Motivated by an acknowledged need to study creativity in the context of virtual project teams (VPTs), in this article, we contribute to theory by analysing the role that leadership plays for creativity in the different phases of the creative process in VPTs. We draw on a qualitative case study with 49 members who worked in six VPTs as part of an Industry-Academia collaboration. Using the longitudinal approach, we study each phase of the virtual product design process using interviews, observations and other materials (e.g. project documentation). We find that, in the virtual design context, creativity is best understood as a process and comes in different shapes as this process evolves. We also pinpoint that different, though complementary, leadership skills are necessary in order for VPTs’ creative potential to be unleashed. These findings highlight the heterogeneous character of leadership at the different phases of the creative process in VPTs.