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How NOT to Lead Your Creatives

How NOT to Lead Your Creatives

Boundaries are not the enemy of creative leaders; the enemy of leaders everywhere is an unclear vision.

Have you ever had one of those realizations as a leader that completely changes the way you are leading others? As I have led for the past 10 years I discovered a principle that has not only grasped my attention, but has revolutionized my approach to leading creative people.

Over the past ten years I have been leading a team of creative leaders. My coaching has stretched from set designers and audio engineers, to painters and worship leaders, to the operation and execution of events. I have stumbled my way through tough conflicts and great productions, and in the midst of it all I finally had a moment of clarity that gave skin to a principle that had been in front of my face the whole time.

A common sentiment around creative people goes something like this, "Don't put me in a box," or, "Give me a blank slate so that I can be inspired." The problem is that these types of statements do not actually work in practice.

If I were to commission my favorite painter to create a painting for me, and my only instruction was; just do whatever you want, it would be incredibly difficult for them to know where to even start aiming. It's no different for a lighting director who has never been given a clear vision of what is expected, or a musician who is asked to write a new song without any direction.

I would argue that communicating a clear vision is the key to coaching creative people.

Here is the dilemma:
If I am leading someone and I have a clear picture of what "success" looks like for them, but never paint a crystal clear picture of my expectation, they will never feel like that are accomplishing the goal. In fact, the less vision we have communicated as a leader, the more we come around the back of the result and poke holes in what they have accomplished. This leads to a lack of confidence for our teams, and a constant feeling of "shooting in the dark."

Even if I only give my commissioned artist one step toward what I want them to paint, a massive layer of stress has been removed, and I've created a freedom to actually paint. Our job in coaching creative leaders is to set a crystal clear expectation for them, and then allow them to have ownership and make important decisions.
What will usually happen is a beautiful thing.

As the leader, you will be blown away as your team's creativity is taken to new levels because the boundaries of the expectation allow them to create. On top of that, the confidence of that leader will continue to grow exponentially because he hit the mark and is not being bombarded in the evaluation process.

I understand the sentiment of the artist saying, "Don't box me in," after all no one wants to be micro-managed. This idea of setting clear expectations is actually the opposite of micro managing. It's empowering. It's freeing. It builds confidence in your team. It develops trust. It assures that the mark is not only being hit, but is being creatively accomplished. Once the vision is clear and understood, (in other words, the boundaries are in place, the canvas has been chosen, etc.) then creativity can begin to blossom. Decisions will be made with the vision in mind, and you will see your teams and people start moving the ball down the field farther and farther.

I have a friend who was a part of my team for years. He's an incredible leader and creative person, and learning to understand his personality has helped me understand this principle. He doesn't have any problem with authority as long as he can have the ability to make his own decisions. In other words, he wants to have a clear vision laid out for him, (the boundaries aren't the issue) but be free to create and make important decisions that point at the right target.

It's simpledo not be afraid to set boundaries for the creative teams that you lead. If anything, be afraid of not casting a compelling vision. A clear vision will take your creative teams to the next level, and it could possibly be the greatest catalyst to their potential growth.

Tyler Reagin is the Director of Catalyst, which exists to challenge, equip, and unify leaders who love the Church through impactful content and experiences. To learn more about attending a gathering near you, check out CatalystConference.com or speak to a Catalyst Concierge at (888) 334-6569.

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