Does leadership need to be different in highly creative industries and cultures?

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At the end of our last blog, we left you with the question, is it any different when leading and managing creatives?

To answer that, let’s start with who we mean by creatives and where would we find them?

Creative people can be found anywhere, but they do tend to congregate in the fields of music, art, chef, actor, writer, director, conductor inventor, science and engineering.  Definitely the Private Media people would fit into that category.

And how do we recognise them?

The creative type generally appears self-confident, often to the point of arrogance, has above average intelligence, is enthusiastic and optimistic, has diverse interests, is honest with him/herself, is able to tolerate a high degree of ambiguity, has an obsessive drive for perfection, being never, ever, ever, ever satisfied.  Further, they are highly intrinsically motivated, are uncommonly persistent, have unusual ability to concentrate and focus, have no fear of mistakes, willingly ask questions that show ignorance, will not compromise on things they hold dear, are risk-takers and boundary-pushers.  They do not seek approval from others (don’t confuse this with the need for recognition) and don’t like structure, direction or management.

 How do leaders best engage with creative people?

Firstly creativity can be frustrating as it may be being blocked by personal or external frustration. The frustration has many forms of expression including tantrums, withdrawal and absence from the workplace.  It’s hugely helpful for you as leader, to recognise that tantrums and other odd behaviour are all part of the creative process and not directed at you.  And more to the point, can you accept rather than judge them?

Other principles to keep in mind:

  • Creativity is not linear and comes in spurts and streaks.
  • After a creative spurt or streak it can be followed by what most people would regard as a period of inactivity (goofing-off?). No,  they are resting and incubating.
  • Creativity comes at any time of the day or night.

 And how do creative people see you, the leader?

They will most likely view you as their immediate boss first and foremost as a peer, not a manager.

Whether you accept it or not, they see themselves as a SPECIALIST – they have a unique role which cannot be done by anyone else in their absence. They probably know more about their respective field than you do.  In contrast, they see you as a GENERALIST, and if you hold a management position outside their group, they will likely view you as a GENERAL.

What have we learnt from on the principles (note not the rules) for how to lead and manage creative people?

1. Creative People Are High Maintenance
They will test your patience, maturity, intelligence and negotiation skills

2. Little or no supervision
They view any discipline as over-discipline, routine and paperwork are low grade chores – get them an assistant. However:

  • Be clear about what must be “tight” and under no circumstances give an inch
  • Creative people need deadlines and guidance otherwise the will continue to explore and develop available options – they dislike instruction, direction and demands
  • Ensure they understand how their outputs will be evaluated.

3. Accommodate
Creative people need stroking – so stroke – remember they cannot choose when they create. Be flexible areas like start and finish times, dress code etc.

4. Stimulate their creativity
Accept the purple office and the odd sense of dress.  Make sure they have offices with windows to the outside world.  Their workspace is their second home.  The concept of the “round table” works a lot better than the concept of the “long table”.

5. Never, never, never punish failure
Celebrate failure as a learning experience. Never, ever criticise not even in the belief that it is constructive, it will be taken personally. Instead, frame any criticism as feedback about progress, be specific, offer help, or teach.  Encourage feedback by talking to the end users or their peers and contemporaries.

6. Recognise and reward the right way
Most important is recognition of:

  • The nature of the assignment an work especially recognise those  assignments that have a much higher profile
  • Autonomy and respect
  • Peer recognition – do not let anyone else attempt to hog the credit.  Creative people want to be known for their work – they care more about what their peers think. A key motivator is attendance at conferences, exploratory trips etc
  • Money is not only especially valued by creative people, it is often used to support conspicuous consumption that demonstrates to peers their level of success
  • Be prepared to strike idiosyncratic deals e.g flexible working hours.

7. Stability
Protect them from dullards who do not understand the creative process.  While they may create chaos they actually prefer a non-chaotic environment – let the sub-culture thrive.

8. Management Structure
Flat and modular.

9. Don’t ever accept the “star” complex
The individual who believes the quality of the end product is totally dependent on them is a danger to themselves and the organisation.  If this emerges it is time to address the ego, if this is unsuccessful then it is time for the person to seek new challenges in areas beyond their current organisation.

So maybe the CEO of Private Media has a point in her approach to leadership and that my comments in the previous blog are too strongly influenced by the predominant left-brain approach to business.  If any creative person happens to be reading this blog, what do you think? We want to learn more. And if you are a leader of creative people, what works best for you?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Vivente Executive Leadership Training and Development in Sydney, Australia helps you in Creating Leaders of the Future.