Fostering Creativity and Overcoming Envy in Your Organization

July 17, 2023

Fostering Creativity and Overcoming Envy in Your Organization

Are the leaders in your company feeling overshadowed by their creative stars? Understanding the underlying reasons behind their feelings of threat is essential to ensure they contribute to, rather than hinder, the continued development of creativity within your organization. 

In today's fast-paced business landscape, creativity has become an increasingly sought-after skill. It is no surprise then that creativity is now considered one of the most crucial qualities for successful leadership, surpassing even integrity and global thinking, according to a study by IBM. 

With this shift, a pertinent question arises: Might managers feel threatened when their subordinates gain recognition as creative individuals? To explore this question, another study published in the Journal of Management shows interesting views about this:

Leaders may experience envy toward their employees' creative reputation.

Leadership positions come with certain privileges, such as social influence, respect, control over resources, and decision-making authority, which are not typically granted to lower-level employees. These privileges become an expected part of the leadership role. Consequently, when managers perceive that their subordinates are gaining access to these same social advantages, they may feel threatened.

The study revealed that managers indeed felt threatened by their creative employees.

However, it wasn't the employees' creative abilities per se that caused the envy, but rather their reputation for being creative. Novel and practical ideas are highly sought-after in organizations today. Those who consistently generate such ideas gain social influence, as they are seen as possessing a valuable resource that others desire. They become admired sources of knowledge and information that can inform decision-making.

Employees who establish a reputation for creativity work hard to maintain that image. 

However, findings indicate that managers in the study reported feeling envious of their employees' creative reputations and, in some cases, attempted to undermine their advantages.

Leaders can manage their envy constructively or destructively.

Envy, despite its association with the "seven deadly sins," can have both positive and negative aspects. Envy serves as a social emotion that alerts us when our position in the social hierarchy is threatened and motivates us to take action to catch up.

Research shows that the motivational component of envy can manifest in two different ways. On one hand, individuals may feel the urge to thwart or discount the advantages of the envied person, hoping they will fall down the social ladder. On the other hand, individuals may feel motivated or inspired to improve their own relative standing through greater effort and self-improvement.

Both instances involve experiencing painful feelings of envy. However, the former reflects a malicious form of envy directed at diminishing the envied person, while the latter reflects a benign form of envy directed at self-improvement.

The study shows that these two forms of envy played a critical role in determining whether managers attempted to sabotage their employees known for their creativity or, alternatively, sought to learn from them. Managers who experienced malicious envy tried to hinder their employees' creative output by withholding necessary information and resources. In contrast, managers who experienced benign envy sought to learn from the envied employees by seeking their advice and assistance in developing creative ideas.

Building leaders' confidence in their own creative abilities is key.

While it may not always be possible to prevent managers from feeling envy towards their creative employees, it is possible to help them channel those feelings in ways that are less hostile and more productive. Research suggests that people are more likely to experience the useful, benign form of envy when they believe they are capable of improving their relative standing.

The rationale is that if individuals believe that dedicating effort will enable them to catch up to the competition, they are more likely to focus on finding ways to better themselves. Otherwise, they may feel compelled to stifle the advantages of others.

The study revealed that managers who had confidence in their own ability to generate creative ideas were more likely to channel their envy productively by seeking ideas and assistance from their employees. Fortunately, it is possible to train managers in creative skills and build their confidence in their creative abilities. Teaching skills related to cognitive flexibility, divergent thinking, and narrative cognition, and providing clear recognition of their creative efforts and feedback for improvement, are effective strategies.

Fostering a culture of creativity requires leaders who are not threatened by their employees' creative reputations but are inspired to learn from them. By understanding and managing envy in a constructive manner, leaders can contribute to the growth and success of their organization. Building leaders' confidence in their creative abilities is a crucial step in this process. Embrace creativity as a valuable asset in your organization and empower your leaders to unlock their creative potential.