Leadership, Creativity, and Coronavirus

How we can creatively lead in rapidly changing times

In the Master of Organizational Leadership program at The King’s University, one of the final classes students take is called Current Issues and Leadership Studies. It’s a great class, and it helps students to see how the field of leadership studies is moving in new and interesting directions. One of the topics in this class is the idea of arts and aesthetics in leadership. We talk about thinking of leadership as an artist would, using all of our physical senses, thinking about intuition and extra-rational ways to think about leading our organizations, as well as expressing meaning to others through the arts as a leader, using symbols, stories, metaphors, etc. Further, it acknowledges the realty of paradoxes and tension as  a normal part of organizational life, and that “solving problems” is not the only important thing that leaders do. This is pretty “out there” stuff for a discipline that is largely rooted in the “rational” approach and the social sciences but can offer powerful ways to think about leadership and open up new ways to be effective as leaders. 

This should not be too “out there” for believers. After all, we serve a creative God. In fact, the very first thing that we read about God doing in the Bible is that He created something (Gen. 1:1). If we are made in God’s image, then we too must be creative beings. I really think creativity is part of God’s image, reflected in us in a variety of ways. We have a lot of creative students at TKU, and creating things requires a different approach than does studying. It requires a little more intuition, flexibility, and reflexivity between our environment and our feelings and what’s going on in the world. Yet even Christian leaders can get stuck in a rationalistic, managerial, and problem-solving mode, doing things the way we always do things. But if the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is that “business as usual” does not work. (Not sure if it ever did—we just like to find a solution and go on cruise control. But that is the topic for another blog.)

This idea of artistic expression has made its way into thinking about and practicing leadership. Leadership is about creating solutions to problems, making our way into the future, creating vision, meaning, and purpose for people, and helping organizations align around common cause. Thinking about the intersection of the arts and leadership is interesting. As leaders, we are creative people. We create a vision of something for our ministry our organizations, not necessarily creating “something out of nothing”—we’re not God—but we utilize resources and harness people’s energy, expertise, energy, ability, and commitment to help us create an organization or ministry that is effective and meaningful.

In the class I gave students an option to do a discussion online post on a creative expression that reflects creativity and their leadership. Several of them decided to write about things that they’re doing in response to our current COVID19 quarantine situation. One of the students wrote a poem called “For Now.” It was very hopeful and helpful, a great leadership posture. For now, we are homebound, for now we’re isolated, scared, maybe even out of work. But this is a season that we’re going through and God has great things ahead, and God is going to redeem the “for now,” and in hindsight we will see what He’s doing. It truly blessed the class and conveyed a powerful idea in an artistic in creative way, and helps us make sense of things beyond what a typical “rational” exhortation can. 

Another student described what their church did for Easter. He is a children’s pastor of a medium sized church in the DFW area. They did a “drive-by Easter egg hunt.” They created big pictures of colorful eggs, and each of the eggs had a Scripture verse on it or something related to the resurrection. They have a lot of windows in their church, and so they put the eggs in different “baskets” (windows), and they asked the parents to drive around with their kids to find all the different eggs, and to retell the story that they were seeing. So many people were blessed by that, and the response they received afterwards from the parents was tremendous. Even the older members, some whom are homebound, got in the cars and drove through. He described the tears in their eyes, that the church would come up with this creative way to still celebrate the purpose of Easter. What a great, creative leadership artistic expression to respond to a current situation. As we journey on through this season and beyond, think creatively about doing leadership in new and different ways. This season is forcing many of us to be creative. As we go into the future, think of yourself as an artist of sorts—you’re creating something that doesn’t exist, you’re using the capacity of creativity, the resources that God has given you to create something new in order to give people meaning, hope, purpose, and, of course, to share the gospel. So go out there, create something beautiful, and bring people closer in relationship with Jesus, through whom all things were created (John 1:3).

Dr. Frank Markow
Dr. Frank Markowhttp://collective.tku.edu
Dr. Frank Markow is the director of the Master of Organizational Leadership program at The King's University.