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Management: Creatively Managing Non-Creatives - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Creatively Managing Non-Creatives

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Creatively Managing Non-Creatives

Managing creative people can be a real challenge, as we’ve discussed in the past. Yet managing less-creative people when you’re the creative person can be an equally daunting task. Here are a few ideas for making it work.

Recognize and Celebrate Differences, Focusing on Strengths
This goes without saying, and you didn't get to where you are without understanding this basic managerial concept, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re fortunate enough to work in a place that has embraced the value your creativity brings, somebody somewhere (probably several somebodies) celebrated your unique gifts. As a manager, your team will thrive if you do likewise, which means valuing everyone’s strengths, whatever they are. Creative people tend to get immersed in their own sometimes-kaleidoscopic views of the world, and they sometimes fail to recognize the value of someone who’s always ahead of a deadline, or someone with a gift for tracking every little piece of paper. Embracing these skills every day is going to go a long way for you when you get frustrated later by less-than-creative brainstorming at your next vision meeting.

Understand Your Own Shortcomings
In a recent HBR Ideacast (a podcast from hbr.org), Kimberly Elscbach shared thoughts on working with creative people in which she offered some advice for creative people in the office. Her suggestions sound a lot like her advice for those who have to work with you: understand some of their tendencies and communicate assurances where necessary. You sometimes bristle when feedback is too specific, she explains, because you suspect others are taking creative control away from you. They usually aren’t, so learn to take this feedback as a chance to get new ideas. As you know, the seedling of a good idea often comes out of the mouth of someone who’s talking about something entirely different. When feedback gets too specific, rather than let your hackles up, see if there’s a hidden gem in there.

You sometimes set priorities in ways that are difficult for others to comprehend. You resist rigid guidelines or too much structure when given a task. You can get territorial with projects. You like to be left alone when you’re working on a puzzling idea. These can all be major speed bumps for those who work for you, and they can lead to trust issues. Make it clear that you’re aware of these quirks, because many of them will see them as major flaws. Help them understand that you’re counting on them for help in those areas where you’re less gifted, and you’re there to help them where they’re challenged. They will come to value your strengths, because to them, the ability to generate the ideas you come up with is a baffling, scary mystery. At the same time, they will value their role in enabling those ideas to become reality.

Nurture Creativity
“How did you do that?” is a symphony to your ears, and chances are, the best answer you’re usually able to give is a shrug of the shoulders. Ideas are mysteries, and a lifetime of tapping into wherever they come from has served you well. When you’re a manager, your team is looking to you for help with professional development, and shrugging your shoulders doesn’t help them. Nurturing creativity in people who claim not to know how to be creative is difficult (and a topic for a future discussion), but it can be done in small, everyday ways. Just as past managers helped you with tedious, seemingly meaningless tasks like tracking your expenses or filling out frustrating paperwork, it’s now on you to help creatively challenged team members develop some confidence in coloring outside the lines.

Be Patient
Not everyone can do what you do, and many people like the safety of staying in their own lanes. While this concept is mind-boggling to you, these people are your responsibility. Structure for success in the little things, and build from there. You’ve understood your whole life the importance of taking risks in order to succeed, but for many people, that feels like a recipe for failure. Let your people practice with a net, or with training wheels, before you expect them to respond with five good ideas for a major project. Expect lots of failure, lots of hesitation, and lots of resistance, and build that into your long-term plan. With a little bit of self-awareness, patience, and nurturing, perhaps you can create for others the environment you always wish you had.


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Management: Creatively Managing Non-Creatives - Executive Leadership Articles

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