3 Keys to Leading a Great Creative Team

Wrestling with an article together
I found myself in over my head with Urbana Today.

I was leading a team of 7 highly skilled creative people. I wrote a little about them yesterday. Professionals. People who could be professionals. People who really knew their stuff.

And me.

How do you lead a team like that?

Make their workflow a priority

With just a few questions, I could understand the team's workflow and design our team structure around the team's needs. This made life easier for each of our team members and helped us work together smoothly.

We had a hard deadline at midnight with the publisher. Before that, we needed to do a read-through to catch any errors that sneaked into the draft of the paper. Before that, the designers needed to insert articles, pictures and infographics. Before that, the designers need to design infographics and select pictures. At the same time, the writers needed to produce their articles. And before that, I needed to assign articles and come up with an editorial focus for the day.

Did you notice what I noticed in there? Everything slammed into the designers. If we weren't careful, everything would land on the designers' desks at the same time, at night, against the deadline. And this is where I could help.

I created a choke point in the workflow, an intentional stoppage. I split the writers away from the designers and inserted myself in the middle. All articles had to come through me. This gave me the capacity to manage the speed with which things landed on the designers desks.

Managing the workflow of our team kept us clicking along and kept our designers focused. It was easy to do. Anyone could do it. And it was my contribution.

Make yourself available

I took two breaks all week. On one break, I ran to the LaFe Lounge to grab coffee and hug some friends. On the other break, I had a working lunch and went by the LaFe Lounge to tell my friends that I loved what they were doing. Two breaks. That's it. I got to the office early and stayed late. I ate at my desk.


I wanted to make myself available to my team. At any moment, they may need a resource. At any moment, they may need someone to bounce an idea off of or lend an extra ear. At any moment, they may need someone to talk to them or pray for them. And I could be there for them.

I didn't have all of the technical skill. But presence is a powerful management tool. A manager or leader who is present with his or her people taps into some of the deepest elements of human motivation. And, in a strange way, this form of leadership echoes God's leadership of us, leadership by presence. And I could be present with my team.

Make the hard decisions

When you're leading a team that operates above your skill set, it's wise to defer to your people. Defer to their expertise. Defer to their experience. Defer respectfully and often.

But there comes a point when you pass from deferring to passing the buck. And it's easy to pass beyond that point without noticing.

We had to make decisions last week that were stressful, that had political implications, that would produce criticism from outsiders. Art should produce a reaction. Art produced on a deadline sometimes produces reactions that hurt. And it's tempting to pass off that risk and hurt to your team, hiding behind their expertise and blaming them when things don't go perfectly.

Don't do it.

Take it on your shoulders. Take the blame. Make the hard calls. They may never notice what you're doing. But they will notice if you don't do it. Few things are more maddening than working for a boss who has less experience than you. One of those more maddening things is working for a boss who shoves you under the bus.

I could make the hard calls and bear the brunt of the criticism. I've been trained in conflict management and saying "I'm sorry." This was one thing I could add.

Have you ever led a creative team? What are some other leadership tips of tricks you've picked up along the way?


  1. Anonymous1:02 PM

    Having watched you from across the room and interacted with you throughout the week I can attest to the fact that you lived what you've just posted. It was great to partner with you last week, Steve.

  2. Thanks a lot, Lynda. You taught me a lot at Urbana and endured a lot of questions. Thanks so much for your patience. I hope you had a great vacation in Daytona.