The Secret to Herding Tigers
By Derek Scott, Creative Director
It’s been said that leading a creative team is like herding cats. But much like Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, I dislike the saying. Leading a creative team is actually like “herding tigers, powerful beings who cannot be corralled but must be carefully, individually, and strategically led” (‘Herding Tigers’ by Todd Henry, page 3).
The fact is, creatives are just wired differently. This means a creative team can’t be managed like any other team in an agency or company. And after leading creative teams for almost 15 years, I can attest that any business owner or manager who expects a creative to operate like the rest of the organization is going to be frustrated at best—and not see a best-in-class product at worst, with unhappy (and leaving) clients to boot.
So, what’s the key to leading a strong creative team? I’ll borrow from Todd Henry again: stability and challenge.
Creatives need to know their team leader has their back, and they need to have an environment that’s happy, thriving, and consistent. This is why hiring the right people is so important. I’ve said no to bringing on some truly talented people because at the end of the day, they were just a-holes who I knew would bring the team down and create unnecessary tension and drama.
Creatives also want to be challenged. Yes, their work is “their baby,” but if you’ve got the right creative on your team, they can stand to be told their baby is ugly. So don’t be afraid to push them outside their comfort zone to do another round of art—even if doing so pushes you as their leader outside your comfort zone.
Any leader of people knows that leading those people is hard work. But leading creatives? It’s hard too, but it isn’t impossible. It just takes a different set of rules that when followed, produce happy-as-heck, highly functioning, and income-generating teams.