Striking the Right Balance of Operational and Creative Leadership for Strategic Success


Leaders grapple with the ongoing challenge of harmonizing day-to-day Operational Work (OW) and fostering Creative Work (CW). Understanding the dynamics of both is key to strategic execution and critical for organizational success. Therefore, leaders need to cultivate a culture that values and nurtures both operational and creative work.

The repercussions of neglecting OW and CW dynamics are vividly illustrated in the case study of Derek, the CEO of a Fortune 100 company facing external regulatory pressures. Derek’s exclusive reliance on OW leadership tactics for a strategic project stifled creativity, resulting in extended internal debates, exhaustive data analysis, a lack of transparency, and unwarranted disruptions. This one-dimensional approach led to a staggering cost of $3.9 billion, an 18-month project delay, and an erosion of organizational culture, marked by decreased employee engagement and a significant turnover in the project team.

Have you encountered situations where the initial enthusiasm for innovation waned due to entrenched bureaucratic processes and an industrial leadership mindset? This underscores the importance of leading by balancing OW and CW. While operational work ensures the smooth running of current operations, creative work paves the way for future growth and opportunities.

Recognizing the interdependent relationship between these dynamics is crucial for fostering a culture that values and nurtures OW and CW. To achieve this balance, leaders can implement the following recommendations:

  1. Cultivate a Balanced Culture: Foster a workplace culture that values and nurtures operational and creative work, recognizing their interdependence for organizational success.
  2. Understand Synergy: Identify and leverage the synergy between OW and CW dynamics, understanding that the stability of operational work provides the foundation for creative work to flourish.
  3. Encourage Experimentation: Create an environment that supports experimentation, learning, and the free exchange of ideas, particularly when engaging in creative work. Empower visionaries to explore new ways to improve and thrive.
  4. Embrace Ambiguity: Develop a higher tolerance for ambiguity and a willingness to take calculated risks without micromanagement, posturing, or internal politicking. Trust your team to execute creative work autonomously and intentionally.

Successful strategic execution hinges on any organization’s cohesive interaction between OW and CW. The case study demonstrates that failing to grasp this synergy can have significant consequences.

Leaders must acknowledge the importance of balancing OW and CW dynamics to propel their organizations forward, ensuring the efficiency of current operations while exploring opportunities for future growth. Your role as a leader is to create a culture that values and nurtures both operational and creative work, and intentional leadership in these areas is vital for ongoing strategic success.

Join our self-paced online course, “How to Lead in Innovative Environments: Understanding Creative Work,” which begins May 1! Early bird pricing until May 31, 2024.