By Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams

We all look up to the great leaders among us — the men and women who seem to have a knack for creating inspiring visions of the future while building company cultures that bring out the very best in employees. And while individual leaders are key to an organization’s success, collective leadership effectiveness carries the day. This means that companies are poised for even greater success when they scale their leadership, that is, when they grow leaders throughout the organization and align them into a collectively effective leadership system.

Leadership is ultimately about scaling the capacity and capability of an organization to create outcomes that matter most and to fulfill the vision of its desired future. However, the ability of an organization to scale its leadership is in great degree limited or enhanced by the dynamic between the two most common kinds of leaders revealed by our many years of research: Reactive and Creative.

Reactive leaders emphasize caution over creating results, self-protection over productive engagement, and aggression over building alignment. These self-limiting styles overemphasize the focus on gaining the approval of others, protecting oneself, and getting results through high-control tactics. Reactive leadership inhibits collective effectiveness and does not scale leadership.

Creative leaders, on the other hand, are less self-centric and are much more about developing the capacity and capability of others and the organization. They are approachable and skillful in working with people, listen well, build high-performing teams, mentor and develop capability in others, and empower their people. Creative leadership is built for scale.

To build organizations that are more agile, innovative, adaptive, and high performing in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, Creative leadership is required. These new organizational designs simply cannot boot up on the Reactive Operating System most leaders are running.  Reactive leadership is, simply stated, inadequate to creating these kinds of cultures.

Leadership scales capacity and capability in others, through teams, and in the organization by putting in place these six conditions:

1. Creative leadership. This condition requires that the leadership system of the organization undergo a fundamental shift from Reactive leadership to Creative. Creative leaders inspire commitment and loyalty to the organization and its mission. They also build an open, honest, authentic, optimistic, generative, and innovative culture where the best ideas can emerge, be implemented, and where everyone is encouraged to develop.

2. Deep relationship. Scale requires being in deep relationship based on the firm foundation of trust, transparency, and honesty. Great leaders foster deep relationship. It is foundational to courageous truth-telling, getting the best thinking on the table, and innovating creative solutions to challenging problems.

3. Radically human. Leaders who scale leadership start with themselves. They let go and then learn out loud (publicly) while embracing the vulnerability of not knowing. This requires more than simply learning new skills. It requires maturing in the inner game of leadership, which requires a profound shift of mind and heart.

4. Systems awareness. Highly Creative leaders think “big picture.” They see and design systems for higher, more durable, and more agile performance in a fast-changing world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Design is the primary determinate of performance.

5. Purposeful achievement. The very best leaders call us, individually and collectively, to a higher purpose. They inspire us to give our discretionary energy to a cause greater than ourselves. Being driven by purpose, they turn that purpose into a clear, lofty, strategic vision that translates into strategy and execution.

6. Generative Tension. Tension is a component in each of the conditions for scaling leadership. Generative Tension is the gap between our aspirations and our current reality. Great leaders cultivate this tension at every level. They establish it by committing to what matters most, and by fiercely and compassionately telling the truth about current situations.

The seeds of growth are buried deep within every leader, but this growth can’t occur without the right conditions and environment. It takes the right kind of leadership — creative leadership — that can scale and grow as these organizations themselves scale and grow. Creative leaders get a large multiple on their leadership by developing and scaling leadership all around them.

By putting these six conditions into place, any leader in any organization can build and scale a Creative leadership culture — leveraging the tremendous benefits that are certain to be unleashed.


Robert Anderson is the founder, Chairman, and Chief Creative Officer of The Leadership Circle and Full Circle Group. William Adams is CEO and co-founder of Full Circle Group and CEO of The Leadership Circle. Together, they are authors of the books Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most (Wiley, 2019) and Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015).