I spent the formative years of my career on both sides of the equation: as a creative pro and as a leader of creative teams. It's tough to do work that you're proud of while also juggling organizational issues. Frankly, I was overwhelmed (read: terrified) when I first stepped into a leadership role, and I wish I'd had the benefit of a book like this to show me I wasn't alone. (That's why I'm writing it!) I've also had a unique perch over the past decade as I've worked with creative teams and leaders across dozens of industries, listening to the stories of their struggles, their successes, their failures, and their aspirations. During that time, I've interviewed super-talented leaders from diverse industries about how they do what they do. This book aims to share what works and addresses many of the complaints I've heard from creative pros about where their leadership is failing them. In fact, many of the stories in this book are from people who have cornered me to share their experiences.
Now, it's important to note that no book can offer complete, tailor- made advice for you or your organization. I'm not trying to. All advice is local. Instead, I'm aiming to provide you with a handful of frameworks through which to see your own choices as a leader, as well as some very specific tactics, conversations, and rituals to help you gain better focus, protect your margin, and earn trust from your team. Adapt them as needed. Some chapters may not resonate right now, whereas others will convince you that I've placed a hidden camera on your office wall. (Look over your left shoulder— hi!) That's how it should be. Your situation is unique. My hope is that you'll revisit this book as new issues arise and when you need to remind yourself that you're not alone. Perhaps you'll pass it on to peers and even your team in order to discuss how you can create a healthier, more focused culture.
In order to lead others effectively, you must first lead yourself. Despite your great intentions, all of your qualities—both good and bad—are only amplified through your leadership. As goes the leader, so goes the team.
This means that if you want to reach your full ability as a leader, you must get your internal and external worlds aligned. To deal with the chaos of creative leadership, you need firm footing, which is precisely what the remainder of this book is designed to help you obtain.
REFINING YOUR LEADERSHIP MIND-SET
When you transition from a frontline role to a leadership role, you must make a major shift in how you think about your work. You are no longer responsible solely for your own projects, your own career, and your ideal workload. Instead, you must focus primarily on how to equip and resource others. You will be tempted to control the work of your team by stepping in and doing it yourself or by telling people what to do instead of letting them solve their own problems. Engaging in these bad habits—often out of insecurity—only shrinks the capacity of the team. This approach doesn't scale beyond you.
In the first part of this book, you will learn about the basic mind- set shifts that effective creative leaders make and how to reinforce them with regular checkpoints. Some of these principles are counterintuitive and certainly countercultural, which is why many leaders fail to embrace them. That's also why the first several chapters (2 through 5) will require a bit of deep thought and personal introspection. Shifting your mind-set is difficult, especially if you already have a bit of leadership experience under your belt. I'm warning you in advance that you'll be tempted to skip over concepts and not engage with the questions. 'Don't.' Those who are willing to spend some time with these chapters will go to another level in their leadership and will win the trust and respect of their teams.
DEVELOPING YOUR LEADERSHIP MECHANICS
What you know matters little if you don't put it into practice. Great leaders have great rituals. In the second half of the book, I'll describe practical methods for honing your team's focus, managing team members' time, and maintaining trust, as well as weekly, monthly, and quarterly practices that reinforce your ability to lead. You'll see how intentional conversations can defuse tension before it explodes. You'll also learn how to manage your team's energy so that team members aren't going through the constant cycles of crash, burnout, and refresh that plague so many creative teams. You'll see how the best leaders inspire their teams with new ideas and help team members spend their time on effective activities, not just efficient ones, so that they're making investments in the future.
As a side note, I know that you're probably already buried in work. The last thing I want to do is pressure you with new exercises, conversations, and rituals. Throughout this book there are dozens of such things that you can apply to help you in your role, but please don't allow my suggestions to overwhelm you. Take what resonates and is useful, and implement those first. Then implement a few more. This book is intended to bring you freedom, not to create a whole new layer of work.
However, the strange paradox of creative work is that freedom often comes through structure. You need boundaries to define how you spend your focus, time, and energy. That's why it's important to have rituals that your life and your leadership.
When researching to write a book about creative leadership, you quickly discover that everyone has an opinion. However, I tried to heed advice from my grandfather: "If you want to know someone, don't ask what they think, watch what they do." Therefore, I tried to observe the specific tactics and rituals that great leaders use to help them gain clarity and unleash their teams' creative brilliance. In general, the end of each chapter breaks down these rituals and practices into three buckets: weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Taking just a little bit of time on a regular basis to check your mind-set and mechanics will ensure that you never veer too far off course.