How Can A Leader Herd Cats?

Managing teams in the creative industries—which contribute over $700 billion to the US economy—is often compared to herding cats.

Some argue that formal leadership can enhance creativity by directing and synthesizing the work of others. However, the presence of formal leaders may impede the self-organization that fuels creativity in creative teams.

An alternative is for the team to rely on "network leaders," who lack formal authority but are influential because of their centrality in the broader field.

Studying output from 346 New York City jazz bands over a decade, Gatton professor and Chellgren Endowed Chair, Ajay Mehra and colleagues find that formal leadership does indeed dampen creativity. At the same time, the presence of network leaders positively impacts team creativity and popularity (but reduces team longevity).

The prescription? Instead of trying to herd cats, use network leaders to connect teams with ideas and resources in the broader field. Then, sit back and enjoy the show. To learn more about Ajay’s research, click here.