The What, Why, and How of Creative Design Leadership

Team Pepper
Posted on 29/03/224 min read
The What, Why, and How of Creative Design Leadership
This article will discuss the what, the why, and the how of creative design leadership.

Leaders are a natural occurrence in almost every community, be it a school classroom, a city locality, or the workplace. Places often have managerial or supervisory positions that they consider to be leadership roles. However, just as not all leaders are necessarily managers, not all managers are necessarily leaders.


Creativity has long been accepted as a core leadership trait. It follows, therefore, that managers who are not creative may be effective bosses, but they are certainly not effective leaders. This is especially concerning design spaces, which demand creativity from everyone and especially from supervisors. Creative design leadership has come forward as a means of addressing these concerns.

The What

Simply put, creative design leadership is an approach that incorporates the principles of creative leadership, a concept that has been around since the 1950s, into design leadership. 

Creativity is widely considered a crucial trait in an effective leader, and nowhere is this more apparent than in design. Creative design leadership prioritizes innovative leadership in design thinkers, allowing them to overcome the leadership pitfalls that designers often fall into.

The Why

A dynamic landscape presents unfamiliar problems that require innovative solutions. Given how heavily it depends on trends, design is constantly changing, and conventional leadership approaches are unable to keep up.


Creative design leadership ensures that the overall concept of “creativity in leadership” is effectively applied in the ever-changing context of design spaces.

The How

So, how does one go about being a creative design leader? It seems pretty straightforward: look at creative leadership and design leadership, and combine the two, right?

Well, yes. It’s important to note that there are many overlapping features between creative and design leadership and many unique to either.

To be a creative design leader, you have to combine the best of both worlds in a way that makes sense in the design context – a notoriously difficult thing to do.


Lucky for you, we made a list. Incorporate the following five attributes into your leadership philosophy and acts, and you are guaranteed to thrive as a creative leader in design spaces.

Reflect and learn

Make sure you can navigate new situations by practicing self-awareness: inspect your biases, perspectives, and ideas to understand what you need to keep, what you need to throw, and what you need to work on – and then work on it. The more you learn about yourself, the better you will be at leading your team effectively.

Trust and delegate

Overcome your designer itch of micromanaging every aspect of the design. Show your team that you respect their ideas, even when they don’t match yours. Trust the experience and thinking of your team, thereby allowing them to innovate more comfortably. Keep in mind that there is always more innovation through collaboration than by going it alone.

Listen and communicate

Nothing stifles creativity like the lack of exchange. Ignore the organizational hierarchy to facilitate equal sharing of ideas. Occupy the role of a peer, making sure to listen attentively and express yourself thoroughly and clearly. If you or your team don’t understand what you are saying to each other and why, things will quickly start to go off the rails.

Enable and facilitate

When your team has ideas that seem impossible to implement, use your creativity to remove the obstacles in their way and forge paths where none exist. Encourage your team to approach you with their innovations like ad copy, written material, design, etc., by showing that you are willing to back them. As a leader, you are not just responsible for your personal growth but also the development of your team, who look to you for approval and guidance.

Inspire and motivate

Show your team how you deal with obstacles and materialize your ideas. Get involved with them so they can see you putting in the hours. Lead by example to remind your team that you are all in this together.

Remember, an effective leader is more than just a boss or a manager: you need to be part of the team and work on issues collectively instead of assigning tasks and leaving your team to handle them alone.


Of course, there are many more aspects to creative design leadership, but most build on the five core elements laid out here.

You may already be doing one or more of these things as a creative or design leader. Becoming an effective creative leader who encourages design thinking is primarily about keeping these features in mind and actively implementing them across your spaces.


1. Why is creative leadership important?

Prioritizing creativity in leadership enables leaders to address the common pitfalls of teamwork, in turn allowing organizations to:
– Increase productivity
– Drive innovation
– Achieve goals

2. What does a design leader do?

Design leaders primarily forge teams. A design leader’s goal is to bring together diverse teams and ideas, thus facilitating innovation. Design leaders create the ideal spaces for people to come together into teams and make sure that the team runs smoothly and that their ideas are implemented.

3. What does a creative leader do?

Creative leaders are characterized by their ability to watch the bigger picture as they figure out the steps to get there. Creative leaders plan for significant obstacles that may arise in the future while ensuring that their solutions to any immediate concerns are sustainable and contribute to the overall goal.

4. How are design leaders different from creative leaders?

Though many aspects of design and creative leaders overlap, there is a significant distinction between the two. Design leaders focus on building teams and encouraging innovation in their spaces. Creative leaders focus on driving the team and the organization towards their goals.