The DarkSide of the Creative Leader

Whenever I have done one of those leadership review surveys, I always come up as an entrepreneurial leader. I tend to start new projects often and have no problem coming up with creative ideas. I have only ever gone to one job interview which was for my first ministry appointment, every other job I have had I have either convinced someone to create, or just gone out and raised the money for that position myself.

People love creative, entreprenurial leaders. They have energy and vision, they see the world differently and are always doing seemingly exciting things, and starting unique projects. However one thing that I have learnt is that there can be a dark side to being a creative leader. This struck home to me recently as I was watching the documentary The Naked Lentil. Here is a write up from the site that fills you in on what the documentary is about.

“Nine years ago, charismatic Sri Lankan migrant Shanaka Fernando dropped out of law school to open ‘Lentil As Anything’, a crazy little restaurant in Melbourne where there are no prices, no cash registers, and no rules – but where you can always get a great vegetarian meal even if you can’t pay a cent. Today Shanaka runs a string of busy pay-as-u-feel venues staffed by 100 migrants from all around the world, who rely on the organization for work, training, accommodation, driving lessons and a vital social network. Shanaka even won the Australian of The Year Local Hero award in 2007. But while he may be a visionary, he’s no business manager, and his quixotic creation has racked up a huge debt that’s threatening to sink the whole organization and pull everyone down with it. Now the question is – can a place that relies solely on human generosity survive in this world; or will it be torn apart by competing egos, chronic chaos and crippling debt?”

At first as I watched the show I recognised a lot of similarities with how Shanaka thinks. I have been to his restaurant and loved the experience and saw lots of great things, in some ways in was tiny vignette of the kingdom. But then as you watch the show, you begin to see the downside of both Shanaka’s organic vision and his lack of structure. The cook is forced to work so much he can barely see his family, which places huge strain on his marriage. Another employee who has saved up money to go and see his sick father in Nepal, has to give that money to another worker who has not been paid in order for his family to not be deported. Then there is the elderly supplier who is owed thousands of dollars by the venture and is forced to work himself to the bone in order keep his head above worker. There is Shanaka’s offsiders who are always having to apologise for him and clean up his messes.

As you watch you realise that there is an unintentional darkside to the entrepreneurial leader. Bizarrely this justice driven project begins to create its own subtle form of injustice. This unitended result is almost completely down to the creative leaders inability to create a sustainable structure and his lack of self discipline to do the mundane jobs that are needed to prop up the fun creative stuff.

I have seen this in my own life and ministry and in the lives of other creative entrepreneurial leaders, who sadly sometimes create tremendous pain and pressure on those around them when lack of attention is paid to necessary structure and details. Charisma, creativity and a lack of self discipline can be a damaging combination in a leader. Therefore the successful creative leader, must also work on their weak spots or at least surround themselves with people who can fill in for their deficiencies.

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