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What Is The Difference Between Reactive and Creative Leadership?

Research is clear that leadership effectiveness is a primary contributor to business performance. Data from the millions of leaders who have participated in the Leadership Circle Profile strongly suggest that if you can improve leadership effectiveness, you have a 38% probability of seeing that improvement translate into higher business performance. They note, “Since 38% is well beyond most companies’ profit margin, developing effective leaders clearly deserves investment.”

The main difference between highly effective and less effective leaders is the degree to which they lead from a creative place rather than a reactive one. In short, the more creative leaders are, the more effective they are. However, reactive leadership is the default “operating system” for at least 70% of leaders. Reactive leaders see their lives and work as a series of obstacles to be navigated. Neuroscience shows that when humans are in this reactive state of mind and body, we have less access to our full brain capacity, making us more constricted in our thinking and behavior and giving us fewer options to respond to issues that arise in leading organizations. Reactive leadership is essentially “playing not to lose,” and the basic system is:

         Problem/Threat Occurs -–> Stress Arises -–> Leader Reacts

The three basic reactive styles to stress are:

  • COMPLYING          Establish safety by complying with the expectations of others   
  • PROTECTING        Establish safety by withdrawal, cynicism, or detachment
  • CONTROLLING     Establish safety by attempting to manage the world around them

Depending on their Enneagram number (e.g., ego strategy), each leader will have a primary “go-to” reactive style they employ when on autopilot. The trick to moving into creativity is to cultivate and maintain a visceral and deep sense of safety and connection.  Instead of stress, creative leaders’ deeply held purpose and vision for their lives and work fuel their day-to-day thinking and behavior, regardless of what comes at them from the outside. Instead of an obstacle course, life becomes a blank canvas, an opportunity to build the life and world they want. When leaders lead from this more expanded sense of themselves and the world, they have increased access to all parts of their brain, giving them more resources from which to draw as they lead.

Contact us at ben@benjaminpapa.com to schedule a free strategy session to help you think through how to increase your organization’s creative leadership to improve business success and personal satisfaction at work.