World Class Faculty & Research / September 22, 2016

Creative Benefits of Well-Connected Leaders

Latest research from the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change (CLIC) at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

If you are a leader and manager in your organization, you likely understand that fostering creative ideas leads to innovation within your organization. You also are likely to understand that networking within and outside of your organization is beneficial to your ability to implement and be effective as a change agent in your organization.

Likewise, if you are an employee, you likely understand that bringing forth creative ideas to your manager can help you be considered a high performer within the organization and that networking is important to your success in climbing the career ladder.

But did you know that networking and creativity are closely tied and that employees are more likely to generate and bring forth creative ideas as a result of their own networks and their leaders’ networks? At the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, students are taught benefits of both networking and creativity, and in a new study led by Vijaya Venkataramani, associate professor of management and organization, these skills that are crucial to success in business were actually found to be linked.

Creative ideas are often risky to bring forth in an organization because of a high degree of uncertainty. But when employees had their own robust networks within and outside of their organization and when they had access to their managers’ networks within and outside of their organization, employees had access to information that made creative ideas less risky. The more managers were connected to their own teams and their peer leaders, the more employees brought forth creative ideas. In addition, there were interactive links between the effects on creativity from employees’ and leaders’ networks. Employees’ internal networks were even more important in employees’ capacity to bring forth creative ideas when their leaders did not have robust internal and external networks. Likewise, employees’ external networks could outweigh the negative effects of their leaders not being well connected.

So what does all this research mean for leaders of organizations and their employees? Here are top three tips managers and employees to leverage their networks to help employees generate creative ideas.

Tips for managers:

  1. Use your position within your own team to foster your employees’ in generating creative ideas. Make sure you are constantly building a strong network within your own team so that employees feel comfortable with developing new ideas.
  2. Share your network of leaders within the organization with your team. This allows you to use your position of power within the organization to make employees more aware of organizational goals so that they understand how their new ideas may benefit the organization.
  3. Share your external networks with your employees so that they have more access to non-redundant information.

Tips for employees:

  1. When job hunting, seek out managers who have strong networks within and outside of their organizations. More importantly seek out managers who are willing to share these networks with you.
  2. If you hope to generate creative ideas and your manager does not have strong networks or does not share their networks with you, your own internal and external networks are even more important in your likelihood to generate and bring forth creative ideas. Make sure you work even harder to build your own networks if your leader does not share their network with you.
  3. When building networks internally within your organization, look at the organizational structure of the organization and strategically build relationships from different parts of the organization to pull out non-redundant information related to organizational goals.

All of this research reemphasizes that quality is more important than quantity in networking; employees will be in the best position to bring forth creative ideas when their have access to strong and diverse networks within and outside of their organizations.

Find out more about the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change (CLIC):

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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