21 Tips That Will Help You Lead Creatives

Steve Fogg —  May 6, 2014 — 5 Comments

leading-creatives-tips

I’ve worked with and led creatives for the last twenty years. I’ve worked with photographers, web and graphic designers, advertising creatives, videographers, writers, artistic directors, art directors and creative directors. Mostly before I started working in my church role as a Communications Director/Pastor.

The reason why I’m writing this post is that I think I can help you from what I’ve learnt. Especially if you are a Pastor or leader in a church or non-profit. Why is that? I find that creative types don’t necessarily feel like they ‘fit’ in church or non-profit world. I don’t think that some leaders know how to get the most from their creative community. It’s not because their heart isn’t for their creative community, it’s just that the creative community is very unique and doesn’t necessarily fit into the normal box.

Below are twenty one tips that may help you and may just help you realise the full potential of your creative community.

1. Don’t manage – release

Like oil and water, so are the words creativity and management. They don’t mix. Creatives aren’t cattle to be corralled. They thrive by being released into their own free-range field of creativity. You, as the leader have to manage deadlines, production and other important milestones, and they do need to be aware of them, but not feel like you are in close quarter combat with them to get the project delivered on-time. Releasing a creative into the right creative pasture will pay dividends in the creative outcome. Putting a finished artist in a conceptual designers pasture won’t go well, and vice-versa.

2. Leader, yes you, be a good shepherd

Shepherds care and protect for their sheep. Staff are only in it for the result. Be a shepherd. Your staff will sense the difference. When you then lead them through challenging seasons they will follow. Ask them how their world is going. Follow them up. Care for them. Surprise them in the highest pressured moments to show them they mean more than project in front of you.

3. Make space for creativity

We live in a deadline filled world. Your job as a creative leader is to create the space for them to be creative. There are many different ways to do this, but one of the best gifts you can give them is time. Time to plumb the depths of their creativity to discover the right concept and run with it. If you only give them a ridiculously short time you can’t expect the outcome.

4. Be flexible

Some creatives don’t operate on normal business hours. Give them leeway to turn up later and leave later. Some of the best creativity comes when a creative is in their creative rhythm. That doesn’t necessarily fit into your church office hours box. Having said that, give them clear expectations. It’s okay to be flexible, but that means that you expect them to stay later if they start later. Be clear, be upfront and you will get the best out of them.

5. Give them deadlines

While you need to give the creative time and space to create it doesn’t mean that they don’t need to know that there is a deadline coming. Ownership is a powerful principle and if your creative truly owns their work it will extend to them getting it in on time. One of the key values I like my creatives and team to have is ownership. If you are creative you own everything, not just the art, but how the art gets delivered, on time and in the right format. You as a leader need to help them grow in this, but it is possible to make even the vaguest creative hit their deadline (I’m one by the way).

6. Tell them the ‘why’, not just the ‘how’

Artists can be all about the art, which is great if you only ever want to be an artist who creates for creating sake. But creatives who creative for a cause are doing it because they believe they have a purpose. Sometimes it is easy for them to forget this. Remind them. Tell them stories of the difference they are making. Connect their creativity to a soul. Because they are part of the thousands of steps people take in a spiritual journey towards Christ. They need to know that they make a significant contribution to this.

7. Be honest in your feedback

Creatives can be sensitive souls. Again, I should know, I am one. Honest feedback is the quickest route to the final creative solution. Sometimes it can be minimal, or painful. Often we leave a part of ourselves in the work that we create. Being honest means in a healthy way explaining to them what needs to change. In the past I’ve worked with precious people who saw their work as sacred ground and not to be messed with. I steer clear of creatives who aren’t teachable. I don’t steer clear of creatives that defend the rationale behind their work and back themselves. Positive feedback helps creative grow and be stretched.

8. Keep them busy

There is nothing worse than a creative who has nothing to do. Ensure that they have small tasks that they can fill gaps when larger projects are with the client or ministry partner. For example my creatives know they have social media posts to create during free time.

9. Let them fail forward

Failing is hard. Failing and learning from mistakes is hard, but healthy. A mistake in production can be very costly. But if reviewed correctly and the creative knows how to avoid the mistake next time, that will actually empower the creative to own the whole creative process which is a really good leadership step for them. I’ve had creatives who knew nothing about production, who now know so much because they have learnt from their mistakes. Sometimes it has cost nothing, other times it has cost more. But I’ve never seen a creative who truly owns their work make the same mistake twice.

10. The work environment matters

This one is huge. Beige decor and fluorescent office lighting can be a contributor to the death of creativity. Help them to get out of the office. Give them the freedom to personalise and remodel (where possible). A happy and productive creative is one who creates in an environment they can feel creative in.

11. Identify their strengths and weaknesses

Some creatives can pump work out. Some need time and space. Some major on the creative concept and minor on the execution into different collateral pieces. Some are great at print, others excel at illustration. Some prefer photography, others prefer an illustrative solution. If you can see strengths in your creatives. Lean into them. Major in giving them the work you know they will be great at. Minor in the other stuff. For example I have worked with a creative who was great at concept development, but struggled and procrastinated when it came to executing it.

12. Understand they are not difficult, just misunderstood

This is huge. In most cases, creatives don’t follow systems that well. Many are sponanteous and not systematic in their thinking. It doesn’t mean that they are difficult, because you’ve had to remind them for the tenth time to do something. Yes, they need to learn how to think systematically where possible. But don’t expect them to catch it easily. An easy way to get a creative started to become more process driven is to have them keep a written ‘to do’ list at all times. The simpler, the better. They can move onto more sophisticated planning once they have mastered this.

13. Surprise them

This is one tip I love to do, but I could do more of. For my team last Christmas I bought them an unusual Christmas present each from Tattly. Perfect for wannabe hipster creative types. You could take them to a gallery, or take them for a walk. Or buy coffee. Whatever works in your context to surprise them. Which by the way is another way to say, bless them. Make them feel special and appreciated for who they are.

14. Help them realise their value (importance)

Not every creative realises the power and potential of their work. What their work does in the souls of others. Help them connect what they do to the bigger picture of what is going on in your church. We have a saying – ‘connect the task with a soul’

15. Lead them in discovering their optimum work rhythm.

Many of you are probably early risers. For some of you, nothing fuels your faith like early morning devotional times. However, as I said in a previous tip many creatives they don’t even operate before 10am in the morning. What this means is that you may get your creative to turn up on time, but you won’t get the best out of them. I’m all for flexitime for creatives. Sleep in, work later. That way, they are here and I am probably getting them in their creative sweet spot rather than getting them here when all they can think about is hoping that their morning latte will kick in.

As a leader it’s your job to help them discover what is working and what won’t work. Is an early or late start the best time? What kind of environment do they thrive in? Are they clearing other distractions to focus on what they need to focus on? Are they procrastinating? (Big one). What kind of work do you see as their ‘sweet creative spot’? Feed back to them on a regular basis. Is there a time of day where they should work on one type of job, and another to work on creative conceptual work?

16. Tell them you expect results

You can be the nice guy/girl on heaps of things to motivate, reward and help your creative be the best they can be in their work, but there is a bottom line. Results. Outcomes. Deadlines. Be clear up front what you expect, and repeat over and over again. It makes the expectation that we are in a results business normal, rather than the exception. They should be hitting the creative mark in whatever shape that looks like in your context.

17. Shared ownership

Shared ownership is a concept I ask of every person I work with. We are all responsible for the project as a whole, not just the small part we play in it. That means we all own the deadline. We all need to take the initiative and check for mistakes, we all follow people up to ensure things are done when we say they will be done. We are only a team until one of us decides to go solo and only look after themselves. In the idea of shared ownership if there is a mistake, then ultimately it is my responsibility as the leader of the team to take ownership of that mistake to others outside of my team. That is part of the deal. It frees team members from feeling like they have the sole responsibility way above their pay grade, but also encourages them to share the ownership as part of the team.

18. If you bore them they will eventually leave

Get the right person for the role they are performing is a huge step in keeping staff. If they are always doing tasks that are boring or outside of their passion spot then sooner rather than later they will look for somewhere that can help them restore that passion in what they do. It doesn’t mean that they don’t share the menial load of stock standard work, but if you can also challenge them with the right work that fuels their creativity rather than solely dampening it you are not only helping them, you are helping get the outcomes you need for your team.

19. Coach them to realise it’s not about ‘the art’

This is a huge concept many creatives just don’t get. They put art on a pedestal as the be-all-and-end-all. It’s not. What should remain front and centre is the goal of the creative project. Did they achieve it? Review constantly with them.

20. Put them in the punters shoes

We can all live in a bubble where we see life and our work through our own lens. Sometimes that is a creative strength, sometimes that is a complete and utter failure. How our audience sees what we do, and how we see what we do, and how the work speaks can be diametrically opposed. Ensure your creatives are in the environment where their work is presented. Get them to be in a position to get feedback from the average member of their work’s audience.

21. Realise that most creatives are either extroverts or introverts

The vast majority of creative types I’ve worked with are introverts. How you interact with introverts is massively different to how you work with extroverts. Extroverts thrive mostly on public interaction. Introverts prefer feedback mostly in private. Although praise is good in a public space. Introverts build trust slowly, feel deeply, and are very, very loyal. Building relationship with them takes time. This can impact how you interact with them and you need to be very careful how you choose your words with introverts. Words as we know have both the power of life and death. What may be a just a minor cut for an extrovert can be a critical wound for an introvert.

22. Repeat tip no. 1 (Bonus tip!)

Creatives are complex and magnificent people. They are generally misunderstood and undervalued in church world. Keep inspiring them, loving and leading them. And always keep learning on how to lead them.

What tips do you have? What works for you? Comment below now.

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5 responses to 21 Tips That Will Help You Lead Creatives

  1. I work as a hands-on creative as well as a creative director and love these spot-on tips. Most important thing: allowing the time-space continuum to shift as needed. I went solo in 1989 for a lot of reasons, among them the need to shape my own work environment, etc.

    Only once did a client complain about my request not to schedule phone conferences before 10:30 AM (at the time, I’d get my best work done between 11PM and 3AM). The boss of her told her to back off!

  2. Great little post Foggy – i totally agree with point 2 and think it is done badly generally across the board – if all staff were treated that way then orgs would get far more loyalty and longevity and productivity from them.
    I think i would be a little wary about point 19 – i used to think that way strongly – but time and experience and creatives have taught me that if you take the ‘art’ away from them then you also remove the motivation, passion and life in what they do. I also think we dumb down the audience too much by insisting that ‘art’ cannot be the medium of communication. Most people can ‘get it’ and actually i think a growing number of people are entering into that world more and more. So don’t take the ‘art’ out of creative.

    • Thanks K, I’m not saying there is an absence of art, that of course should resonate throughout any creative piece, but more that it is just the end itself.

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