Author(s), Title and Publication

Mayfield, M. & Mayfield, J. (2017). Leader talk and the creative spark: A research note on how leader motivating language use influences follower creative environment perceptions. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(2), 210-225. DOI: 10.1177/2329488416687057


Garden variety creativity, which happens whenever someone develops a new way of dealing with a workplace issue, makes daily routines more efficient and fulfills employees’ need for expression in the workplace. With a sample of over 140 workers drawn from diverse organizations, this study focused on how leaders construct talk to nurture worker creative support. Such talk most helps garden variety creativity workers–people whose jobs do not focus on innovation and creativity, but can still use their natural creative drives in their daily job situations–rather than creativity professionals–people whose jobs focus on creating new products and processes.

As leader communication is a vast term and covers many communication behaviors, the authors chose motivating language (ML) as the lens. ML categorizes all leader-to-follower speech into three facets: direction giving language, empathetic language, and meaning-making language. To capture the creative environment, the authors used the creative environment perceptions (CEP) model. This model classifies an organization’s creative environment into three areas: support for creativity, the nature of the work itself, and blocks to creativity. The findings support an important relationship between leader ML and an employee’s positive perceptions of the creative environment at work–with ML accounting for 55% of CEP variance. Findings also showed a 7% increase in creative environment perceptions for every 10% increase in motivating language use.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) be aware that the creative process is interactive and the result of several interrelated factors such as supervisory behaviors, rewards, organizational culture and climate, individual personality, job design, and time pressure, and therefore ML must be used in context to optimize its benefits, (2) develop creativity training through cognitively anchored instruction, such as problem identification and convergent thinking, which emphasizes specific skills, incorporates real-world applications, and is lengthy in duration, and (3) partner creativity training programs for employees with ML instruction for managers.

Location of Article

This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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