Two candidates are being interviewed for a leadership position in your company. Both have strong resumes, but while one seems to be bursting with new and daring ideas, the other comes across as decidedly less creative (though clearly still a smart cookie). Who gets the job?The answer, unfortunately, is usually the less creative candidate. This fact may or may not surprise you – you yourself may have been the creative candidate who got the shaft. But what you're probably wondering is, why?
After all, it's quite clear who should be getting the job. Studies show that leaders who are more creative are in fact better able to effect positive change in their organizations, and are better at inspiring others to follow their lead.
And yet, according to recent research there is good reason to believe that the people with the most creativity aren't given the opportunity to lead, because of a process that occurs (on a completely unconscious level) in the mind of everyone who has ever evaluated an applicant for a leadership position.
The problem, put simply, is this: our idea of what a prototypical “creative person” is like is completely at odds with our idea of a prototypical “effective leader.”
Creativity is associated with nonconformity, unorthodoxy, and unconventionality. It conjures visions of the artist, the musician, the misunderstood poet. In other words, not the sort of people you usually put in charge of large organizations. Effective leaders, it would seem, should provide order, rather than tossing it out the window.
In one study conducted by organizational psychologists Jennifer Mueller, Jack Goncalo, and Dishan Kamdar, employees rated the responses of nearly 300 of their (unidentified) coworkers to a problem-solving task for both creativity (the extent to which their ideas were novel and useful) and as evidence of leadership potential. They found that creativity and leadership potential were strongly negatively correlated – the more creative the response, the less effective a leader the responder appeared.
The good news is, the bias can be wiped out – in fact, reversed – if evaluators have a charismatic leader (i.e., someone known for their uniqueness and individualism, like a Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, or Carly Fiorina) rather than an effective but non-charismatic leader in mind.
So what can you do in an interview to fight the creativity bias? You have some options:
How about you?
Have you ever faced bias as a creative leader? What happened?