Creative Leadership: Born from Design - by Rama Gheerawo

Ahead of the release of Creative Leadership: Born from Design tomorrow, 1 March, author Rama Gheerawo considers the motivations behind his exciting new book in the Designing Now series, and outlines the key principles of this important new concept: Creative Leadership.

Creative Leadership is about activating and bringing your
Head, Heart and Hands into dynamic and powerful balance.
This image contains the action of the practice.
Image by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.


How do we fix broken models of leadership?

I’m hoping that my new book on Creative Leadership may offer an answer. This publication is intended for three types of people: established leaders; emerging leaders; and the biggest group of all – those who were never billed to be leaders. Most of us sit in that last group.

This is not just a book for designers. It is for the creative that lives in every human. However, the idea did start with my life as a designer, and it was born from my core practice of inclusive design.

The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, the RCA’s largest and longest-running centre for design research, has been influential in developing the practice of inclusive design over its 31 year-history. It is where I cut my teeth in addressing instances of exclusion by age, ability, gender, race, geography, class and economic context, just to name a few aspects of human diversity that we need to better consider. Inclusive design aims to address the largest number of people. At the Centre, we simply say it is about ‘improving life’.


Foyle Bubbles, a series of pop-up spaces on
the riverbank, claiming the space for the community.
Image by Urban Scale Interventions.

Foyle Reeds for Public Health Agency Northern Ireland,
Ralph Alwani, 2016-18. Image by Ralf Alwani,
Greg Edwards, Urban Scale Interventions.


The genesis of the book and model for Creative Leadership emerged from a single insight: we need creatives who are leaders, and leaders who are creative. It was fuelled by an ache for equity and a realisation that if you change leadership you can potentially change everything.

Throughout the book, using real case studies, I reflect on creative leadership as a transformational process that can be applied to individuals, groups, organisations and projects. Whilst it draws on practice from the creative industries it transcends disciplines, roles and institutions. The model was honed over the last decade to create a framework from living experience. 

The Creative Leadership model is based on the three
connected values of Empathy, Clarity and Creativity.
Image by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.


At the book’s core are three leadership values of Empathy, Clarity and Creativity. These are based on the principles that:

  • Everyone has leadership potential and most of us can access these three values
  • Creativity is a universal ability to develop ideas that positively impact ourselves and others
  • Empathy is the hallmark of a twenty-first-century leader and is recognised as a signature value
  • Clarity is the link that aligns vision, direction and communication, personally and professionally


The faces of workshop participants express
a simple truth – Creativity nourishes the soul.
Images by Adam Hollingworth Photography.


These three values balance each other. All are needed. If you only have Empathy you might be seen as a pushover, or plumb the depths of Empathy exhaustion. Only Clarity and you may be dictatorial, over-rational or intellectual to less human degree. Creativity by itself needs direction, impetus and channelling, else you are bicycle pedalling hard but with no chain. The interplay of these values is what gives the model its strength.


A cutaway computer model showing key
features in the new ambulance design
including centrally-located stretcher allowing
360 degree access, treatment packs instead of
cabinets and drawers and daylight windows.
Image by Gianpaolo Fusari.

Paramedics conduct a clinical trial with
a patient simulation inside the new ambulance,
accessing the treatment packs and digital
information system above.

Image by Gianpaolo Fusari.

Creative Leadership proposes and cultivates a culture of inclusion. Current events continually demonstrate there has been a real need for its open-handed and open-hearted stance. It is an idea of its time, born from design and drawing on enduring, human values. Importantly, it provides a platform for us all to create the leadership we want to see, and effect this change in the world around us. 


Creative Leadership: Born from Design is out from the 1 March.
Order your copy HERE.