Leadership and Creatives Working Together
As a little girl I dreamed of being a superstar. In my world of make-believe, nightgowns became evening dresses and hairbrushes became microphones. If a performer was on television – such as my all-time favorite entertainer, Carol Burnett – I could be found decked out in my superstar attire ready to mimic every movement, every word spoken, and every note sung.
Unfortunately my talent didn’t keep pace with my drive, but I quickly discovered the next best thing. While I didn’t have the chops to be a performer, I did have the business savvy and marketing instincts to be part of the team that supports them. That discovery led me to a nine-year career as an artist development manager for some of the top Christian recording artists of that era.
With those years as the foundation for my leadership development, working with creatives was the only type of leadership I knew. And perhaps because there is still a bit of that little girl superstar somewhere in my heart, I’ve developed a deep love for working with creative types. I love their passion and perspective. I love their unwillingness to settle for the status quo.
But that love for creatives has not meant that those relationships have always been smooth sailing. There have been plenty of disagreements, misunderstandings, and heated debates. But I have also learned a great deal about how leadership and creatives can best work together.
I believe there are four foundations to healthy and effective working relationships, and I have found these especially critical between leadership and creatives.
Any relationship will go sideways in a hurry if it isn’t built on a foundation of respect. Leaders and creatives both need to be committed to acknowledging and appreciating the unique ways each are gifted. When you can respect the unique God-given gifts of one another and recognize that by working together you are portraying the body of Christ, you will begin to develop a mutual respect for what the other brings to the table. Simply put: we need each other.
Seek to Understand
Once you’ve learned to respect one another’s unique and different gifts, you have to dedicate the time and energy to truly understand one another’s perspectives and priorities.
There have been numerous times where I have pushed our creative team to implement an idea that I believed was critical, only to later realize the amount of work it was requiring of them. When I fully understood the scope of what I was asking, it impacted the priority of the idea.It suddenly wasn’t as important.
A couple years ago a staff person came to me very frustrated because they felt like I was continuously saying “no” to their ideas. I appreciated this individual’s willingness to engage the conversation with me, because it portrayed an underlying desire to “seek to understand.” I’ll never forget their face when I explained the bigger picture reason behind the “no” they were receiving. It completely changed their perspective and our relationship.
John Maxwell says, “everything rises and falls on leadership”. I would take that idea a step further and say if everything rises and falls on leadership, leadership rises or falls on communication. Because leaders and creatives will often view things from a different perspective, it will require an extra does of communication to maintain healthy working relationships.
At Cross Point, we create several opportunities each week for our creative team to be in communication with our central leaders and campus pastors. These built-in communication forums (otherwise known as “meetings”) allow for questions to get asked and direction to be conveyed. I would also note that these circles of conversation are most effective when someone takes the lead in pushing for candor. Our consistent communication is only as good as the honesty and candor that accompany it.
Following up the importance of consistent communication is this next foundation I call “no gaps”. Don’t leave any gaps in your relationship with one another. Because of the stereotypes in each of your roles, there is a tendency to make assumptions about one another. For example, leadership types may assume that creative types are aloof or disorganized. Creative types may assume that leadership types only care about the bottom line or implementing policies. “No gaps” is another way to say “no assumptions”. Don’t leave a gap in understanding that could be filled in with poor assumptions.
At Cross Point we have a staff value of “believe the best”. It’s our way of saying we’re going to believe the best of one another until we have an opportunity to clarify the truth. If someone says or does something that feels inconsistent with their character, our values, or operating methods as a team, we’re going to believe the best until we have time to clarify the truth.
So, how do you develop these four foundations?
Ultimately each of these foundations is rooted in relationship. Oftentimes when I’ve encountered a working relationship that feels strained, I discover it’s usually with an individual whom I haven’t spent a great deal of time with. Time together is the bridge that forms these four foundations. If you find yourself consistently sideways with those you lead or those that you’re led by, look for opportunities to lean into these foundations. Some of my most treasured working relationships have formed when I’ve uncovered the beauty of how we complement one another.