Research on Creativity and Leadership

Developed by Dr. Gary Waddell, the materials in this section are short resources on creativity and creative leadership for use by arts educators and leaders. They each distill a theme in the literature as it applies to leadership practice, or to tools that focus on creativity and creative leadership. They are intended to be used as “plug and play” types of materials to illustrate concepts in professional learning, or presentations, or during collaborative meeting time.


Heart of Creativity— Creative Research Briefs

One-pagers on a variety of key concepts from the literature on creativity. The documents include a description, reflection prompts, as well as linked resources for further reading.

A Bias Toward Action

Creativity requires action. Creative thinking is essential, but until an idea moves from thinking to action, a creative solution doesn’t have legs. You can do this by establishing separate development and implementation phases while working on a problem.

Artists aren’t the only ones who are creative, we are all born with creativity. Unlocking that innate creativity in students, educators, and leaders empowers deeper learning and collaboration.

Creativity at its heart is about doing something new. Designing something new often requires us to abandon traditional solutions so that we can lean into new ideas and ways of thinking. Creative solutions that have not been done before, can be messy, and accepting and embracing this takes courage.

We can make environments where creativity thrives by shaping educational environments to foster imagination. Creativity in learning, innovative decision making, and true collaboration, occurs in environments that value tinkering and encourage exploring new ideas. 

Creativity and logic require both hemispheres of the brain to be in play. Both sides of the brain are necessary for the spark of a creative idea to emerge and be put into practice.

True innovators approach their work differently by engaging in five key skills: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting. 

Motivation around our work drives us to more creatively engage in ways that transform systems. Explore how leaning into intrinsic internal motivation can ignite creativity.

Creativity is a muscle that can be developed through a set of skills and mindsets. Engaging in creative processes and expanding skills and mindsets around creativity can open doors to new ways of thinking.

Everyday creativity emerges from four domains. These domains are People, Process, Products, and Press. Together these four domains can provide a way to understand creativity.

Creative practitioners adopt new ideas that can sometimes be unpopular. Explore how Robert J Sternberg’s Investment Theory can be implemented for creative solutions that can develop into new opportunities.

Creative Leadership Briefs

One-pagers on core principles of creative leadership. The resources include a brief description, some helpful tips and principles of practice, reflection prompts, and resources for further reading.

Fail First

Creative leaders view failure as necessary for creativity and innovation to flourish.

Brainstorming — Rules of the Road

Applying some simple principles when brainstorming can make all the difference!

Arts as a Lever for Creative Decision-Making

Engaging teams in arts-based activities encourages relationship-building, collaboration, and creative thinking.

Vision Matters!

Creative leadership requires a bold, ambitious vision around a just cause.

Building Dynamic, Creative Teams

The creative leader doesn’t go at it alone. Creative teams are necessary for organizational transformation.

Creativity Tools

Resources explaining three tools/modules for creative leadership developed by Dr. Gary Waddell including “The Ladder of Creative Leadership,” “The Four-Square Model of Creative Decision-Making,” and “The CREATE Model of Creative, Equitable System and Schools”

The Ladder of Creative Leadership
The Four-Square Model of Creative Decision-Making
The CREATE Model of Creative, Equitable System and Schools

Gary Waddell

Dr. Gary Waddell is an author, educational leader, and has served as a county office of education and district administrator in California. He has served in a variety of leadership roles and began his training and career in the arts. His recent book, The Art of Everything: Leading for We in the Age of Me, highlights his model of creative leadership that is built on empathy, humility, creativity, and equity. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.