Why Leadership should be a Core Discipline of Every Creative Firm - Part 1

Have you ever experienced a time when your team felt cohesive and strong and you were producing incredible work? Have you ever experienced a time when you felt like your ideas weren’t being considered, there was conflict, and your creative output suffered?

Whether you work in a global agency or a small independent studio, whether you write code, pitch new business, design, develop strategy, or manage projects - you are constantly negotiating your time, your attention, and your ideas - all with the purpose of delivering value to your client.

And, to deliver this value, you rely on the creative abilities of your team to produce something that is tangible, relevant, and timely. People are complex, creativity can be fleeting, and the creative process can, and maybe should, be messy.

Here's how we think about the creative process: it's all of the complexity, perspectives, capacity, ideas, abilities, and needs of each individual involved and the collective output of their interactions.

When it comes to a creative team, interactions are key. The effectiveness of meetings and sessions of every form can make or break a project. There are a ton of variables at play and your firm's ability to create something of value for your client could come down to whether someone on your team decides to speak up and share their ideas or not.

Through our work with creative firms, we’ve seen the practice of leadership have a major impact on the collective output of teams and the health of organizations. This impact is most visible within the interactions between individual team members and is made possible by a healthy environment that supports the creative process. 

Here’s an analogy we like to use:

Think about a creative team as a brain and each member of the team as individual neurons (nerve cells).

Individual neurons communicate by sending signals through synapses - junctions or pathways between cells. Consider these synapses to be the relationships between team members, and each signal sent as individual interactions. To communicate effectively through their synaptic pathways, each neuron must be adequately nourished and must exist in a healthy environment. 

It’s been proven that omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) are essential for helping to produce and maintain a healthy brain. They provide neurons and synapses with the nourishment required to function. So by consuming omega-3’s, we are helping to create a healthy environment that allows for our neurons to communicate effectively - which leads to increased cognitive capacity and greater function.

Let’s think about this in terms of the practice of leadership within a team.

We define the practice of leadership as the act of developing your capacity to understand yourself, your relationships, and the context in which you operate in order to influence each of those things in a generative way. 
Simplified: Understanding x Influence = Leadership 

Understanding = Deep knowledge of yourself, the people you work with, and your company, clients, industry, market, etc.
Influence = Capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself. One cannot control others - only themselves in order to influence. 

The more capacity that each team member has to understand and influence, the stronger the practice of leadership is within a team and the healthier the environment becomes. If the environment is healthy, the relationships between people are stronger. If relationships are strong, each interaction will be more effective. And, it's cyclical over time. As each interaction becomes more effective, the capacity for each individual to understand and influence increases, and so on...

So, why should leadership be a core discipline of every creative firm?

The creative output of your firm is directly reliant on the health of your teams and their capacity to effectively communicate and produce. You can take an Omega-3 supplement once in a while - it won’t do much for you. You can engage your teams in a leadership workshop once in a while - the same is true. The long-term health benefits of having the discipline to take an Omega-3 supplement daily will be tangible. The same is true if  you can establish leadership as a discipline that is consistently practiced and which permeates every function of your company.

Consider the development of leadership within your organization to be as essential as the development of design skills, the adoption of new programming languages, and the efficient management of projects that meet scope and schedule. Systemically give those neurons the elements they need to fire effectively.

What does this look like in practice? Great question - stay tuned.

This post is the first in a series that explores the relationship between leadership as a practice and the health of creative organizations.