Coaching the Creative Leader
Have you ever had one of those realizations as a leader that completely changes the direction you are leading others? Recently, I discovered a principle that has not only grasped my attention for the past few months, but revolutionized my approach to leading creative people.
It’s simple really: Boundaries are not the enemy of creative leaders; an unclear vision is the enemy.
Over the past eight years, I have been leading a team of creative leaders. My coaching has stretched from set designers and audio engineers to painters and worship leaders. I have stumbled my way through tough conflicts and great productions. Through it all, this principle has been sitting right in front of me, and I finally had a moment of clarity that gave skin to the principle.
A common sentiment around creative people goes something like this, “Don’t put me in a box” or “Give me a blank slate and then I can be inspired.” I do not think that is a true statement. If I were to commission my favorite painter to create a painting for me, and my only instruction was just do whatever you want, it would be incredibly difficult for them because they don’t know where to even start aiming. It’s no different for a lighting director who has never been given a clear vision of what is expected or a musician who is told to write a new song without any direction.
I would argue that the need for clear vision is the key to coaching creative people (or anyone for that matter).
Here is the dilemma: If I am leading someone and I have a clear picture of what “success” looks like for them but never paint a crystal clear picture of my expectation, they will never feel like that are accomplishing the goal. In fact, the less vision we have communicated, the more we come around the back of the product and poke holes in what they have accomplished. This leads to a lack of confidence for our teams and a constant feeling of “shooting in the dark.”
Even if I only give my commissioned artist one step toward what I want him to paint, a massive layer of stress is taken off of his mind and frees him up to truly paint! Our job in coaching creative leaders is to paint a crystal clear vision of our expectations for them and then allow them to have ownership and make important decisions. What usually happens is a beautiful thing. The leader is completely blown away because the creativity is taken to new levels because the boundaries of the vision allow the creative leader to create. On top of that, the confidence of that leader will continue to grow exponentially because they hit the mark and are not being bombarded in the evaluation process.
I understand the sentiment of the artist saying, “Don’t box me in.” No one wants to be micro-managed. This principle is the opposite of micro-managing. It’s empowering. It’s freeing. It builds confidence in your team. It develops trust, and it assures that the mark is not only being hit but is being blown away. Once the vision is clear and understood, (in other words, the boundaries are in place, the canvas has been chosen, etc.) the creativity can begin to blossom. Decisions will be made with the vision in mind, and you will see your teams and people start moving the ball down the court farther and farther.
I have a friend who has been a part of my team for years now. He’s an incredible leader and creative person. Understanding his personality has helped me understand this principle. He doesn’t have any problem with authority as long as he can have the ability to make his own decisions. In other words, he wants to have a clear vision laid out for him (the boundaries aren’t the issue) but then be free to create and make important decisions that point at the right target.
So it’s simple…do not be afraid to set boundaries for the creative teams that you lead. If anything, be afraid of not casting a compelling vision. A clear vision will take your creative teams to the next level, and it could possibly be the greatest catalyst to their potential growth.