It’s not just newly-promoted, doe-eyed marketing managers who make serious management mistakes. Seasoned enterprise executives aren’t immune to expensive screw ups either. On the latest episode of the B2B Revealed Podcast, Herding Tigers author Todd Henry explained that mismanagement of creative teams leads to talent loss and companies that underperform compared to their peers. Henry shared some tips for conscientious creative leadership.
Creative Goals Need Business Results
Managers need to make sure their teams understand how their work affects the larger business goals of the company. This helps avoid an ego-driven company culture. Creative success should be measured in terms of business results.
“The reality is, for most of us, we engage in work that we don’t always love, we don’t always agree with necessarily, but it’s our job to get it done,” Henry said.
In a business setting, creatives need to be able to produce great work even when they don’t control the larger vision for the project.
Your Job Description Now Includes “Threading Needles”
Leaders need to understand how to build an environment where creativity thrives. According to Henry, that requires providing stability without getting near the border of Boredom Land. Without stability, the team will find itself working on the same problem over-and-over again, without every finishing the project. With too much stability, the team won’t feel creatively challenged. It’s the leader’s job to walk that fine line between stability and boredom.
To key elements of a great creative environment are:
- Clear expectations.
- An even playing field.
- Protected time for creative cycles.
- Stakeholders throughout the company who are invested in the creative team’s work.
- A steady flow of exciting projects.
Is This Meeting Over?
Like it or not, meetings are a fact of life — especially on creative teams that depend on collaboration. Yet, even though we all wish we’d only have to sit in on useful meetings, the opposite is often true. That’s why at some point in all of our careers, we’ve all walked away from meetings scratching our heads and wondering, “Wait, what did we decide again?” Great creative leadership is about making this as uncommon as an enterprise company with no marketing vendors.
According to Henry, good leadership means being able to say, “Okay, this is the decision and now this meeting is over.” That’s true even if there are still 20 minutes left on the scheduled event. That kind of clear action is uncomfortable for people who don’t want to put their neck on the line for controversial or risky decisions, but is critical if your creatives are going to do effective work. Decisiveness eliminates confusion. Don’t less unnecessary meeting time detract from needed periods of creative focus.
Chekhov vs. Chesterton
Focus on building a culture that fosters creativity, but in a way that doesn’t just seek to flip over tables and start from scratch every time. To illustrate this, Henry referenced two quotes.
“There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road” Henry quoted G. K. Chesterton, the notable English writer. “The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’”
Then, in contrast, Henry pointed to a quote from Anton Chekhov, the famed Russian poet, who advises, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
A great creative leader knows how to balance these two extremes. They know that they shouldn’t just throw everything out because it doesn’t make sense, but they also know that they need to remove unnecessary distractions for their team. Finding that balance creates an environment that allows creatives to reach new heights.
Push Play to Expand Your View of Great Management
This interview with Henry was packed so full of valuable insights we couldn’t fit them all in one article. Listen to the episode for more on constructing a creative environment, best practices for managing a creative team, how to (smartly) give up control over decisions, the secret benefits of having a pet project, and some great book recommendations.