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How to Lead a Creative Team

How to Lead a Creative Team

October 16, 2013 by

Accepting the position to lead a creative team really took some pondering, prayer and research for me.  I am a person who plans, schedules, sticks with a plan and lives within the “box.”  I have found that creative people seem to “dance to the beat of a different drum.”  They go against the grain and living outside of the box is their world.  Embracing a more carefree approach to project management and working with those personalities that are more apt to change “the” plan midstream was my first step to appreciating the world I do not live in.

The challenge then is learning how to lead creative people and innovative thinkers.  It is knowing how to tap into their talents, harness their genius and direct them toward viable outcomes.

A great example is a Broadway show!  Broadway taps into the potential of very creative and very clever people, it lets them do their thing, but it directs and funnels that potential to become successful.  When we think of a show, we often think of actors, dancers, singers, directors, writers, set designers—all whom are incredibly creative.  But we also need to focus on the producer.  Their role is to bring the creative talents of those people together, let them do what they do best, but then steer it and direct it so the show is completed on time and the goal is accomplished—creatively, spiritually, communicatively and effectively. I see myself as “The Producer”!

It’s important to focus on building individual talents, but it’s even more important to focus on building the right leadership skills, the right environment and the right processes that allow creative people to thrive—with all their creativity, thoughts and ideas. I believe that to be where the treasure lies.

To do that, consider three things:

1. Leadership
Leading creative people is a completely different game. At times it is like herding a group of playful puppies.

Creatives can appear to be all over the place and off in a world of their own, but they’re also very communal and enjoy hanging out with other creative types. They’re brilliant in throwing ideas, designs, and concepts around. They are incredibly smart… and we need them.

They think, feel and act differently, so leading them requires a different set of leadership skills.  We need to understand what motivates them, frustrates them and how to help them be their best.

We must understand how creative people work, what they need and what obstacles you need to break down. In many ways, the leader’s role is to support and guide, not interfere or constrain.  To lead creative people effectively you need to be a nurturer and custodian of their talents.  This role must be one of mentor and a coach. Learn how to best empower your team, guide them, earn their respect and let them play.  Nurturing comes easy to me.  It is second nature and I have learned to use that skill to lead creative teams.  I protect and nurture so that my team can continue to create, enjoy their work and reap the reward of making a difference.

2. A Creative Environment
Build an environment that supports and stimulates creativity. In other words… build a creative zoo!

A good creative environment is a place where people can take creative risks, make mistakes and put ideas on the table without fear or ridicule.

I have learned that from time to time it is important to let creatives step away from the computer:

  • Hang whiteboards. Let’s doodle and dream.  Creatives love to dream big and it is important to allow that and dream along with them.
  • Go outside. Occasionally hold a meeting outside in nature.  It is refreshing and fits with the out of the box thinking.
  • Be spontaneous. Creatives loves spontaneity. Grab your team and go for frozen yogurt!  Again, go outside of the box.  This is speaking their language.

3. The Right Creative Process
You must have a process in place where coming up with ideas is encouraged.

Creativity thrives when a  structure is in place. So you need to have a process that knows when to turn the creative controls on and off.  A process that allows your creatives to explore and play, to think intangibly in order to find possibilities toward realistic ideas and solutions.

It is important to encourage the creativity. It is necessary for what we do.  Listen to your team and let them know you hear them. We cannot always change the circumstance but it is important they feel heard and know that you care.  I tell my team, “I’ve got your back” and I mean it!  You learn to appreciate their quirks and they will grow to appreciate yours too.

My Last Thought
Remember, there are lives at stake in what we do.  We often talk of the role we play in bringing others into the kingdom.  Our obedience and creativity impacts eternity.  It is bigger than us.

Photo by joshua m. neff.
Post By:

Michelle Dunn


Michelle Dunn grew up around the ministry of Pastor Tommy Barnett, which helped expose her to a leadership style designed to encourage and add structure to those she leads. She is currently the communications director at Phoenix First Assembly and a proud wife and mother of three young girls.
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One Response to “How to Lead a Creative Team”

  • Jared Brandon
    October 16, 2013

    Great thoughts, Michelle. This is something I’ve learned quite well over the years. I thrive in creating structure and order and providing frameworks in which creatives can do their best work. I married a creative type and then we worked together in a family business for 5 years. That could have been a recipe for chaos, but instead I learned that creatives need the structure people like us can provide. In turn, we can learn from them how to think more flexibly about our structures, challenge the accepted wisdom, and work more freely. Thanks for this great reminder!



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