Periodically, I write articles about real life experiences I've had outside of the business world that have taught me valuable lessons that can be applied within the business world. This is one of those articles, and it's about leadership from a different angle.
There are just some things about leading creative-types that require a different leadership approach. I've been on both ends as the creative-type being led as well as the one who needed to take all of the creative energy and turn it into something productive.
I often think about my experiences as a musician starting my first band years ago. As the band leader, I was a great case study for what not to do.
We were nothing short of a disaster and were so bad that one venue literally turned the sound off half way through our set. I felt bad for our singular fan (the drunk guy at the end of the bar who happened to be there anyway). Looking back, they probably should have turned the sound off sooner.
Here is the ironic thing: Each of us individually was a well accomplished.
Why were we so terrible?
I tried to facilitate an environment where everyone could contribute creatively without constraints. As well intended as that may sound, that may have been where I went wrong. I may have left things too open.
The good news is that enough time has passed for my ego to heal from my leadership failures from back in the day.
Here are the three lessons I learned that I still use in creative ventures today:
1. Be clear about your creative vision. Don't compromise.
I wanted our sound to be a combination of Stevie Wonder, Jane's Addiction, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Our singer thought we should have a Cracker sound, and our bass player was trying to bring the old school funk of Parliament. Then there was our guitarist who thought Phish should enter into the equation.
It sounds like an amusing cacophony now, but the reality is that back then I was never clear with my band about the sound I wanted. I never set the creative vision.
Even when I did try to assert one, I allowed it to be compromised in the name of creativity. I wanted to make everyone happy in this creative endeavor so I frequently said, "ya that kind of works."
The bottom line is that "ya that kind of works" never works in the end for any creative venture. The creative output always suffers.
2. Ask for ideas. Try them all, but be direct about what's not working. Then make the hard decision to throw some away.
The question with creative-types isn't whether they will have ideas but what you are going to do with the huge number of ideas you get.
In our band, every practice was full of new riffs and ways to put the instrumentation together. We tried them all but failed to make the hard decision to throw some of them out for fear of hurting the creative process and people's feelings. Creative-types can be sensitive and have strong views about their creative contribution.
Admittedly, it is a fine line to get rid of a creative idea that isn't working compared with completely stifling the creative process. You have to draw that line somewhere, though.
Our sound wasn't working right from the start. I never hit that issue head on even though the band was actually waiting for me to make those decisions. Even creative-types want someone to make the hard decision. Then they can re-apply their creative energy to the next idea that might work better.
3. The wrong people will kill every other aspect of the creative process.
If you have to compromise on anything, it should never be the people. We had people who could play, but we certainly didn't have people who could play the way I wanted.
A creative person in the wrong context isn't going to get you the groundbreaking creative idea you need.
I should have just found a singer who was on the same wavelength about merging Stevie Wonder and The Red Hot Chili Peppers (as strange a wavelength as that might have been) and let our singer go join a Cracker cover band.
We both would have been a lot happier and probably wouldn't have had the sound turned off on us.