5 Ways to Lead Creative People without Stifling Them

I love creativity. When we planted Grace Community Church, we surrounded ourselves with highly creative minds and allowed them to dream big dreams. One thing I realized early in the life of the church, however, is that creative people can be more difficult to lead. Maybe you’ve seen that. :) They don’t always fit within the established systems of the organization.

I’ve learned a few things along the way about leading creative types. Perhaps some of these tips will help you. 

If you want to lead creative people without stifling their creativity:

Give clear communication of your expectations and the vision you are trying to attain – Creative people need to know your expectations and where you want to go, but they don’t like to be held to standards they didn’t know existed or put into a boxed set of rules or a script of how to attain the vision…

Help them find the structure that works for them – Creative types need and want appropriate boundaries that are not too constricting, but they are often not good at developing those boundaries for themselves…

Forgive them easily – Creative types often are messy people when trying to explore new ideas and they make mistakes along the way…recognize that this is part of what makes them successful at what they do…

Exhibit lots of patience – Creative types don’t always fall within the established system, but remember that’s one reason you want them…

Reward and praise often – Everyone needs to feel appreciated, but in my experience, highly creative people tend to thrive on it. It stirs their creative energies even more…

Do you lead creative types? Are you a highly creative? What tips do you have?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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31 thoughts on “5 Ways to Lead Creative People without Stifling Them

  1. I think – that for me at least as a creative person – that a rigid system feels like a box. Because I am creative I find it difficult to think within rigid parameters. IF you tell me "you can only color inside these lines", I find it hard to create at all. I need space and somewhat of a blank page to do my best work. If you define things so rigidly that there's no room for creativity and my ideas, then I can't function. I feel limited and unneeded. I think creative people need a blank page to dream and explore so they can come up with a good solution. If you hire someone for their creativity and ability to think outside the box, then don't confine them so much that all they do is fill in the blanks for you. It's frustrating and eventually they will move on.

    • I agree. I think the vision and objectives, however, must be set. Otherwise you end up creating something that doesn\’t support the organization and may not even be needed.

  2. Excellent post. I am very definitely one of those creative people and always have been. My mom has a story from parent teacher conferences when I was in elementary school where the teacher set aside her book and explained to them that I was a very good student – when I was on the same topic as the rest of the class. Part of the reason I left my last job is because my boss was driving me crazy with his micro-management.

    I've also led creative people. All of the things you said are definitely true and one thing I've found from myself and others is that making a seemingly arbitrary decision to change something a creative person worked on is a surefire way to breed frustration and resentment. Communication is vital, even if it requires asking the same question five different ways to get the answer needed to be on the same page (which would be one of the places patience comes in). There's also a fine line between allowing creative people the space to work and leaving the boundaries so wide that they feel unsupported and alienated.

    These are just my observations. The biggest and best thing you can do when leading creative people is to take the time to get to know them and how they work because assuming that what works for one person is going to work them all is a mistake that will haunt you almost immediately.

  3. Great thoughts Ron. Being a "creative" and working with creatives is for sure challenging. These are insights for those who may not get them.

  4. Thanks Pastor Ron – I lead a small ministry – a young Christian Band (all of course very creative). I have really been struggling with these issues. I believe you have saved me from a lot of pitfalls!

  5. Creative people are messy–I need to frame these words. I am a writer, and I am a messy person. I really don't understand how I can be organized with my words, yet my work space is a mess, and I try my husband's patience. Sometimes, I think I value the words that I end up writing much more than mere physical things. I know when our children were young, I was more apt to spend time with them than to keep everything spic-and-span. Thanks for giving me justification for my messiness!

    • Thanks Patricia. I did mean more in a general sense than a specific sense, but it works! The messy I meant generally was that they don't fit within the lines of structure and that the creative process itself can be messy. Mistakes are made and near chaos appears until the creative genius comes through. I love, however, if it's justification for just plain ole' messy!

  6. Thanks for posting this, Ron.

    Creative people need your ear and permission to help you. There's nothing more stifling than an elephant in the room that's off limits for discussion, especially if it compromises excellence. They need to have a stake in whatever they work on for you – the finished product of their work is extremely important to them.

    Communication needs to be 2-way for the creative to feel valued. Make it a habit to ask for their insights and opinions. Treat them like professionals and value their input.

  7. The 'patience' point caught my eye. I often think that it is easy to get impatient with creative people because they don't seem to focus in early enough. Creative people like to expand the options, explore before deciding on a route and that process tends to take more time at the beginning but they often get to an answer much quicker than being focused too early and having to back track or repair damage. They are also more resistant to doing the same thing twice!

  8. In my line of work, trucking, we need creativity to get our job done. We get stifled by unrealistic customer expectations and far too much government regulation. One way I found to help release creativity among our teammates is to give them boundaries, rather than specific rules. The one who knows the best way to accomplish a task is the one who does it every day. I let them tell me the best way. If it exceeds the boundary lines and makes sense, then we can expand the boundary.