Unleashing Creativity – The Leadership ‘X’ Factor for Solving Tough Problems

As CEO of a creative services firm, Steve has lived with the issue for 13 years. It’s the tyranny of continuously generating billable hours. This service business model can be feast or famine as client demand ebbs and flows.

What nagging challenge have you lived with far too long?

On what problem would you love to unleash ingenious creativity?

Creativity Proposition

Every leader can unleash ingenious creativity by embracing one leadership ‘X’ Factor.

Leadership Creativity X-Factor

Leadership X-Factor for Creativity
Photo Credit: Todd Kemp

In a recent coaching session I asked about this challenge. Steve said he’d love to solve this, but how? Where to start? He asked for help. I agreed to facilitate a creative problem solving session for his team.

Thanks to the Creative Problem Solving framework in Gregg Fraley’s book Jack’s Notebook, we helped Steve’s team identify fresh solutions. He said they’ve “reinvigorated” the team and will likely increase performance.

The Leader’s Creativity Problem

As leader, would you like to harness more creativity to solve the tough issues?

Let’s face it: other people solve easy problems. Tough challenges end up at your doorstep because you’re the leader.

That’s why 60% of CEOs in a global IBM study of 1,500 CEOs from companies of all sizes and industries cited creativity as the most important leadership quality.

I see it differently.

Is creativity vital to a CEO’s leadership and company success? Certainly.

They ignore a vital prerequisite for unleashing team creativity, however.

Steve, CEO of the creative services firm, ironically, wouldn’t side with the 60% of CEOs surveyed. Working with him, I see that Steve has the ‘X’ Factor that unleashes greater creativity and other key cultural traits.

Unleashing Creativity – The Leadership ‘X’ Factor

Steve has it. The CEOs who gather monthly in our peer advisory forum have it.

Jim Collins’ research team identified this leadership ‘X’ Factor in his seminal bestseller Good to Great.

Yet 88% of CEOs in the 2010 global study ignored it, ranking it dead last!

Innovators at AT&T’s Bell Labs who held the most patents had it.

Executives and associates at IDEO, a global design consultancy, are exemplars of the ‘X’ Factor. (See Harvard Business Review, January-February 2014, p. 53.)

Sadly, the ‘X’ Factor is readily ignored in many leadership circles.

Abraham Lincoln practiced it with aplomb. Consider these words written by the President of the United States to an up-and-coming leader:

When you first reached the vicinity of [your objective]… I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong. (Lincoln on Leadership, p. 104.)

Lincoln penned this letter of commendation to a victorious General Ulysses Grant during the U.S. Civil War.

Leadership Benefits of the ‘X’ Factor

The ‘X’ Factor enabled Steve to ask his team for help. Consequently, he gained fresh insights into long-standing challenges which reinvigorated his team.

The ‘X’ Factor causes like-minded CEOs in our peer advisory forum to seek help. They solve their tough issues and grow as leaders.

Evidence for it wouldn’t be ignored by Jim Collins. It is distinctive of Level 5 Leaders who built enduring great companies.

The ‘X’ Factor helped unleash vast innovation at Bell Labs.

It’s intentionally built into the culture at IDEO and drives innovation for clients.

The ‘X’ Factor marked President Lincoln’s leadership and helped his leaders achieve new successes.

The ‘X’ Factor and You

What problem could the ‘X’ Factor help you solve?

What issue confronts you, that if solved, could be a game-changer for you?

When you embrace the ‘X’ Factor you increase your capacity for exceptional leadership. With it, you harness the innate genius of your collective team.

What is the ‘X’ Factor?


An ancient proverb states: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Doug Guthrie, professor of International Business and Management at George Washington University, writes in a recent Forbes article:

 In the end, what we teach about leadership in business schools simply does not prepare students for leading, because we ignore the importance of humility in business and beyond.

Leaders who embrace humility can unleash ingenious creativity – and much more!

In what ways have you experienced authentic leadership humility, or lack thereof, and to what effect? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I invite you to join the conversation.