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Becoming Your Own Creative Leader

What does it take to manage yourself creatively? You might be more up to the task than you think

Illustration: Neta Cohen

Some creatives dream of becoming managers - they are drawn to the idea of leadership, of influence, of helping others thrive and bringing a team together, making complex projects happen. For others, the sheer thought of managing can bring about an uncomfortable shudder - they are here for the craft itself, and the idea of being in charge of others terrifies them. 


However you might view the idea of creative management, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a part of your professional life, no matter your employment status. Whether you’re leading a team of 50 people in a big company, a freelance creative, or someone who has a manager you report to - the challenges of creative management have their impact on you as well. 


Management entails many facets - practical, emotional, and technical. What makes creative management unique is that on top of all of those things, you need to make sure the creative spirit is being nurtured and fed, pushing creative boundaries, while also keeping yourself or your team inspired and in constant creative development. No easy feat, right?


The good news is that you have the power to implement good habits and supporting behaviors for successful creative management for yourself. Here are some key ideas and suggestions to keep in mind as you work on your project management skills, your personal development or your creative emotional well being. No matter your status, tenure, or managerial situation, they can help you become your own best creative leader. 


Project management | The practical side of leadership

Create a roadmap. Yup, that thing that important managers and big companies do - you deserve that as well. A roadmap might sound like a big scary thing to create for yourself, but that’s just the corporation-lingo that might push you away. It is basically a plan - setting up a solid outline of the next 12 months that will help you stay accountable, and provide you with a compass whenever you feel a bit lost. The roadmap doesn’t have to be super detailed, but shouldn't be too obscured as well. Ideally, you should include some cornerstones or key events that you can check back into and make sure you deliver on time. For example, if you know you would like to work on a personal side project this year, set a deadline and start working backwards on your timeline with kickoff, design stages, and production. 


Decide on ‘A word of the year’. This is a well-known method usually aimed at replacing the traditional new-year’s resolution with a more viable and less threatening practice, but it can also be used to support your yearly roadmap. The idea is that instead of setting unrealistic goals, you choose a single aspirational word that will act as your guidance throughout the year, helping you in your decision making and intentions. Once you have your word, whenever you find yourself at a crossroads, or not sure what to do, you reflect on that word and see which solution best resonates with your word. For example, Let’s say you choose the word ‘Generosity’, and are offered to work on a project that is very aligned with your personal values but is on a volunteering basis. Perhaps having that word as your guidance will help you decide to accept the project, as it aligns with the ‘Generosity’ theme, and will help you grow in the direction you set for yourself. But if you’ve chosen the word ‘Reduce’, you might pass on that same opportunity, as taking an unpaid job would be counteracting your yearly theme. The idea is to create a reliable mentor-like assistance to keep you on track and provide reassurance. If you need some inspiration, you can find example ideas for words here.     


Personal development | Taking care of your career

Schedule a weekly 1:1 with yourself. This tip is especially important if you are a freelancer and have no management whatsoever, but even if you already have 1:1’s with your direct manager - why not have them with yourself? After all, you know what they say, the most important relationship a person has in this world is with oneself. 

A 1:1 is usually aimed at updates, status reports, sharing setbacks and progress. However, when you are the only one present in the meeting, the focus can be altered according to your own needs. We recommend preparing a list of questions you can ask yourself, aimed at opening new ways of thinking about your week. Instead of asking Why-led questions, focus on the What and How. “What happened this week that made me really happy”; “What can I do from now on to make sure my deadlines are met?”; “How can I make new connections?”. Why tends to be judgemental, whereas What and How invite gentleness and reflection, which can be more valuable in this type of session. 


Foster Relationships. No matter how many colleagues, clients, or teammates you have, it’s very common for all of us to fall into the trap of working by ourselves and trying to solve everything alone. Make sure to remind yourself to get advice, collaborate, and ask for feedback at any chance you get. Take every little opportunity you have to make connections and foster your professional relationships. That also includes being curious about what others are doing and making a conscious effort to be involved in their work and offer your input and support as well. You’d be surprised how these relationships not only make you feel less alone, but will also prove to be a great resource in whatever the future holds.   


Emotional wellbeing | Building a resilient self

Don’t let fear dictate the way. So often we are led by fear rather than potential and opportunities. Every time you are faced with a decision, you’re at the risk of letting your anxieties lead the way, instead of looking at these moments as opportunities for growth. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not suggesting you start saying ‘yes’ to everything - leading an examined and thoughtful career is super important and you need to make sure you are still leading a life that you choose and want. The encouragement is to assess your decision making through the fear/opportunity lens, and check in with yourself to see if and when you are being led by restrictive unhelpful thoughts.   


Avoid chasing success. Chasing success—or at least the common idea of it—has more potential to be harmful and cause frustrations rather than be of service to development. When we think of success and its familiar goal posts: recognition, awards, numerical achievements of projects or clients - we easily find ourselves stuck in comparison mode. That is never a good place to be in or to act from as it usually ends up serving others rather than yourself. Always remind yourself of the reason you are in this creative journey and of your honest motives, and stay true to yourself. Work great and create great work; let success follow naturally in whatever shape or form that might happen.

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