Leadership Skills That Make Creative People Thrive
Director of Design at Jaguar
In this series, professionals explain how to lead in times of turmoil or growth. Read the posts, then write your own (use #HowILead in the body of your post).
I use these tips to encourage creative people to achieve their full potential. But they
aren’t specific to creative industries. They’ll prevail in any discipline and help improve
the creativity of your team.
1. Have a vision
If you don’t have a vision, you’re not a leader – you’re an administrator. Martin Luther King said: “I have a dream.” He didn’t say: “I have a pie chart.” Have a vision and communicate it clearly. The more fascinating and compelling the story you tell, the more people will follow.
Don’t be afraid of a vision that’s challenging, either. Good people, especially good creative people, are really up for a challenge.
2. Work out why you’re leading
Some people are attracted to leadership for the power, control, and politics. They tend not to get the best out of their team, especially in creative fields.
Others become leaders to get to a better place. When I started at Jaguar, I had no vision of leadership. I had a vision of what I felt was right. But I realized quickly I couldn’t achieve it on my own. I had to bring people with me. I had to lead.
3. Choose the best people possible
Working with people who potentially can be better than you is good. It lets the team naturally improve and you improve with it as a leader.
Don’t feel your job has reached a pinnacle because you’re a leader. There’s a whole new level of learning to be had.
Don’t be intimated by really talented team members, either. You have experience on your side. You can shortcut things. And ultimately, you have the final say.
4. Allow time for creativity
In my business, we work to strict schedules — partly because cars are so complex. The free space we have to create something we want, regardless of the rest of the world, doesn’t last long before we have to interact with other areas of our operation. So I ensure our schedule maximizes our freedom to create and explore.
5. Manage conflicts intelligently
Creative people tend not to be ambitious politically. Their ambition is often to leave their mark on the world by making it better in some way. So I give colleagues the opportunity to make their point.
I tell them: “I can move on this if you can persuade me.” Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
When the time comes for me to make a decision, I’ll explain my reasoning. It may be to the detriment of somebody’s vision, but if you embark on an endless debate, it becomes all consuming and you end up with the wrong answer.
But actively involve your team in the process, and you can resolve conflicts quickly. I also use my experience to spot potential issues early and preempt them.
In a creative environment, it’s important to protect your team from the wider processes of the company. That’s difficult sometimes. They need to be aware of the politics and bigger picture. But it’s not their job to be consumed by that.
I remember working on the XF. It was a new Jaguar saloon. I felt strongly it should be completely revolutionary and move the brand to the future. This was met with resistance within the business.
But I made a stand as Director of Design, with my team’s backing, and our argument prevailed. That decision is now seen as a pivotal point for the brand.
As a leader, never underestimate the difference you can make.
It shows your team you’re genuinely interested in them, as you should be, and what they’re doing. It’s also useful to get feedback – their thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. This helps smooth out the bumps and retains a strong team.
9. Remember you’re always on duty
People in a team behave like their leader behaves. I’ve seen that so clearly. When I get angry, or look a bit dour, I see it reflected in people around me, even days later.
So I aim to be positive wherever possible. Smile in the mornings. Set an example in my actions, behavior, and mood.
When you’re a leader, people watch you all the time, even when you don’t realise it. Appreciate that and you’ll do things differently.
10. Encourage people to think for themselves
Leaders should instigate thought in others. Rather than tell my team point blank to do something, I sometimes instigate the idea that this isn’t working and perhaps we should rethink it. It’s a fine balance between being dictatorial, which I have to be sometimes, and allowing people room to express themselves.
11. Develop talent and ambition
I nurture ambitious and talented people. I spot them quickly and give them a role in which they can breathe creatively for a while. After that, they have to knuckle down again until the next opportunity.
It helps them develop and nip any creative frustration in the bud. Such frustration once caused me to leave my job. I don’t want these good people to get up and leave.
The best leaders in the world inspire positivity. They’re convinced – and convince others – that no matter how hard things seem now, a brighter future is coming. Their vision is that things will get better. And if you follow these tips, trust me, things will.