Managing a creative team can incredibly fun, but also exceptionally challenging. Creative employees are engaging, passionate, and bursting with incredible ideas; however, some may also be idiosyncratic, set in their ways, or even disorganized.
When managing your creative team, it's helpful to give some thought to what your leadership style is and how you can make it work for everyone. Do you rule your office with an iron fist? Or do you operate more of a democracy?
First, decide which leadership style is yours. Then you’ll want to learn how to leverage or adjust your style to get the most out of your creative team.
This type of leader is firm, inflexible and believes that rules, project specs and timelines are set in stone.
Unfortunately, your desire for order might not be the most natural match for some creative employees, who need room to breathe to perform at their best. You might want to consider softening your approach, otherwise you risk intimidating your creatives from bringing ideas forward. And possibly losing staff members altogether.
The key to making this leadership style work with your team is by choosing your battles. Let your team know that if they respect your hard-line on due dates, you'll be willing to consider their creative changes. Allow them to be flexible as long as they're being productive and turning in great work. A little give-and-take can go a long way.
You can also consider padding every hard-line deadline with milestones, so no one’s learning at the wire that you’re unable to consider changes - or that there’s no wiggle room for that deadline.
Much like an athletic coach, this type of leader gives constant feedback and tries to take advantage of each person's strength to build a strong team. Take advantage of your team-building abilities to find the chemistry among different members of your staff. You have the instincts to find that perfect combo of writer, designer, and social media marketer to knock out a killer campaign. Run with that.
Your tendency to give lots of feedback is great, but be careful with how it’s delivered. Sometimes a coach will make a very straightforward comment that may be interpreted as harsh in a creative setting. Sharing a creative idea can be very personal and make certain team members feel vulnerable. Be sure to try to give feedback kindly and acknowledge the courage it takes to share creative ideas.
The Role Model
This type of leader believes in leading by example. You strive to display excellence and believe that a good example is all your employees need to do their best.
Though your belief in modeling good habits is well intentioned (even admirable), remember that your creative employees might have their own way of doing things—relying on unique and approaches to develop their ideas. That's what makes them fantastic at their jobs. If they don't immediately follow your lead, don't take it personally. Instead focus on making sure you set clear expectations up front so the outcome is solid—that's what matters most.
Perhaps the role model’s biggest advantage is the ability to win people over. Your belief that your employees will follow your lead shows that you trust them. Keep showing that trust—often a little faith is all a creative employee needs to produce great work. Once they’ve established that level of trust in you, they’re more likely to consider the approaches and behaviors you've been modeling and follow your example.
This type of leader takes a democratic approach. You invite your creative team to weigh in on all decisions, and you encourage them to make their voices heard at all times.
This style of leadership will be valued by almost any type of employee, but will be especially appreciated by your creative team. Valuing their opinions will encourage them to take risks and share their best ideas, as well as validate their efforts. Encouraging team members to speak up shows that you respect them, which creates a healthy and happy working environment.
Do remember, though, that you are still the leader, and at times you will need to exercise your authority. No one appreciates the leader who they feel could “solve the problem quickly but is unwilling to do so, or who doesn’t seem to notice the problem.” Draw healthy lines in the sand while still encouraging your staff to share. The result will be a productive and respectful relationship between you and your team.
Whatever your leadership style, there is a way to make it work with your creative team. The trick is to identify your style, your beliefs and your tendencies first. From there you can make informed, strategic decisions about how you will lead. Leading any creative team effectively is, after all, about balance.
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