Lead to inspire creativity and innovation. Gandhi did it – how hard can it be?

Publication: Journal of Business Research (APR 2009)
Article: Transformational leadership, creativity, and organizational innovation
Authors: L. Gumusluolu, A.Llseve
Reviewed by: Lit Digger

Although Gandhi had passed away before the idea of transformational leadership was academically introduced by Burns in 1978, Gandhi’s life and work exemplified transformational leadership.  Transformational leaders:

  • Demonstrate charisma
    ·   Build relationships with their followers
    ·   Express a vision for the future
    ·   Inspire and encourage their followers to reach big-picture goals
    ·   Intellectually stimulate their followers. 

Such leaders enable followers to achieve what might otherwise be viewed as impossible.  Gandhi effectively did all of these things.

If Gandhi was leading your company today, is it likely that he could also inspire creativity and innovation?  Yes . . . simply by using his same transformational leadership style.

Gumusluoglu and Ilsev (2009) recently conducted the first study that examined multiple organizational levels while evaluating transformational leadership’s effect on employee creativity.  Their sample included employees within numerous small Turkish organizations specializing in software development.

Gumusluoglu and Ilsev supported the link between transformational leadership and individual-level creativity.  Transformational leaders build their employees’ self-confidence, enable employees to identify with their company’s vision, and encourage their employees to think in new ways. 

Importantly, the authors found that psychological empowerment plays a role in this relationship.  When employees feel psychologically empowered by their transformational leader, they also exhibit a greater sense of autonomy that naturally leads to creative thought. 

On the flip side, Gumusluoglu and Ilsev found that transformational leadership is less likely to result in employee creativity when it does not involve the psychological empowerment of followers.

Findings also supported the relationship between transformational leadership and organizational-level innovation.  Interestingly, the innovation measure captured the organization’s innovative activity as well as the returns the organization saw from those innovations.  How thoughtful to include money in this outcome measure.

So, what’s the take-away?  If you’re leading a company that relies on creativity and innovation for bottom-line profit, perhaps you should consider adopting a transformational leadership style.  If you empower your employees, this will encourage them to make calls on their own and think outside of the box.  We can’t ALL be Gandhis, of course, but we CAN learn from his example to inspire others in new ways.

Gumusluoglu, L., Ilsev, A. (2009). Transformational leadership, creativity, and

organizational innovation. Journal of Business Research, 62, 461-473.