After presenting an “Idea Magnets” keynote last week for the inaugural customer forum at one of our logistics industry clients, an attendee pointed out an intriguing omission when it comes to creative leadership. Talking afterward, he noted a creative leadership characteristic that shows up near the top on most lists of what it takes to be a strong leader was missing from Idea Magnets: empathy.

Acknowledging empathy IS a frequently mentioned leadership quality, I began trying to figure out why empathy isn’t part of Idea Magnets.

Do Idea Magnets Get a Pass on Empathy?


I thought back on the strategic mentors and creative leadership standouts I’ve known and worked with that shaped the Idea Magnets content. Quite honestly, with a couple of exceptions, empathy is NOT high on the list of their common characteristics. While none displayed the creative prickliness one associates with classic creative geniuses, they were all intently driven toward realizing their strong creative visions. While giving a nod to team members’ needs and feelings, they push incredibly hard creatively. That can mean feelings, mental and physical energy, and reasonableness go by the wayside since the creative goal is the most important thing in sight.

Even though empathy may be a vital leadership skill overall, I don’t think it’s high on the list for successful idea magnets.

That doesn’t make them better or worse when it comes to creative leadership.

It simply means they can accomplish what they need to accomplish creatively without being overly concerned with team members situations and sensibilities.

How Do Creative Leadership and Empathy Match Up for You?

I’m curious to know where you would place empathy as a creative leadership trait for idea magnets. Is empathy a must have, nice to have, or a non-factor in realizing creative aspirations in a team?  – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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3 Responses to “Creative Leadership – Do Idea Magnets Get a Pass on Empathy?”

  1. I’ve worked with and for some brilliant, creative people. The common denominator was often a lack of empathy for their employees as human beings. Ultimately I believe that to be self-defeating.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Interesting that you point out that negative correlation, Alex. I edited out a section of the blog post that talked about how classic creative geniuses might typically be thought of as indifferent to those around them. I view idea magnets as being different in that their creativity attracts other critical participants to the creative process.

      Here’s another take from a LinkedIn comment on the post that’s worth considering: http://t.co/kY1HrXumAY

      And here’s another from Twitter: https://twitter.com/zenflyfishing/status/628631550540689408

  2. What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity. If we get that right, the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places.