for change. Rather, it hinges on first surrounding oneself with talented people and secondly empowering them to be individual catalysts for an organization’s collective change. Easier said then done, right? Quintessential American success story, Dr. Nido Qubein, founder of Great Harvest Bread and High Point University, built his fortune leveraging the principles of creative leadership. In today’s story on Platinum Rules for Success, Dr. Qubein explains his progressive approach. Enjoy and remember: several talented people, pulling in the same direction, are far more powerful than even the greatest singular talent pulling by him/herself.

Creative Leadership for 21st Century Success

by Dr. Nido Qubein

It takes a creative mind to exercise leadership in the 21st century. In fact, it’s not enough for the leader to be creative. The people who are led must also be taught to be creative.

If change is the norm for this century, then innovation is the engine of change and knowledge is its fuel. If all the knowledge in your company is stored in just one brain, then you’re going to be running on empty pretty quick. Successful organizations will be those that spread knowledge throughout all levels and encourage people at all levels to apply that knowledge in creative ways.

When the leader hogs all the knowledge, then nobody knows what to do until the leader gives the word. Creative leaders don’t tell people what to do; they help people decide for themselves what to do.

Here’s my definition of modern leadership: “A process by which management creates an environment in which people voluntarily align their efforts toward common objectives.”

This calls for a corporate vision – a mental picture of the future as the people in the corporation would like to see it. Effective leaders align their personal visions with the corporate vision and help others in the company to do the same.

Creative leaders expect excellence in those around them, and they make those expectations known. They invite people to speak up, and they listen and respond to those who do.

Creative leaders are not guardians of the status quo. They foster a climate in which the search for quality and better methods becomes a way of life.

Creative leaders don’t bark orders. They use positive reinforcement to influence people toward the behavior they desire.

Creative leaders don’t isolate themselves from the people they lead. They create a sense of family by mingling with them, becoming acquainted with their problems and concerns, and looking for ways to help them.

Creative leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers and don’t try to do it all themselves. They ask for information and advice before making decisions, and make full use of the talents and skills of those around them.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a “born leader.” The traits that make good leaders can be taught. I know. I’ve been teaching these traits for years and I’ve seen many a person whose leadership blossomed once liberated from the old, restrictive environment and challenged to exercise creativity.


creative leadershipDr. Nido Qubein came to the United States as a teenager with little knowledge of English and only $50 in his pocket. His journey has been an amazing success story. The Biography Channel and CNBC aired his life story titled “A Life of Success and Significance.”

As an educator, he is president of High Point University, an undergraduate and graduate institution with 4,300 students from 40 countries. He has authored two dozen books and audio programs distributed worldwide.

As a business leader, he is chairman of the Great Harvest Bread Company with 220 stores in 43 states. He serves on the boards of several national organizations including BB&T (a Fortune 500 company with $185 billion in assets), the La-Z-Boy Corporation (one of the largest and most recognized furniture brands worldwide), and Dots Stores (a chain of fashion boutiques with more than 400 locations across the country).

As a professional speaker, Dr. Qubein has received many distinctions including the Golden Gavel Medal, induction into the International Speaker Hall of Fame, and as the founder of the NSA Foundation in Arizona.

He has been the recipient of many honors including The Ellis Island Medal of Honor (along with four U.S. presidents), The Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans (along with Oprah Winfrey and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), the DAR Americanism Medal, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, Sales and Marketing International’s Ambassador of Free Enterprise, Leadership North Carolina Governor’s Award, and Citizen of the Year and Philanthropist of the Year in his home city of High Point, North Carolina.

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