Managing Creative People: A Beginner’s Guide

Multiple colors in a cloud abstract concept representing creative people.

Successfully leading a team is a challenge for any manager. When that team is composed of creative people, this responsibility can sometimes seem daunting. A “creative” is anyone who makes new things or thinks of new ideas, Merriam-Webster explains. By this definition, far more employees are “creatives” than one might imagine, from writers and musicians to inventors and engineers. Understanding how to manage creative people is a skill that transcends occupational fields. If managers run their creative teams effectively, their efforts can increase both innovative work and employee satisfaction.

Common Personality Characteristics of Creatives

Creative people tend to share similar characteristics. By identifying these traits, managers can gain a deeper understanding of how their employees see and engage with the world. Creative individuals tend to exhibit the following traits, according to Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson:

  • Natural curiosity
  • A willingness to take risks
  • Intellectual playfulness
  • Having and valuing a unique sense of humor
  • Heightened emotional sensitivity
  • Acceptance of chaotic environments
  • Having high levels of self-aspiration
  • Divergent thinking
  • Versatility, adaptability and openness to new ideas

Additionally, Psychology Today suggests that creative people have personalities that can be considered more complex and dichotomous than others. Creatives may at once be energetic and quiet, imaginative and rooted in a sense of reality or extroverted and introverted.

These traits easily translate into concrete advantages within the workplace. Inquisitive employees who are willing to take risks are more likely to initiate the process of problem solving, while divergent thinking can lead them to discover unique solutions. Emotional sensitivity enables creative individuals to work well in groups, and a sense of humor and play can infuse a team with good morale. Ultimately, the creative personality provides organizations with invaluable employees capable of making meaningful contributions.

Successful Management Styles for Managing Creative Teams

Managing creative people is perhaps most important on creative teams where groups are specifically designated to produce new products or services. These teams can be found in industries such as advertising, film, graphic design, fine art, manufacturing, music production, information technology and more. The following leadership styles have proven to be successful for managing creative teams, according to The Creative Group.

1.) “The Pillar”

Managers who adapt this style actively provide structure for the creative chaos produced by their employees. They offer concrete tools (such as deadlines and spreadsheets) for completing projects. They are quietly disciplined people who lead by example.

2.) “The Empowerer”

Capitalizing on the natural independence of their employees, “empowerers” emphasize the self-sufficiency of their teams. They assign tasks based on individual strengths and place a great deal of trust in the competence of those who work for them.

3.) “The Logician”

This management style is defined by integrity, honesty and intellectualism. Logician managers make decisions that keep teams efficient, exceptional and honest about themselves and their work.

4.) “The Visionary”

Visionary leaders are motivated by intuition and the desire to innovate. They are able to see what others don’t, inspiring those around them to constantly seek improvement.

5.) “The Impassioned”

Impassioned managers lead through their own personal enthusiasm. They tend to show excitement for doing similar work as their employees. This cross-interest can provide employees with the feeling that their supervisor understands the work they do, thus creating a more egalitarian work culture.

6.) “The Perfectionist”

This leadership style ensures that no employee ever settles for subpar work. Because the manager is concerned with a high level of detail, he or she pushes all employees to reach an exceptional level of quality in their work.

These styles are effective because of their common ability to support team goals while bringing out the best in others.

Multicolored illustrations of a light bulb representing creativity.

Managing Creatives and Unsuccessful Management Styles

Just as there are many ways to bring out the best in creative employees, there are just as many ways that hinder their performance. An independent survey done by Inc. explains some less successful management methods.

1.) Micromanaging

Leading as a micromanager is distinctly different from doing so as a “perfectionist.” A perfectionist management style is rooted in trust and pushes employees to do their own absolute best. Micromanaging, on the other hand, is essentially rooted in fear. It communicates an attitude of skepticism, where the manager is doubtful that the employee will do the “right” kind of creative work. As a result, employees who are micromanaged tend to lose motivation and are less likely to try implementing new ideas.

2.) Leading from a position of power or ego

Like micromanagement, managers who lead from an overdeveloped sense of self communicate a distinct lack of trust to their employees. These managers often insist that they are right, enforce strict hierarchy or misuse their position of power to unnecessarily influence work outcomes. The result is disengagement, the destruction of team morale and the underutilization of collective brain power to find solutions to problems.

3.) Not listening

Managers who refuse to listen set a tone that hinders their team members’ ability to trust each other and grow. When creative employees don’t feel heard, it can leave them with a deep sense of underappreciation. Not listening can also be a major obstacle in problem solving. Managers who don’t take the time to listen to their staff about problems when they first arise must undoubtedly deal with those problems later, when they are much more likely to be complicated and difficult to solve.

4.) Not valuing individual employees

Although refusing to acknowledge the full value of employees is always problematic, it is particularly problematic with creatives. As individuals, each creative is capable of giving a tremendous amount of unique and constructive work. Properly valuing employees means rejecting the idea that any one person is completely replaceable. It means investing in opportunities for professional development for each person and utilizing individuals within the company based on their interests and strengths.

5.) Failing to grow in leadership

Unsuccessful managers often fail to improve their own professional and personal shortcomings. Leaders sometimes lack personal self-awareness or communication abilities, even as they push for professional development initiatives for their employees. This can ultimately prove problematic, as it can lead to tension and even high rates of turnover.

6.) Not providing or receiving feedback

Lower-level employees in any company hold a unique position, serving as the eyes and ears of ground operations. Therefore, taking their insights seriously is a vital practice for managers to preserve the health of the company as a whole. Ineffective managers neither give nor ask for feedback. This prevents a culture of open communication, allowing problems to remain unresolved and resentments to fester.

Learning to Manage Creatives

Effectively managing creative people means learning to balance vision with humility and imagination with practicality. With the online master’s degree in Communication Technology and online MBA programs from Point Park University, students can learn to excel in leadership roles. All coursework is offered fully online, providing students with a flexible way to reach the next phase of their careers.

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