How To Lead Creative People (When You’re Not A Creative Yourself)

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Creative people tend to be sensitive souls – some might even go so far as to say ‘highly strung’. They don’t always take criticism well, no matter how kindly it’s meant, and can perceive even the smallest piece of negative feedback as an unbridled assault on their competence.

In their work, many leaders who do not come from a creative background themselves have to learn how to motivate agency staff and freelancers. So how can they get these volatile ideas folk to produce truly outstanding work? Here are five top tips for encouraging the sparks of genius to fly:

    1. Praise us! If you want to keep getting great work out of creative people, the secret is not just to pay their invoice promptly at the end of the project (although that helps a lot, admittedly) but also to give them positive feedback if you’re happy with a job well done. You’re our client. We want to make you happy. If we were just in it for the money, we would have done something else instead – like law.
    1. Brief us properly. Sadly the place where most creative projects go wrong is right at the start – ie the part where you’re involved. If you don’t take the time to give us a proper, well-considered brief, either in writing or verbally, you’re effectively setting us loose to interpret what we think you want in the way we think is best. Unless you really are very open-minded about what you want, that’s a recipe for disaster. It’s a bit like saying to a builder: “Hey there, please can you build me a house” and just leaving them to get on with it.
    2. Be specific in your feedback. Saying something ‘doesn’t quite work for me but I don’t know why’ isn’t very helpful to a creative. If you want to get a better result, you need to be able to tell us why you don’t like a piece of work and what might make it better. Don’t be afraid to wrestle with a challenge and make your own input. Creative people value collaboration. In fact, the best results often come out of clients and creative teams working together constructively.
  1. Remember that we have feelings. You might not like the work we’ve sent you but unless it’s obviously sloppy – riddled with spelling mistakes, for example – the chances are that we’ve really labored over it and truly believe that we’ve done a good job for you. So before you embark on a long list of what’s wrong with a piece of work, try to highlight any parts of it that you do like or acknowledge where you may not have been clear on an aspect of the brief. Build a relationship with us – along with everyone else, we try harder for people we like.
  2. Be realistic. About everything. Don’t give a writer a strict word count and then ask them to make lots of points that could not conceivably be made effectively in such a small number of words. Don’t give a designer a day to turn around a complex piece of artwork that incorporates lots of charts. Finally, don’t expect to pay pittance and get outstanding work delivered ahead of deadline. You will just end up with a frustrated creative who produces suboptimal results.

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