Examining the Leaders of Creative Efforts: What Do They Do, and What Do They Think About?



Due to the rapidly changing economy, innovation is becoming more and more critical for the success and survival of many organizations. Although several factors shaping innovation (e.g., strategy, climate, etc.) have been examined in the literature, the leadership of innovation has received relatively less attention. In this article, we attempt to summarize the literature on the leadership of creative efforts focusing on critical leadership behaviours. We also explore a model of core leader functions tailored for creativity and innovation, as well as a model of innovation planning. The implications of these models for the leadership of innovation are discussed.


Innovation plays a vital role in today's economy (Dess & Pickens, 2000). Now more than ever, companies are facing environmental changes that make introducing innovative products and services critical for their success and survival (Tushman & O'Reilly, 1997; Florida, 2002). These rapidly changing conditions and an increased demand for companies to innovate are causing creativity, its impacts and the factors that shape it to receive more attention than ever from researchers across a variety of disciplines (Mumford et al., 2002; Mumford & Hunter, 2005). Although creativity, the generation of new ideas (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988), has not traditionally been regarded as a highly valuable employee performance outcome (Dess & Pickens, 2000; Mumford et al., 2002), organizations are now paying far more attention to it and are placing higher premiums on innovation (Drazin & Schoonhoven, 1996).

Many influences on innovation, the translation of creative ideas into action (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988), have been examined in the literature including: (1) strategy (Hitt et al., 1996; Parnell, Lester & Menefee, 2000; Montes, Moreno & Morales, 2005); (2) structure (Pierce & Delbecq, 1977; Damanpour, 1991, 1998); (3) climate (Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1989; Isaksen et al., 2001); (4) dissemination practices (Abrahamson, 1991); (5) group interactions (Mumford et al., 2001); (6) and individual performance capabilities (Mumford et al., 1998).

The leadership of innovation has, however, received less than its fair share of attention. This is somewhat surprising given the increasing amount of evidence suggesting that leadership does, in fact, have a profound influence on creativity and innovation. For example, examining researchers working for a large government medical research organization, Pelz (1956) found that principal scientists reported higher motivation and more positive attitudes about their work and goal progress when laboratory chiefs provided participatory, rather than directive or laissez-fair leadership. Pelz also found that individual scientific performance was higher when the laboratory chief provided neither complete autonomy nor excessive direction, but rather provided subordinates with the opportunity to make their own decisions, as well as frequent contact for consultation.

In a more recent study, Tierney, Farmer and Graen (1999) examined creativity among research and development employees at a large chemical firm. Leader behaviour and leader-member exchange relationships were measured and found to be significantly correlated (in the range around 0.30) to the supervisor's ratings of creativity, the number of invention disclosures submitted and intrinsic motivation. Along similar lines, Oldham and Cummings (1996) examined creativity using 171 employees at a manufacturing firm. The researchers found that supportive supervision was positively related to creativity assessed by supervisor creativity ratings, number of patent disclosures written and contributions to a suggestion programme, especially when employees reported creativity-related personal characteristics. In another, more qualitative study, De Jong and Den Hartog (2007) interviewed 12 managers working for knowledge-intensive service firms, asking them to describe leadership behaviours that could stimulate or discourage employee idea generation and idea application behaviours. Using coding procedures to extract commonalities, as well as literature reviews, the authors developed a behavioural taxonomy for innovation leadership. Some 13 behaviours were identified including: innovative role-modelling, intellectual stimulation, organizing feedback, recognition, rewards and providing resources. All in all, these findings suggest a clear conclusion: leadership is important for employee creativity and the accompanying innovation process.

In this article, we attempt to summarize the literature on the leadership of creative efforts and explore some models and approaches recently proposed. More specifically, we identify the behaviours typically demonstrated by the leaders of creative efforts. Secondly, we explore a model of core leader functions tailored for creativity and innovation. In this section, we also present a model that explains how leaders go about planning during the innovation process. However, before we discuss the behaviours, thinking and planning of leaders, we must first consider the nature of creative work and the unique nature of creative people to provide a context for our ensuing observations.

The Nature of Creative Work

Creative work is often thought to be relegated to a particular field or occupation, such as the arts or sciences (Mumford, Whetzel & Reiter-Palmon, 1997). However, creative work can occur in any job that involves a particular kind of task. More specifically, that task must present complex, ill-defined problems where successful performance depends on the generation of novel, useful solutions (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988; Besemer & O'Quin, 1999; Ward, Smith & Finke, 1999; Ford, 2000). Generally speaking, creative work consists of the processes involved in generating ideas and the processes underlying the implementation of those ideas (Vincent, Decker & Mumford, 2002). Although often given a variety of labels in the literature, the key processes underlying the generation of ideas include: problem definition or construction, information gathering, concept formation and concept combination (Mumford, Baughman & Sager, 2003). The major processes underlying the implementation of ideas include: idea evaluation and refinement, and plan formulation (Lonergan, Scott & Mumford, 2004).

This general outline of the key processes involved in the generation and implementation of ideas provides a foundation for understanding the implications they have for the work itself. One such implication is that creative work is naturally person centred. Individuals must actively seek out and manipulate knowledge and concepts. To do this successfully people must have expertise which generally takes years of experience to develop (Qin & Simon, 1990; Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Weisburg, 1999). Remembering that these problems are highly complex introduces another complication. In order to implement a successful solution, many problems will require expertise from a variety of areas and in a variety of forms resulting in creative work being simultaneously person centred and collaborative (Abra, 1994; Dunbar, 1995; Cagliano, Chiesa & Manzini, 2000). Also, creative work, which requires people to define the problem, gather information, generate ideas, refine ideas and plan for implementation, is inherently time intensive. To sustain the effort needed to successfully implement a creative idea, a substantial amount of intrinsic motivation is required (Collins & Amabile, 1999). Similarly, creative work requires substantial resources from the organization. Multiple people and groups must devote time, attention and equipment to generate and implement a successful solution. One clear implication of the time- and resource-intensive nature of creative work is that politics and persuasion will likely play a role in acquiring the resources needed to successfully complete a project (Simonton, 1984; Dudek & Hall, 1991).

Creative work is also uncertain and risky (Mumford et al., 2002). The risk involved in creative work stems from the fact that the generation of a sound idea is not always guaranteed, the development of the idea is not always possible, and the resulting product may or may not fill a current market need (Cardinal & Hatfield, 2000). Given this uncertainty and risk, creative work is uniquely contextualized, and the leadership of creative efforts must take into account both the overall organizational strategy, as well as the socio-technical systems in which the work is taking place.

The Nature of Creative People

As previously noted, creative work generally involves a substantial level of expertise. Works by Feldman (1999) and Weisburg (1999) have shown that creative achievement is strongly related to intense involvement in the work being done and extensive practice. The development of expertise often comes at the expense of other life tasks (Mumford et al., 2002). Along these lines, Rostan (1998) indicated that creative individuals have their identity bound to their work and the achievements stemming from their work. Because their work is a key aspect of their identity, creative individuals are often motivated by professional achievement and recognition (Chalupsky, 1953). This leads to a point made by Barron and Harrington (1981), as well as Mumford and Gustafson (1988), namely that creative people exhibit a high degree of achievement motivation. In a comprehensive review of characteristics associated with scientists, Feist and Gorman (1998) found that when compared to non-scientists, as well as their less successful counterparts, creative scientists displayed a surprisingly consistent set of personality characteristics. The dispositions to emerge from this work included not only achievement motivation, but also conscientiousness, autonomy, openness, flexibility, cognitive complexity, self-confidence, dominance, emotional stability and introversion.

This profile is well suited to the nature of creative work. For example, characteristics like openness and flexibility lend themselves to the exploration needed for creative thought. In addition, qualities like conscientiousness and criticality will aid in the analysis and evaluation of ideas (Mumford & Hunter, 2005). Similarly, given that the nature of creative efforts involves complex, ill-defined problems that are resource and time intensive, it follows that, as previously mentioned, high intrinsic motivation will be strongly related to creativity and innovation. In fact, a substantial body of work by Amabile and her colleagues suggest that this is the case (Amabile, 1985, 1997; Amabile, Hennessey & Grossman, 1986; Collins & Amabile, 1999). The nature of creative people has some important implications for leadership. One such implication is that leaders need to structure the work in a way that is personally engaging and intrinsically motivating. More implications will be discussed in the following sections.

What Do Leaders Do?


As is the case for creative people, before they do anything, the leaders of creative efforts must have substantial knowledge of the area in which they work. Not only do they need technical expertise, they also need creative problem-solving skills (Basadur, Runco & Vega, 2000; Mumford et al., 2002). Several lines of research have found that a leader's technical skill, or expertise, is the best predictor of follower creative performance (see Andrews & Farris, 1967; Barnowe, 1975; Tierney, Farmer & Graen, 1999). Similarly, Redmond, Mumford and Teach (1993) found that creative problem-solving skills were also strongly predictive of creative performance. These findings broach an important question – why is it important for leaders to have this expertise?

Broadly speaking, leaders need expertise because it provides them with a type of power base on which to influence people (Yukl, 2006). Given the high levels of motivation, autonomy, and the strong professional identity of creative individuals, expertise allows the leader to: (1) effectively represent the group; (2) communicate clearly with the group; (3) assess the needs of followers; and (4) cultivate and encourage less experienced followers (Mumford et al., 2002). Similarly, expertise and creative problem-solving skills provide the leader with the capacity to select appropriate projects, effectively evaluate proposed ideas and provide feedback to the group (Basadur, Runco & Vega, 2000; Mumford et al., 2000).

Mission Definition

One task that is generally assumed by the leaders of creative efforts is project selection. To help accomplish this task, it may be beneficial for leaders to define production missions. Generally speaking, a mission is a specific form of a leader's vision (Shamir, House & Arthur, 1993). While a vision reflects a desired state of future organizational operations, a mission can be thought to represent a more specific area of exploration that the leader believes should be pursued (Mumford et al., 2002). In other words, missions are more concrete and focus more on production tasks.

Given that the nature of creative work is novel and ill-defined, missions can be utilized by the leader to define goals in relation to the work and the organization's current needs. In terms of providing structure and goal orientation, missions will likely be more effective than visions due to the nature of creative people. Creative people are likely to respond better to concrete goals that guide project selection and evaluation, rather than idealized end states that rely on affective appeal (Jaussi & Dionne, 2003). In fact, some support for this proposition was found by Hounshell (1992) in an in-depth case analysis of a DuPont research laboratory. In the analysis, the visions of the laboratory's founders were observed to be a particularly important component of the laboratory's success. In addition, the visions were described as rather simple and focused. These visions defined consolidative work goals, were flexible enough to allow for exploration and creativity, and provided an encompassing structure that guided project selection and project work, similar to our definition of a mission. Arguably, well-constructed missions that are neither too broad nor too narrow, provide the leaders of creative efforts with a way to motivate and guide the work of creative people.


A strong body of work suggests that the leaders of creative efforts should provide adequate support for their followers (Guastello, 1995; McGourty, Tarshis & Dominick, 1996; Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Anderson & West, 1998; Bain, Mann & Pirola-Merlo, 2001; Ensor, Cottam & Band, 2001). Generally, three types of support seem indicated by the literature: (1) support for ideas, (2) support for the work, and (3) social support. In regard to idea support, Andrews and Gordon (1970) found that, when given too early, negative feedback can hinder scientific creativity. Similarly, Galluchi, Middleton and Kline (2000) found that premature criticism can lead creative people to withdraw. More specifically, this withdrawal occurs when ideas are in a formative stage. Given these findings, leaders should carefully time feedback delivery, especially during the early stages of development.

Work by Ekvall and Ryhammer (1999) suggests that work support, in the form of resource acquisition, is of substantial importance for innovation. Additionally, their study suggested that resources were of greater importance than either climate or structure. These findings should not be too surprising given that innovation is inherently resource intensive and people require substantial resources during both the generation and implementation of creative ideas (Simonton, 1984; Dudek & Hall, 1991). Thus, to achieve success, leaders must be capable of effectively acquiring and distributing resources for their creative efforts. In addition, leaders should provide social support for their followers (Redmond, Mumford & Teach, 1993). Given that creative work is risky and time consuming, path-goal theory (House, 1971) suggests that the leader should build feelings of competence and self-efficacy in regard to the work being done. In addition to support, Mumford et al. (2002) argue that intellectual stimulation, freedom and involvement are related behaviours required for the effective leadership of creative efforts.


Due to the novel, ill-defined nature of creative work, a leader cannot rely on existing structure to provide direction for the effort, but rather the leader must be able to induce structure where it was previously undefined (Mumford et al., 2002). In a meta-analysis by Damanpour (1991), two sets of structural variables were found to be positively related to innovation. The first set includes specialization, functional differentiation, professionalism and technical knowledge resources. The commonality found in this set of variables suggests that an expertise-based division of labour is important for innovation. The second set includes internal and external communication. Together these findings suggest that leaders should structure the work environment by creating groupings of technical expertise and encouraging a flat structure that promotes effective communication between groups. In addition, Damanpour found that characteristics traditionally associated with mechanistic organizations (e.g., formalization and centralization) were negatively related to innovation.

However, arguments have been made to suggest that formalization and centralization can sometimes aid in creative efforts by reducing coordination demands (Pierce & Delbecq, 1977). Similarly, because mechanistic organizations tend to be large in size, there will likely be more resources available for the development of creative ideas, as well as a diverse set of expertise from which to pull (Sharma, 1999). Thus, a leader's role is to buffer her/his creative followers from the negative contextual influences that are often associated with large mechanistic organizations, while simultaneously capitalizing on the available resources and expertise provided by that organization (Mumford et al., 2002).


Part of a leader's role in generating and implementing creative ideas is to evaluate the work of others and provide feedback (Mumford et al., 2002; Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007). The way in which this evaluative role is executed can indeed have an impact on the innovation process (Andrews & Gordon, 1970; Galluchi, Middleton & Kline, 2000; Zhou & Oldham, 2001). What is important to bear in mind, as noted above, is that feedback should be delivered with careful attention being paid to the timeliness of the feedback. Leaders should not be unduly critical of developing ideas, but rather focus on providing technical feedback that will enable the idea to further develop and improve (Zhou & Oldham, 2001). In addition, output expectations and appraisals of performance should be defined in terms of progress made rather than products delivered. This will allow the leader to induce structure and control without excessively influencing the creative process.

Organizational Outreach

In addition to expertise in their own field, mentioned previously, leaders must also have a broad understanding of the organization in which they work, in particular, the organization's strategy, or long-term goals and tactics used to achieve those goals (Mumford et al., 2002). This understanding will allow the leader to tailor the creative ventures pursued to the organization's strategy, which in turn will make these ventures easier ‘to sell’ to top management. To sell a novel, risky idea to an organization, a leader should have effective persuasion skills. Persuasion will likely be aided by providing low-cost demonstrations of the benefits of the new idea, previous successes with the product, and how the idea can be integrated into existing organizational systems (Mumford & Van Doorn, 2001).

In addition, the leaders of creative efforts should work to obtain social support in the form of product champions. Product champions are typically considered people outside of the effort who realize the importance of the project, work to garner support for the idea and help obtain the necessary resources for its development (Howell & Higgins, 1988). Ideally, leaders should be able to reach out to the organization for support either through direct appeals to top management or by finding a product champion.

What Do Leaders Think About?

As mentioned earlier, there are many challenges involved in the innovation process (e.g., dealing with risk, acquiring resources, etc.). A key aspect of a leader's job is to deal with these challenges and move the innovation process forward. In this section, we present a model of core leader functions that represent what leaders should be considering during the innovation process (see Figure 1). The model, first presented by Mumford, Eubanks and Murphy (2007), describes the innovation process in three phases: (1) defining problems; (2) structuring creative problem-solving; and (3) managing idea development.

Figure 1.

Core Functional Requirements for Leaders of Creative Efforts

Defining Problems

Environmental Analysis

As noted earlier, missions help guide and structure creative work. However, it is important to bear in mind that missions do not just appear out of the blue. They must be developed within the context and environment in which the organization is operating. Thus, to define appropriate missions, it is important for leaders to actively seek out information regarding significant events in the environment, as well as emergent technologies that can be exploited (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007). Along these lines, Koberg, Uhlenbruck and Sarason (1996) found that environmental scanning and analysis by leaders was positively related to innovation. Given this relationship, leaders should actively monitor both the internal and external environments. A variety of sources can be referenced for this process including: customer feedback, supplier feedback, market research, competition monitoring, technology monitoring, joint ventures and international contacts (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007).

Leadership Team

As previously discussed, expertise is necessary for innovation (Andrews & Farris, 1967; Barnowe, 1975; Tierney, Farmer & Graen, 1999), and it is also important to have multiple areas of expertise represented (Abra, 1994; Dunbar, 1995; Cagliano, Chiesa & Manzini, 2000). One implication of this conclusion is that the leadership of innovation should be a team effort (Ericsson & Charness, 1994). In other words, due to the complex, multifaceted nature of major innovative undertakings, the expertise required for the project will likely need to be highly diverse (Mumford et al., 2002). Given this need for diverse expertise, it follows that multiple people will be needed to lead the project successfully. In fact, Hauschildt and Kirchmann (2001) found that creative projects were more successful, both technically and financially, when leadership was distributed across multiple people filling multiple roles. The model indicates that the leadership team is reciprocally related to environmental analysis. The model indicates that environmental scanning can help inform the decision about which areas of expertise will be needed to complete the leadership team, and the new leadership that is added through this process will have an impact on the environmental scanning that is conducted (e.g., new leadership with new areas of expertise would seek out different information during their environmental scanning).

Strategy Formation

Given that creative work is risky and resource intensive, the decision to innovate should be based on several factors, for example, the cost associated with developing an idea, the skills and technologies needed to develop the idea, as well as the readiness of the market (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007). In regard to strategy formation, criteria applied during the decision making process are also important. Criteria based on ‘fit’ with organizational technologies, competencies, culture and current markets will ultimately prove more effective than strict, short-term financially-based criteria (Hitt et al., 1996; Mumford et al., 2002; Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007). Additionally, this is a reciprocal process with environmental analysis. New information coming in from analysis and scanning of the environment can be used to inform and refine the strategy, and strategy can also help dictate what information is critical to seek out during environmental analysis.

Mission Definition

What is left to be said with regard to mission definition is how it fits into the model and relates to the other processes. Missions are defined by leadership teams around the parameters set by strategy formulation (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007). Also, mission definition should be informed by environmental scanning where leadership teams look for information regarding changes in technology, potential market needs and competition. Additionally, mission definition should be used by leaders to help structure the idea generation process around a number of themes to be pursued.

Structuring Creative Problem Solving

Idea Generation and Evaluation

As noted earlier, leaders' technical expertise and creative problem-solving skills have been found to be critical for successful innovation (Andrews & Farris, 1967; Barnowe, 1975; Tierney, Farmer & Graen, 1999). One possible explanation for this finding is that leaders are making substantial contributions to the creative efforts that they lead. Leaders help shape and structure idea generation by gathering external information that must be considered, stimulating the exploration of idea implications, and defining viable missions, themes and solution paths (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007).

Furthermore, leaders make a critical contribution with regard to idea evaluation. Not only must leaders impose standards regarding the technical merit of the ideas proposed, but they must also evaluate how well the idea fits into the broader organizational strategy, current markets and core competencies (Mumford et al., 2007). In addition, the leader must also consider the costs and requirements of idea development, how well the proposed idea relates to defined missions and themes, as well as any potential contributions the idea might have for future projects (Mumford et al., 2007).

Climate Definition

Climate, people's perceptions of the work environment, has been found to have a significant impact on creativity and innovation (Ellison, James & Carron, 1970; Nystrom, 1990; Ekvall & Ryhammer, 1999; Isaksen et al., 2001). A substantial body of work has consistently identified several climate variables that are particularly important for innovation including: (1) risk taking; (2) appropriate work challenge; (3) intellectual stimulation; (4) participation; (5) cohesiveness; (6) rewards for innovation; (7) autonomy; (8) mission clarity; (9) organizational integration; and (10) positive peer and supervisor relationships (Ellison, James & Carron, 1970; Mumford & Gustafson, 1988; Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1989; Witt & Beorkrem, 1989; Amabile et al., 1996; Ekvall & Ryhammer, 1999; Isaksen et al., 2001; Mumford & Hunter, 2005). What is important to remember in this regard is that leaders can, and do, influence these climate variables (Schneider, 1987; Tesluk, Farr & Klein, 1997). More specifically, leaders should consider how their day-to-day interactions, vis-à-vis role-modelling (i.e., involvement, intellectual stimulation and idea support), will impact their team's perceptions of the work environment.

In an extensive review covering climate taxonomies (Hunter, Bedell & Mumford, 2005) and a meta-analysis examining climate for creativity (Hunter, Bedell & Mumford, 2007), Mumford and colleagues identified and examined the effects of 14 dimensions of a climate for creativity. While they suggested that leadership is a potential moderator between climate variables and creative performance, the authors were unable to directly test this relationship. However, it is reasonable to argue that many of these climate variables identified could potentially be impacted by the leader including: positive supervisor relations, resources, challenging tasks, mission clarity, autonomy, intellectual stimulation, top management support and reward orientation. The authors suggest that leaders can make decisions about how time and resources are allocated to given efforts. Additionally, leaders should encourage participation and avoid overly close supervision, define clear missions that are challenging and stimulating, work to garner top management support for projects, and make sure that creative performance is tied to the reward system.

Team construction

In regard to team construction, two important variables must be considered by the leader: team size and cohesiveness. Research has indicated that, for optimal results, a creative team should consist of about five to seven individuals (Curral et al., 2001). Beyond that optimal range, teams experience substantial process losses that diminish their capacity for innovation, particularly when these teams consist of a large number of creative individuals (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007). If this size is not feasible for the project needs, leaders should consider breaking the team down into smaller groups responsible for a subset of the work.

Another factor that leaders should consider is cohesiveness. Cohesive teams that have shared, but nonetheless diverse, mental models tend to show higher levels of innovation (Abra, 1994; Mumford et al., 2001). However, leaders should be wary of their team developing highly normative structures that could potentially reduce creativity (Allen & Cohen, 1969). As teams become highly cohesive, leaders should encourage cross-team exchanges to involve a wider range of functions and stakeholders (Keller, 2001).

Managing Idea Development


After an initial idea has been generated, it moves into the development and fielding phases of the innovation process. These are demanding activities that require the effort of multiple parties (e.g., manufacturing, marketing and financing) creating a multifunctional team. The leadership of successful multifunctional teams requires extensive planning and coordination (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007).

In a recent review, Mumford, Bedell-Avers and Hunter (2008) proposed a model of the planning processes involved in innovation (see Figure 2). The authors used the concept of incrementalism, the idea that plans unfold slowly over time, to provide a basis for their model. In addition to incrementalism, the authors integrated the project portfolio approach, the pursuit of multiple projects by an organization in order to reduce the inherent risk and ambiguity of innovation, into the model which consisted of five stages: (1) scanning; (2) template planning; (3) plan development; (4) forecasting; and (5) plan execution. As a project moves through the stages, different forms of planning are involved that deal with different issues and requirements.

Figure 2.

Illustration of Planning Model

In the scanning stage, leaders should work to identify trends in the market that push and pull innovation and base the themes/missions to be pursued around these trends (Verhaeghe & Kfir, 2002). Also, in the scanning stage, leaders begin to develop initial, exploratory projects. These, ideally low-cost, exploratory efforts provide the basis for determining which projects to pursue further, as well as serve to build absorbative capacities (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990).

As projects move into the template planning stage, a framework is defined around which ensuing projects can be built. The focus of the template planning stage is on acquiring relevant information, exploring and developing the technology necessary for the project to proceed, and identifying parameters (e.g., resources needed, contingencies, etc.) that must be considered in project planning (Kidder, 1981). This stage will tend to be long, and focus on creative thought and idea generation. Here it is important for leaders to provide an open structure suitable for idea generation and exploration. However, this structure must also allow for critical issues such as experience requirements, time-frame and potential obstacles to be considered (Trevelyan, 2001; Mumford, Bedell-Avers & Hunter, 2008).

The next stage, plan development, provides an initial project plan that integrates and develops the major components identified in template planning. At this point, leaders should establish somewhat stronger boundaries and a clear agenda in order to provide an integrated product development. Along these lines, it also becomes important for the leader to incorporate the cross-functional expertise needed into the project team (Cooper & Kleinschmidt, 2000; Hull, 2003; Thamhain, 2003). The focus of this stage is on establishing the technical core needed to develop the project, the cost of development and initiating progress towards fielding.

The forecasting stage involves the initial fielding of a prototype product. This initial fielding and the feedback it provides can be used to refine the product and build a knowledge base for the delivery and maintenance of the product. In this stage, as the organization prepares for product delivery, leaders will be working with a larger number of people and will be considering a larger number of issues. For example, the market reactions provided from prototype fielding will need to be integrated into development and the crises associated with this integration will need to be resolved. In addition, it is important for leaders to consider the broader strategic outcomes associated with product fielding, as well as manufacturing capabilities (Stringer, 2000).

As products are moved into fielding, plan execution can begin. Although generally thought of as somewhat routine, this stage is particularly demanding in the case of innovative products (Mumford, Bedell-Avers & Hunter, 2008). These demands stem from the need to deal with the often extensive set of problems that arise as new products or services are brought ‘online’. What is important for leaders to remember in this regard is that active monitoring and tailoring the plan to deal with the challenges faced in fielding will be required.

It is important to bear in mind that, as a project moves through the stages, leaders must consider a different set of issues and use qualitatively different forms of planning at each stage. For example, during the scanning stage, new information obtained will be highly valuable, while gathering new facts during plan execution will likely prove to be of little use. Thus, leaders must be aware of what stage in the process they are currently in, and be able to plan according to what is important and required during that stage (Mumford, Bedell-Avers & Hunter, 2008).

Process Management

As the innovation process moves through the stages described above, more – and a more diverse set of people – become involved in the process. This presents the leaders of creative efforts with yet another challenge to overcome: multifunctional team coordination. Multifunctional teams experience lower cohesion, more conflict, reduced communication and more stress (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; Keller, 2001; Lovelace, Shapiro & Weingart, 2001). To counteract these negative aspects of multifunctional teams, leaders must be able to build credibility, show a personal commitment to the mission, and be able to build shared commitment and cohesion. In addition, leaders should establish a structure that will allow a diverse group of people to communicate effectively (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007).

Support and Resources

As previously discussed, leaders must be able to provide the support and resources needed to develop and field new ideas. Additionally, it is important to remember that leaders must be able to establish a sustained commitment from senior management throughout the entire innovation process (Jelnek & Schoonhoven, 1990). In regard to long-term support, it is important for leaders to think about their political network within the organization and work to establish stable alliances that can be used to acquire the necessary support and resources (Mumford, Eubanks & Murphy, 2007).


One clear implication stemming from this review is that leadership does, in fact, have a substantial impact on the innovation process. Given the nature of creative people (e.g., autonomous, achievement oriented, self-confident, dominant, emotionally stable, etc.), it is often thought that leadership influence is not always necessary. However, we have provided evidence to the contrary. The leaders of creative efforts help define problems through environmental scanning, strategy formation and mission definition. They exert influence on how the problem is structured by providing guidance for idea generation and giving evaluative feedback. Leaders can also have a substantial impact on the climate for creativity in a number of important ways. This is a critical element to the leadership of creative efforts because it helps keep the creative worker motivated and engaged. Additionally, leaders manage the development of the idea through planning, process management, and by providing support and resources. All in all, it is reasonable to say that leaders do play a significant role in the innovation process.

Along these lines, a second important point, while not explicitly stated, seems to be indicated by the preceding discussion. The thoughts of the leaders of creative efforts are often more complex and the considerations they are required to think about are often more complicated than we typically realize. Leaders must scan and analyse the environment, using this analysis to define missions that provide structure and guidance for idea generation. This helps to define the context for innovation. Within this context, leaders must also set the parameters for idea generation which can be done through the use of appropriate feedback and timely evaluation. After initially contributing to the idea generation phase of innovation, leaders also play a substantial role in the planning and management of idea development and the fielding of the resulting product. Thus, leaders must not only be able to manage the ideas involved in innovation, they must also be able to manage the people involved in the process.

Finally, due to the complex nature of the behaviours and considerations required, developing the skills needed to lead innovation will take a substantial amount of time, and this development should occur in a systematic way. Leader training should involve the enhancement of creative problem-solving skills and reshaping the common assumptions often held about creative work (Basadur & Huusdorf, 1996; Scott, Lertiz & Mumford, 2004). Leaders must be able to recognize and respond appropriately to original ideas, as well as be able to provide a direction for their followers' problem-solving activities. As noted by Mumford, Eubanks and Murphy (2007), the training programmes currently available are somewhat deficient in training leaders to direct these projects. The models presented, however, suggest new directions to take in leadership development. Leaders can be trained in, for example, environmental scanning and mission definition, as well as planning emphasizing forecasting skills, project management skills and climate intervention strategies. In general, these models seem to indicate a more comprehensive approach should be taken to improve the capabilities of the leaders of creative efforts.


The authors would like to thank Tamara Friedrich, Amanda Shipman and Cheryl Beeler for their contributions to this study.

Cristina L. Byrne is a doctoral student in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. Her primary research interests include innovation, leadership, creativity and communications.

Dr Michael D. Mumford (mmumford@ou.edu) is a George Lynn Cross Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Oklahoma where he directs The Center for Applied Social Research. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Georgia in 1983 in the fields of Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Psychometrics. Dr Mumford has published some 200 articles in the areas of leadership, creativity, planning, integrity and adaptability. He is senior editor of The Leadership Quarterly and serves on the editorial boards of the Creativity Research Journal, the Journal of Creative Behavior, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, and the Journal of Business Ethics. Dr Mumford has received more than US$25 million in grant and contract funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Department of Defense and the Department of State. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (Divisions 3, 5 and 14), the American Psychological Society and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Dr Mumford is a recipient of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology's M. Scott Myers Award for applied research.

Jamie D. Barrett is a doctoral student in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include innovation, creativity and leadership.

William B. Vessey is a doctoral student in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests include leadership, creativity and innovation.