How NOT to be a Creative Dictator

by Sandy Balzer

posted on 07-19-2017

5 Tips for Empowering Your Team through Collaboration, Innovation & Flexibility

Authored by David Lesue, Creative Director, Workfront. Workfront is a 2017 MAX partner. We’d like to thank all our 2017 MAX partners who help make the conference possible.

Attaining the position of creative director is a significant career milestone. The opportunity to take the lead on brand management, oversee the creative work, and build a rock star team is not only a testament to your creative prowess, but also a vote of confidence in your leadership.

But, there are some individuals for whom the power and responsibility go to their heads, turning an otherwise kind and supportive human being into a micro-managing, over-bearing ogre. Certainly not every creative dictator has bad intentions—while some may seize the opportunity to push their own ideas and agenda, many simply feel overwhelmed with the responsibility and react by ruling with an iron fist in an effort to meet organizational expectations and keep projects moving forward.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can take charge and command respect, while still leading with a supportive approach within a team-oriented environment. Here are 5 tips to help you avoid becoming THAT creative director—the one everyone grumbles about when you leave the room.

  1. Collaborate, don’t command. Divide your time between leading and doing, and don’t be afraid to get in the trenches with your team. Resist the urge to force your opinion or solution to the top of the pile, and encourage your team to offer suggestions, constructive feedback, and input to one another—and to you. Approach your role as one of a facilitator, empowering your team to do what they do best.
  2. Influence, don’t instruct. Your job is to create an environment in which your team feels that they have the tools and flexibility in which to do their best work. Rather than directing each individual’s decisions and output, instead focus on building and maintaining a framework that guides everyone in a positive direction. The role of a successful creative director is much like that of a gardener: it requires cultivating a rich culture, applying creative “fertilizer,” weeding out distractions, and giving seedlings of talent the room they need to grow.
  3. Embrace flexibility, not rigidity. As much as many creatives might say they despise it, process is a necessity. In fact, when done right, process actually fosters creativity by eliminating organizational chaos that creates roadblocks and confusion. But, enforcing process at the expense of creativity can kill innovation—boundaries, guidelines, and structure can’t be the top priority. Use technology to strike a perfect balance. Establish strong brand touchstones, like a brand guide, asset templates, and example pieces that represent the desired standard, and make these available on a shared repository that the entire team can access. From here, they can draw on those touchstones to push new projects in new directions, while still adhering to the brand standards set forth.
  4. Gain visibility, not control. When the fear of missing deadlines rears its head, some creative directors default to staring over team members’ shoulders to ensure their work is completed on time. They might noodle their way into the details of each project, to make sure everything runs smoothly. But, in reality, this meddling causes even further delays. Instead, use workflow management tools that provide real-time visibility into the status of projects, as well as any obstacles. With visibility into where everything stands, creative directors can step back, take a deep breath, and ask how they can help, rather than breathing down everyone’s neck.
  5. Defend, don’t demand. When powerful stakeholders come at you with new work requests, it can be tempting to accept everything and demand your team do whatever it takes to make it happen. But, instead of making your team look great, taking on too much work makes everyone feel overwhelmed, burned out, stressed, and angry—none of which drive top performance. Instead, with work visibility in check, defend your team against aggressive stakeholders by showing them exactly what’s already in the queue and what would have to take a backseat in order to accommodate new “urgent” requests. By saying, “no”—or at least, “not right now”—with defensible evidence, you can earn the respect of your team and the admiration of stakeholders for having such clear visibility into your team’s workload.

Director or dictator—the choice is yours

Developing and maintaining a collaborative environment in which you serve as a facilitator, rather than a dictator, can allow your entire team to thrive. By enabling each team member to do their best work through efficient work management, task visibility, and nurturing a culture of flexibility, you avoid being perceived as a dictator, but rather as a valued member of the team. With the right technology in place, like Workfront, you can focus on enablement and empowerment, instead of command and control, and your team may surprise you with unprecedented creativity, innovation, and results that surpass your expectations.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

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