Are You a Creative or Reactive Leader?

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.” – George Lois

If you want to advance quickly in the business you work for or accelerate the progress of the business you own, you’ve got to become better at starting things, at making things new.

In an article in Fast Company magazine (“The Secret Life of the CEO”), Jim Collins (author of “Good to Great”) said that the best leaders don’t focus as much on beating the competition as they do on making their own products and services better than they were before. (Here! Here!)

Creative business leaders are always asking themselves the following questions:

1. “What do potential customers need now? What worries them? What would they be eager to buy?”

2. “How can I make our current customers happier? How can we make the products we sell them better? More useful? More valuable?”

Do you ask these questions? Regularly? And if you do, do you come up with good answers? Answers that can advance your business? Test your creative skills against the following checklist printed in a recent issue of Executive Leadership.

Are you?

* internally driven

* focused on the work, not politics

* oriented around goals, not crises

* good at building good relationships

Also, do you?

* make full use of your strongest talents

* set aggressive long-term goals

The above are all characteristics of creative leaders.

Now, here are the traits of “reactive” leaders:

* They are motivated by external factors like money and power.

* They are focused on corporate politics, not the work.

* They allow their time to be dictated by what’s in their inbox.

* They sometimes ignore their strongest talents in favor of “good management.”

* They plan in one- to five-year increments.

* They believe nothing is sacred and relationships are expendable.

How many of those reactive characteristics apply to you? As I’m typing this, I’m thinking about my own strengths and shortcomings. I am definitely internally driven, I do set goals, I’m pretty strong on building good relationships, and I hate politics. All those qualities would suggest that I’m a creative leader. But I am sometimes too focused on money (and always regret it when I get that way), and I occasionally let myself get caught up in the petty demands of my various inboxes — e-mail and otherwise.

I’d give myself a B or B minus. How would you grade yourself?

The best leaders I know are indeed long-term oriented, people-friendly and loyal, eager to provide better products and service, and unconcerned about where they stand in just about any pecking order — in their industry or within their business.

Something to think about.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]