With the ongoing economic upheaval, the never-ending speed of changing technology, and with the race to find appropriate creative professionals, being an effective leader is imperative. Whether you are the head of an external agency or in-house department you must possess different leadership skills today to move your organization successfully into the future. Depending upon your type of creative business, some of the skills listed below may resound more closely to you than others. But to be honest, all of them can be used to facilitate successful outcomes whether you lead a group of designers in publishing, interactive, gaming, mobile or forestry. That's right, forestry. Good leadership is needed everywhere in EVERY industry.
Embrace and Utilize Critical Thinking Skills. Creative thinking, problem solving and decision-making involve more than taking a course or getting an advanced degree. It requires experience and practice, practice, practice. You will also need a plan of action for every creative channel you wish to pursue. So be prepared to be flexible and comfortable with change. Because that new device you and your team have been developing for was just made obsolete by its competitor. This isn't a fluke. It will happen again, and again, and again. This is the new normal. Get over it, get used to it and learn how to plan ahead and move projects through quickly.
As a leader you must create a vision regarding what it is you wish to accomplish and what the future will look like for your organization. You need to find ways to engage and empower every team member so they feel their talent, skills and aspirations are making a viable contribution to this vision. Just using team members as a "pair of hands" to get a job done is no longer going to cut it. No one wants to work toward a goal for the sake of a deadline; people want to make a difference. Be strategic in your expectations of HOW you want your team to progress and develop. This will serve not only to meet the company's immediate needs, but will increase the skill level and value of your team.
The more creatives are engaged with interesting and challenging work, the more productive they are--and happy; not only as an employee but as a person. Not sure how to do this? Ask them for their thoughts and goals. Find ways to include them on assignments they do not usually do, no matter how small. Get them started on the path of skill building, which makes them more versatile and valuable to your long-term vision.
Surround Yourself with Talented People. Guess what? You are not perfect. You do not know everything. And you never will. You have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. As did Steve Jobs who did not develop code. No worries...he partnered with Steve Wozniak who was fantastic at it. And we see how well that worked out. Surround yourself with others who are far better than you at certain things. Promote this disposition throughout your team and develop a culture of collaboration, not competition. In doing so you will foster an engaged, energetic and productive team that will be constantly learning new skills to meet the demands of the future working landscape.
Overcome Your Own Uncertainty. Decide where you are going and what direction you should take. There is an age-old adage that works well here: Monkey, see. Monkey Do. If you appear confused, misguided, frustrated and paranoid...so will your team. If you are confident, directed, optimistic and open-minded, your team will be too. Step up your own game and set the tone for your organization. Remember, you don't need to know the answer to everything. You just need to have the ability to ask the right questions and recognize good ideas and answers when you hear them.
Build Trust. Creatives can be a suspicious bunch. But then again, maybe they have a reason to be as the expectations for roles and skills keep changing with every software update. As soon as they reach competency in one area, they are told "Hurry up, learn this new thing or be obsolete...in five minutes!" This can be invigorating but after a while it becomes incredibly draining.
So work on creating an environment of openness where ideas, ramblings and even disagreements are welcome. Encourage all to express their opinions. Do not just seek out those who agree with you. Look to uncover the best way to do things, not just have them done because you say so. Seek input from every level of your team. Those working closet to a specific task usually have some terrific ideas on how that task can be done better.
Stay in touch with the top talent inside and outside of your organization to remain current within your own industry, while keeping one eye on what is happening in the future. Trust yourself, trust others and they will trust you.
Leading isn't about being the head of the pack, it's about delegating, guiding and directing, taking risks and trying new things. It's not about punishing people for failing when they try something new, but encouraging them to learn from their failures. My motto is "Fail Quick. Fail Often. Learn A Lot." Being tentative in this fast paced work environment is not going to make a creative team even remotely on pace with their competitors; let alone put them ahead of the curve.
It's all about teamwork and gaining an understanding of each of our own strengths and weaknesses; so we can all improve to become the best cohesive team we can be. Each member is encouraged to step up, take responsibility, engage in risk and produce amazing results.
You want to drive and manage change, but you also want everyone on your team to feel needed and valued; and that each of their skills compliments the skills of another. You are focused on developing everyone to the best of their potential, as much as you are focused on meeting your company's objectives. Only then will you exceed your expectations and surpass all of your goals.