Thinking Outside of the Box leads to Great Leaders

What makes a great leader? While some commonly listed traits are communication and charisma, everyone’s opinion is different. Forbes Magazine contributor Tanya Prive, names qualities like honesty, communication, and interpersonal skills, amongst others, as important traits of a leader. While these skills are undoubtedly important in a leader, she listed other skills that stand out: creativity, intuition, and inspiration.

Traits like creativity, following one’s intuition and inspiration, are traits that contribute to thinking outside of the box. Thinking out of the box is often associated with unpredictability, or viewed as a skill for the creative fields.  As the leader of an organization, it may be comfortable to follow the status quo and go with the flow. However, thinking outside of the box is a trait that can separate a good leader from a great leader.

Challenge the Status-Quo

By thinking outside of the box, a person can improve usual conventions by thinking of creative alternatives. Take for example Donna Morris, the current senior vice president of Human Resources at Adobe. When she started with the company, she recognized a problem, namely that the annual performance-review seemed to contradict Adobe’s emphasis on a close office culture. Rather than allowing the tradition to continue, she eliminated the annual performance reviews and replaced them with regular check-ins.

Creative Approach to Problem Solving

Thinking outside of the box also allows a leader to see things that are not so obvious, presenting a unique perspective to resolving a challenge or achieving a new goal. Thinking outside of the box allows a leader to see a relationship that may not be quite as obvious to others. During his time as the CEO at Alcoa, Paul O’Neill demonstrated how thinking outside of the box could have positive outcomes. O’Neil was able to drastically increase profit margins at Alcoa, not by focusing on advertising or developing new products, but by focusing on worker safety. He saw that worker safety and worker productivity was related to an increase in profit margins. Recognizing the connection between these two seemingly unrelated factors allowed O’Neill to not only reduce workplace injury by 90% but also to reach record high-profit margins.

This isn’t to say that the tried-and-true methods are irrelevant and should be disregarded. These methods have been demonstrated to be successful, and should definitely be kept. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for new ideas or procedures. As people strive to distinguish themselves from the crowd, perhaps it is time to reward ideas that may be outside of the box.