Friday, September 11, 2009

Managing the Unimaginable

I had an intriguing question posed to me the other day: "How can you possibly lead and manage a group of creative people who are all so different" It's indeed true that creatives are not alike. While people may instantly equate creativity with an artsy, contemplative person with a bohemian flair, the truth is far more interesting.

I don't often stop to consider the variations of personality, taste, interest, and skill in the people who surround me, but it's a mélange that I have grown to love. I can't, in fact, imagine ever working with people who are all the same. What a chore that kind of predictability must be.

In any given day, I am exposed to the thinking of people on the far left and far right, as well as those squarely in the middle. With interests that range from hunting and home venison sausage making, to classical harp playing, to improvisational theater promoting... the people I spend most of my time with open my eyes, and my mind, to things I know little of.

I like to think it is precisely this variation of thought and attitude and belief that make a creative department so successful at what it does. If we all thought the same, felt the same, and created the same, there would be no need for more than one of us.

I never want to surround myself with people who think just like me, because my opinion is already in the mix. I want people to disagree with me, argue with me, and challenge me. Because that is the maelstrom of a successful creative team. Out of conflict, order. Out of chaos, certainty.

So how best to manage a team so varied and unique? I think it's best done when you begin by accepting each person for who they are, and allowing them to be the person they were ordained to be. "Seek first to understand." Many times I have been incredibly and pleasantly surprised by people who, upon first meeting, seemed to be far from whom I thought I needed them to be.

The challenge, as their leader, is to help them find their way, using THEIR unique talents and skills. And most of all, to resist the temptation to make them think and behave like me. Nothing is more challenging. Nothing more rewarding. My job is never to get them to conform to a way of thought, rather to use their way of thinking to achieve the objectives at hand.

In the end, I learn far more from the people I 'manage' than they will ever likely learn from me. It is always my hope, however, that in the end I will have, in some small way, enabled them to find, trust and use their own voice, their own style, and their own way of thinking to succeed.