Creative Leadership and its impact on the Future of Work

Aithan Shapira on stage at CLNZ. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

Views and learnings from #CLNZ17 by U.S. Youth Council member, Araina Kazia Pereira.

Let’s talk all things business, high performing teams, doing life in community, the heart of what it means to be a creative leader and how this approach is going to shift the future of our workplaces. The #CLNZ17 conference created by @justadandak saw leaders from various walks of life come together to look at leadership through a different lens. A more creative lens. One which can be fostered and can go on to educate leaders of both today and tomorrow albeit not through classroom teachings but through other various mediums. If you want to think creatively, pursue innovation or adapt to the changing markets and industries, you got to have a creative outlook on your leadership.

The future of our workplace

The jobs of today will not be the jobs of tomorrow. The adaption and formation of our future begins with changes to leadership, mindset and processes in the workforce. With such changes it is important to have an adaptable mindset. Or as Gus Balbontin (@gusbalbontin) put it, ‘the most adaptable of us will survive.’ ’The future of the workplace and new businesses will be the sum of us and how we adapt to such changes. It relies on us preparing our workplace for new jobs by creating, designing and equipping our teams with the skills that go beyond a university degree.

Creative leadership

With this, it is important that our leadership takes a creative approach. We take a leaf from the books of artist, learning to ‘unlearn’ the standard processes, skills, and way of thinking- allowing formulation of business leaders with artistic instincts. For business leaders; project managers, team leaders, creatives etc. it means shifting our tactics, breaking the norms of our workplace allowing for shifts in perspective and direction.  As Aithan Shapira (@aithanshapira) put it ‘we start making to think instead of thinking to make.’ The root of creating viable products or services that meet our changing needs, lies in dealing with customer pain points through a creative and experimental approach. It adopts an empathetic mindset and stimulates effective communication within our teams. Creative leadership ensures that our teams personal and professional development occurs through more than just classroom teachings. It means learning through ‘play’ – experimenting with different crafts, skills, arts, ideation etc. It teaches through doing, not just listening. Creative leadership ensures that our KPIs, objectives and in turn our measure of success evolves as our teams evolve. It is ensuring that as our teams evolve our system and process are constantly preparing for new job descriptions. The iterative process doesn’t begin with our problems and solutions; it begins with our leadership. If our businesses are the sum of us; then creative leadership means that as leaders, we are constantly developing new skills ourselves and experimenting with our leadership not just our teams and our solutions.

Aithan Shapira put it ‘we start making to think instead of thinking to make.’ Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.
Aithan Shapira put it ‘we start making to think instead of thinking to make.’ Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

A creative leader

As a leader it means not always having the answers; but been willing to allow curiosity and drive find new answers and solutions.  It is being attentive to those around us; fostering the ability to learn both constantly, and alongside others. Gus put it simply ‘in order to steer away from becoming the average, one must seek to learn faster than the average.’ Scaled, this approach would see that teams and businesses where everyone is seeking to learn, would end up adapting faster than their market. If you can’t match your market it, disrupt it. It means not staying in stagnation both in your venture and in your leadership. If you stay stuck in yesterday or even today, you’re going to find it hard to follow your customer and the people alongside you who are ensuring that they are constantly growing.

As a creative leader you understand that you are ‘both the problem and the solution.’ You understand that your power does not come from the title of your role but it is earnt through your behaviour and interaction with your team. Looking to a more sustainable future, creative leaders know the act of being resourceful and the importance of working in community and collaboration with others. It means adopting the ability to lead alongside others not over them.  It means leading from the middle. Being able to serve others before being able to take the lead. It avoids leading from the front and being in the spotlight. Likewise, it avoids leading from the back, and relying on the team to carry the weight on their own. It means leading from the middle, getting the nails dirty and doing the ground work. It gets alongside those you are leading and pushes them towards a better outcome for themselves as well as the task at hand. It’s not the power of the leader, but harnessing the collective power, ability and grit of a group of people. It is the ability to hone ‘curiosity, courage and resilience’ within teams and individuals.

Elysa Fenenbock put it beautifully; ‘purpose is the magic to unlocking the greatest creative potential of your teams.’ Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.
Elysa Fenenbock put it beautifully; ‘purpose is the magic to unlocking the greatest creative potential of your teams.’ Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

In order to execute this approach effectively, leaders need to be purpose driven, not just driven by monetary value. Elysa Fenenbock (@elysawf) put it beautifully; ‘purpose is the magic to unlocking the greatest creative potential of your teams.’ It is knowing what drives you, your personal ‘why. ’ Elysa further talked about the beginning of innovation and creativity, is when we engage with the world and we expect the unexpected. It is being willing to use your skills, gifts, talents and abilities for the success and development of those around you. Gaining through giving. Similarly, Aithan expressed ‘it is finding yourself through looking at those around you.’ Your team and their success is going to be a reflection of who you are as a leader. Check yourself, pay attention to the inner yes and no. Have the ability to discern on behalf of those you lead and get comfortable in the uncomfortable.

Elysa Fenenbock giving a workshop at CLNZ. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.
Elysa Fenenbock giving a workshop at CLNZ. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

Facilitating creative leadership

Aithan described the facilitation of creative leadership as ‘ the art of scaling empathy to increase cultural diversity and inclusion.’ It looks at the interest and goals of individuals and collectively fosters new and improved ways of thinking and executing. An example of what this can look like in the workforce is learning through various mediums such as music.

Aithan taught the importance of active listening following cues in leadership through watching a jazz performance. Important leadership lessons learnt through watching the relationship, transition and reliance on those in the team- that in order to lead you must be able to follow. Or Elysa taught the design process and IDEO brainstorming methodology through team building activities with clay, idea sprints, the yes and no but, and creating ads. It is actively participating in activities that encourage a shift in perspective and the fostering of new ways to think and participate.


Getting others along on the journey is a different ball park. But one that it crucial for the way in which humanity is moving towards. Elysa spoke specifically on ‘Creative Darwinism’ . The changes over time that we as a humanity have gone through. Initially, we enforced ‘Survival Self’ the need to solve basic problems such as ensuring that we have food and water. However, as humanity has progressed over the years, we now see ourselves in a time of ‘Collective Self.’ This is creating possibilities, opportunities for others. It is an exchange of ideas empathy, design thinking and community. Essentially it is more just us and our job, it is doing life and work in community and collaboration with others.

PWC (@PwC) described collaboration as ‘calibrating the conditions for people to be their best together.’ It is designing the condition for people to be their best alongside each other. It is about incubation, iteration and recursion within teams, projects.’ This will allow people to be aligned to the vision and passionate about what they do. It is facilitating the need for interaction and learning so that people can succeed together. Our solutions are better with the creative input from various people with diverse skill sets and experiences. The efforts of a group are greater than the effort one. This environment develops individuals who are constantly learning new skills and are supported as they do so. It puts an emphasis on the people behind the process and systems, it makes their journey an integral part of the success and the end goal. As a leader, this means creating an environment for these interactions to take place, as a creative leader it means ensuring this environment is the backbone of our organisations, ventures and projects.

In essence, creative leadership is asking; ‘What does success for us look like in 2, 5 or 10years?’ and ensuring that in that image is the individual success of a group of people who are purpose driven and have adapted their skill set, perspective, and knowledge to the changes that have come along the way.


A big thank you to the US Embassy, DK, the Australian Government, Roxy and Creative Welly for making this conference happen. Again, a big thank you to the US Embassy for having my back and sending me to events that grow and challenge me in my own endeavors.


Creative Leadership NZ 2017 | Reflections & Insights