John Maeda on the Characteristics of Creative Leaders

John Maeda, president of RISD and renowned designer, recently posted a comparison chart to demonstrate characteristics and attitudes that differentiate authoritative leaders from creative leaders. Having worked with both types of leaders, I found these lists inspirational. I aspire to resemble the creative leader more and more.

It strikes me that being a creative leader requires a lot of trust. You need to trust that you’re working with people who will rise to meet challenges and who will respond to your openness and flexibility with those same qualities.

In contrast, authoritative leadership is really about checking off boxes, CYA, and making sure you’re never wrong. I don’t know about you, but to me, this type of leadership sounds very stressful and unsustainable.

Authoritative Leader

  • Symbol of Authority
  • More Sticks
  • Hierarchical
  • Linear Path
  • Plan and Execute: Launching with 1.0
  • Sustaining Order
  • Yes or No (clear)
  • Literal in Tone
  • Concerned with Being Right
  • Think like a General or Conductor
  • Delegates Actions
  • Closed System
  • One-Way
  • Close the Ranks
  • Follows the Manual
  • Loves to Avoid Mistakes
  • Reliability
  • Orchestra Model
  • Community in Harmony
  • Wants to be Right
  • Open to Limited Feedback
  • Your Opinion Matters

Creative Leader

  • Symbol of Inspiration
  • More Carrots
  • Networked
  • Nonlinear Path
  • Iterate and Do: Living in Beta
  • Taking Risks
  • Maybe (comfort with ambiguity)
  • Metaphorical in Tone
  • Concerned with Being Real
  • Think like an Artist or Designer
  • Hands-On Driven
  • Open System
  • Interactive
  • Permeable
  • Improvises when Appropriate
  • Loves to Learn from Mistakes
  • Validity
  • Jazz Ensemble
  • Community in Conversation
  • Hopes to be Right
  • Open to Unlimited Critique
  • What are You Really Thinking?

Which characteristic inspires or challenges you?