The Leadership of Creative Groups

The leadership of creative groups is more relevant than ever in to-day’s competitive global business world: innovation and disruption have given a new impetus to creativity; but the skills of leading creative groups have changed little.

The Leadership of Creative Groups has seemed increasingly vital as year by year the creative industries have burgeoned, product-oriented industries have become more creative and the service industries more important. The Dysons, the Nick Serotas, the Reid Hoffmans are the leaders of to-day: what makes them great leaders?

Creative people are often seen as difficult to manage – as experimental and intuitive, open to experience and extravert, but also sensitive and temperamental. Yet some people have a knack for getting the best out of them: they are more concerned with developing individuals and their talents, and creating or sustaining culture and climate than achieving particular objectives. ‘Creativity can be led, it can be channeled and fostered, but it resents being managed’ Martin Sorrell once opined.

Leading creative teams is different: it consists in taking the lead when you have the most appropriate contribution, (‘leadership hops from shoulder to shoulder’,) whether that contribution is technical, process, the making of contacts, the finding of resources, supporting someone else or whatever. It is authority and responsibility without domination or control.

Research (see footnote) has shown first and foremost that leaders of creative groups tend to be Visionaries, (or Ideas Generators or Ideas Prompters). Experts in their field, they see opportunities for doing things differently that others did not see, that are tough, will unlock other issues and have big pay-offs.

These leaders play a variety of roles: they are very often Team Builders and Coaches, and Entrepreneurs. In the big organisations which were the main participants in these studies, they were also Spokespersons and Shielders – as they often are to their shareholders in young businesses.

They are described as having empathy and understanding:

  • in selecting their team,
  • in using the constraints as the very challenges that would help members of the team in the development of their own talents,
  • in providing the freedoms they appreciate, and as an encouragement to experiment,
  • in using milestones and other opportunities for setting up tensions that might lead to creative breakthroughs,
  • in making themselves available as constant ‘supporters’, and
  • in ‘shielding’ them when necessary.

‘Warm and approachable, passionate and enthusiastic’, they are described as providers of all kinds of support, as very ‘process’ aware – as projects evolve and change, and as creaters of climate and culture.

These leaders tend to see everything as a learning opportunity – they have a ‘rage for learning’ – as a close parallel with creativity. They learn by doing and then reflecting on it (‘the way we learn cookery, burglary or sex’) – the very approach adopted by the latest growth programmes for SMEs, like the new Judge Institute programme and the UCL/RBS programme – which provide regular periodic meetups for CEOs for some 12 months at a time (See http://wp.me/p3beJt-hW.)

Is the time ripe for more programmes like the Clore Leadership programme in the arts, with its emphasis on experience?

John Whatmore, January 2017.

“Releasing Creativity: how leaders develop creative potential in their teams”, John Whatmore (www. Amazon.co.uk.) is based on a study for the then Department of Trade and Industry of 40 leaders of project groups – including in science, r&d, design, marketing and the arts. Out of it there emerged a self-assessment instrument (not unlike Belbin’s team roles test) designed to help leaders to identify their own typical leadership roles.

 

 

 

 

 

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