Creative LeadershipCreativity

Leading Creative People

How difficult is it to lead creative people? Put it this way – it’s the #1 question I’m asked at conferences and leadership events. My friend Daryl Allen, a producer at Leading the Way Ministries in Atlanta, sent me this quote that puts it all in perspective. It’s from Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation, and author of the book “Creativity, Inc.”(Which I highly recommend.) Ed’s quote really explains the delicate balance of leading versus micromanaging:

“It is easy to be critical of the micromanaging many managers resort to, yet we must acknowledge the rock and the hard place we often place them between. If they have to choose between meeting a deadline and some less well defined mandate to “nurture” their people, they will pick the deadline every time. We tell ourselves that we will devote more time to our people if we, in turn, are given more slack in the schedule or budget, but somehow the requirements of the job always eat up the slack, resulting in increased pressure with even less room for error.

Given these realities, managers typically want two things: (1) for everything to be tightly controlled, and (2) to appear to be in control.  But when control is the goal, it can negatively affect other parts of your culture. I’ve known many managers who hate to be surprised in meetings, for example, by which I mean they make it clear that they want to be briefed about any unexpected news in advance and in private. In many workplaces, it is a sign of disrespect if someone surprises a manager with new information in front of other people.

But what does this mean in practice? It means that there are pre-meetings before meetings, and the meetings begin to take on a pro forma tone. It means wasted time. It means that the employees who work with these people walk on eggshells. It means that fear runs rampant.”

What do you think? When it comes to your creative team, how do you lead?

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  1. Personally, as a Creative/Tech team manager, it’s a pet peeve of mine being caught unaware by my superiors for something that has happened unbeknown to me in my charge. Makes me look like I’m slacking in my responsibilities. I’m strongly against micro-managing as well. To find a balance, we have a short weekly team planning meeting, I ask individuals to keep me in the loop by cc, and outside departments to send their requests to me directly so I can assign the tasks internally. Have I struck the right balance?

  2. Being one of those creative types and filming all over the world for various missionary groups and many Churches; the main reason I don’t anymore – bad management.

  3. ‘I’ve known many managers who hate to be surprised in meetings’

    LOL. One worse than that… try bringing out something new and great if you are the plenary speaker at a large international conference without briefing your ‘manager’. Especially if 1) you’re right 2) the audience love it 3) your manager is living in the past 4) your manager is not invited to be the plenary speaker but you are. And no I am not going to change that and spoil the impact of something new and big. Managers of creative people need to realise creative people are creative people as your ’10 Reasons You’re Not Ready to Lead a Creative Team’ points out.

    1. Ha! Brilliant! There’s an art form in “managing up” for sure. Early in my career I worked at an organization that could have been a laboratory for bad leadership. There are idiot managers out there for sure! Thanks for the comment Richard!

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