“I am so frustrated!”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Since you were last here I now have twice the budget and twice the amount of people but I can only get half the work done. I don’t know what’s going on. Got any ideas? It’s so different now.”
“Yes, it is different.”
And so began our conversation.
This call and later conversations with new and seasoned leaders over the last ten years prompted the idea for this book. Most new leaders don’t have the strategies or experience to quickly drive results. Within this book, I provide a system with creative and practical strategies for success so you will be equipped and confident to lead a highly productive team in your first twelve weeks on the job.
Why Creatives Lead? Many people have told me, “Eric, I am not creative. I do not paint, draw, dance, or sing. I do not have a creative bone in my body.” To which I respond, “How do you solve problems, whether you are at work or home?” You exercise creativity. At its root, if you solve problems in any form, you are creative!”
How can creative people (creatives), who have been individual contributors for most of their careers, successfully make the transition to leadership? Moving from a doer to leader (or as we used to say, “a worker bee to a suit”) requires a shift in mindset, skills, and values.
Most Creatives want the chance for leadership. Some want it because of the salary increase. Some want it for the title and prestige. Others want it because of the new challenges it presents and the opportunity to help people, but most are not equipped or experienced to make the transition smoothly.
Why a Book About Creatives in Leadership
Creatives are different. They are primarily right-brainers. They vary between introverted and extroverted on how they’re wired. They can be temperamental, complacent, whiny, my-way, and egotistical pouters. They can also be steadfast, giving, empathetic, problem-solving, and self-sacrificing go-getters. Creatives come from a variety of backgrounds and careers: technical, culinary, medical, performing, visual, musical, learning, entrepreneurial, gaming, movie making, agricultural, scientific, and more. They engage the world in a unique way. With a nod to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple® Computers, creatives “think differently” about work, relationships, life, spirituality, and the world at large. Leading can be a joy or can be drudgery. A lot of it is up to you. My hope is that this book will give you key strategies and practical tactics as you set sail into the often choppy but rewarding waters of creative leadership.
How This Book is Organized
This book is broken into four parts that build on each other, each part is composed of three weeks of reading. Each week has real-world applications to put into practice as a new leader or manager.
The four parts build upon Bruce Tuckman’s theory of group development.1 Here, in Creatives Lead you will learn the BEST Team model, a modern approach for modern teams. BEST is an acronym for: building, engaging, strengthening, and thriving. These are four areas of every team’s evolution. They are the backbone of the model that you will learn and experience. Each area is inevitable for teams to go through in order to grow and become high-performing. It is worth noting that any time a team is added to or a member is removed, the areas of emphasis will shift. How long it takes a team to work within an area depends on the team makeup and the leader.
Included in the four parts of this book are:
Part 1 – learning about the team, the team dynamics, adding and removing from the team, and preparing for a team off-site.
Part 2 – focusing on you as a leader, adjusting your mindset, learning habits, and modeling values to propel you successfully forward.
Part 3 – helping you and the team bond, maintain focus, and gain momentum.
Part 4 – creating long-term culture, thinking ahead, and planning future success for you and the team.
If you are new to leadership with little training or mentoring, you may want to read Part 2 before starting Part 1. If you have had some training and are now stepping into a full-time leadership role, I encourage you to read this book from front to back, as each week and each practical application builds on the next.
I have intentionally made the chapters bite-sized so you can eat the meat and not worry about the bones. As you apply what you learn, be creative—put your spin on it—but above all, put it into practice.
Feel free to share with me your wins, recommendations, and frustrations. Leave a comment at http://www.creativeslead.com
Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Carol had been doing her job for some time when she learned she had a new manager. As the manager got to know Carol, the manager was impressed by Carol’s hard work ethic and all she had done for the company. Her new manager wanted to be encouraging and told Carol she was going to try and get her a title change and salary bump. At least a bonus for all her hard work. Unfortunately, the well-meaning manager spoke too soon. After trying to get the money approved, the request fell through. Carol had been excited about the possibility. She had been working hard to demonstrate her worth, waiting with expectancy for an increase or title change with bonus. When Carol learned the money had not been approved she was totally demoralized. As a result, she started looking for work in another area.
This story doesn’t mean that if you make a mistake your employees are going to hop online and start sending out resumes. It does mean be careful what you say and do as a leader. What may seem like a “whisper” from you is often heard as a “shout” from your creative staff. Put yourself in the place of your employees. You were recently there. How would you feel? What would you think or do if this happened to you? Would you feel let down or even betrayed?
Do you know your people well enough to know what is happening in their lives? If performance starts to slip with Joe, is it because Joe is slacking or because Joe is not challenged at work? It could be because Joe’s wife had a baby and they are not getting much sleep. It could be one of his children had an accident that has put a major financial drain on the family. These situations will impact Joe’s performance.
You may be thinking, “Well, Joe needs to separate work from home” or “Joe should not bring his personal issues to work”. After all that’s what management has taught in the past – to which I say, REALLY?! Show me someone who can separate themselves from their feelings and I’ll show you a robot. If you want a robot to do the work, get rid of the people. I hear AI (Artificial Intelligence) is improving as a technology.
You have to learn to put yourself in the shoes of your employees. You need to learn to empathize. Get to know them, not just about them.
“Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say”
One challenge, as a new leader, you may be tempted to take on is acquiring the things you wished for before you were in management. Giving that raise to Keisha, upgrading the software for the team, replacing the “ancient” monitors the designers are using, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, what you will find is an operational approval process that will ask you to make a business case for each of these expenses.
Welcome to “administrivia” and the world of “operational red tape”.
Now, before you get frustrated, these processes are needed to make sure the company stays profitable, you get paid and your team members have jobs. This is where the rubber meets the road and you as a leader need to be very careful about what you say or promise to your team.
Early in my career as a leader, I made this same well-meaning mistake. I wanted what was best for my team. I wanted to reward their hard work. I wanted to make sure they had the tools needed to do their jobs. I did not check to see if these kinds of things were budgeted. Even though I did not promise these things, the fact that I even mentioned them created a false hope in my team that was dashed when I later learned I could not get items approved. This impacted morale and the level of trust the team had in me. I had to learn to find a balance between encouraging the team and rewarding them. The bottom line, do not make commitments at the beginning that you may not be able to keep. While good-intentioned, it sets up false hope that will dishearten team members.
Getting To Know You
Take the time to get to know your team. Learn how they function individually and as a group. This takes effort and being intentional about getting below the surface layer.
You may look at skill assessments or temperament tests as fun ways to learn more about your team. You may schedule informal lunches or happy hours to get to know your people away from the workplace. The sooner you get to know the team the sooner you will be able to measure their level of engagement, their capacity, and how to align certain members to certain projects. You’ll also gain a higher level of empathy and build trust that can quickly set you off in the right direction as a leader.
In the next chapter, we will explore Temperament Assessments as one way to get to know your individual team members and your team mix as a whole. This is also a fun way to engage the team in the upcoming off-site meeting that you’ll soon be planning.
 Bruce W. Tuckman, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups (Psychological Bulletin, 1965), 63 (6): 384–399.
How To Properly Assign New Employees
Put 400 bricks in a room. Put your new hires in the room and close the door. Leave them alone and come back after 6 hours. Then analyze the situation:
- If they are counting the bricks, put them in the Accounting Department.
- If they are recounting them, put them in Auditing.
- If they have messed up the whole place with bricks, put them in Engineering.
- If they are arranging the bricks in some strange order, put them in Planning.
- If they are throwing the bricks at each other, put them in Operations.
- If they are sleeping, put them in Security.
- If they have broken the bricks into pieces, put them in I.T.
- If they are sitting idle, put them in Human Resources.
- If they say they have tried different combinations, they are looking for more, yet not a brick has been moved, put them in Sales.
- If they have already left for the day, put them in Management.
- If they are staring out the window, put them in Strategic Planning.
- If they are talking to each other, and not a single brick has been moved, congratulate them and put them in Top Management.
Okay, enough fun and games. I hope I did not ruffle any feathers with that humorous analogy. This may have been running around the Web for a while, but I saw it and had to chuckle.
Why is hiring one of the first items we’re reviewing? As a new leader, you may be faced with having to add or replace members on the team. When getting to know the team you will quickly learn who are the keepers and who are the coasters. You will also learn who is looking for opportunities elsewhere and who needs extra learning and training to grow.
As a creative, you may be more introverted and the thought of hiring makes you nervous. It may be something you have never done before or had limited experience practicing. For every new leader, hiring can feel daunting and laborious. Going through 50-100 resumes and portfolios could seem to take forever. Then comes the dreaded phone or face-to-face interview. Both parties are putting their best foot forward. How do you keep from blowing it and hiring the wrong person? How do you hire quality high-performing people?
The fact is, hiring is serious business. It can take a long time and be frustrating. Let me repeat that – it can take a long time and be frustrating. Why? Several reasons – 1) there’s a talent war to get and retain the best people, 2) resumes (and resume sites) can be gamed and misleading, and 3) the workers of today have seen how their parent’s generation was treated and they are not beholding to anyone but themselves. So what is a new leader to do in these circumstances?
Addressing the Talent War
Good talent can be hard to come by and harder to attract. Think about the culture you have within your organization, your department, and your team. They are not all equal. What kind of culture are you creating? You can have a team culture that is different from your organizational culture. You really can! Great culture attracts great talent.
I remember when I was a new leader. I thought back on my previous managers and leaders (both good and bad) and determined how I wanted to create a different environment. I created an environment of collaboration, experimentation, fun, empowerment, and equality. It did not take long and word got around the company that I was doing something different and it was getting results. People from around the organization were reaching out to see if they could work for me. I was creating a culture where the best wanted to work and told others about it.
You can see from the story above that the employees enjoyed the environment they were working in and became advocates. Not only did they talk about their work with other employees, but they talked to their friends and personal networks. They knew people that would be good additions to the team. They were talent scouting for the team without having to be asked! You should too.
Never underestimate the power of your network or the networks of your team members. Strong performers attract strong performers. No matter what city you live in or the industry you work in, word gets around. People know each other and they talk. What kind of conversation do you want them to have about you? Your team? Your company? Keep networking and keep your networks strong.
Adapt to new social networking sites that cater to your candidates. LinkedIn® is an obvious destination. Instagram®, Dribbble®, TikTok®, Artstation®, and even Twitter® are sites that younger creatives are using. See what’s out there, set up an account, and build new networks.
One last point here regarding networking. Be intentional about looking for a diverse candidate pool. Bring differing thoughts, experiences, ideas, and strengths into your team and organization. You cannot do all the work. Look for people who are strong where you are weak and not people that look and think like you (See chapter 11).
Gone are the days of paper resumes. Does anyone remember having to keep a resume to a minimum of 2-pages? Updating your resume was routine business. Now we have a variety of digital tools at our disposal to create and update our resumes. We also have access to thousands of other resumes as well and we can copy and revise our own based on someone else’s. We have learned the art of gaming our resumes to make us look like amazing A-player-rock star-super-ninja-unicorns!
So what value is a resume to you for hiring? Well, it is often required by Human Resources. It is an advertisement for potential candidates and is the first line of screening for new hires. But, understand exactly what you are looking at. As Martin Yates says in his book Hiring The Best,
“Reading resumes is no one’s idea of a good time. After half a dozen, even the strongest wills among us begin to approach a state of catatonia.”
“If you don’t want to get fooled, your first job is to find the cracks the different resume types are designed to hide. As the accepted objective of a resume is to generate enough interest to get an interview, you would be prudent to assume that the writer will put anything down that will help get a foot in the door.”
Some of those resume types are functional, chronological, project/STAR-based, and story-based using video, and interactive elements. Of this latter type, don’t get sucked into the glitz and glamour of technology-based resumes. Find the cracks, as Yates says, and then decide which people you want to take to the next level of hiring—the phone screen or, if your HR department has done this for you, the face-to-face interview.
Online Portfolios and Video Highlights
Let’s take a moment to discuss technology-based resumes and portfolios. Having photos and screenshots, audio samples of music or voice-over, video highlight reels, or apps that have been coded are table stakes. Below are some tips for reviewing digital portfolios and what to look for:
- How well is the portfolio designed? Is the design an extension of the candidate?
- How user-friendly is the portfolio? If they are applying for a user experience (UX) role and the portfolio is difficult to navigate, what does that say about their skills and attention to detail?
- Does the portfolio weave a narrative about the candidate and their skills?
- Are audio and video files clean and well-edited?
- Are there examples of their writing to download?
- Is the candidate specific about the work they did on a project? The code they wrote?
- Are the photos and images optimized for the web?
- Does the candidate clearly articulate their process, approach, or methods?
- Is it clear how they solved creative problems?
- Is the portfolio clearly written and typo-free?
- For junior creatives, does their potential come through?
- For senior creatives, do they demonstrate a matured skill set and variety of solutions?
- Does the portfolio reference business outcomes and successes?
Addressing Today’s Worker
A couple generations back it was not uncommon for a person to work for and retire from the same company. Unfortunately, capitalism put more emphasis on money than on people. As a result, cheaply made products, lay-offs, downsizing, and corporate hiking ensued. History tells the story well. More recently, there seems to be an emerging trend in business that recognizes the worth of stable, contributing, long-term employees but the damage has been done. Today’s workers no longer believe in the companies they work for. The bonds of trust were broken with their parents and grandparents. Added to the mix is a service-oriented digital economy where workers from around the world can be employed and work remotely.
Recruiting agencies run rampant across services like LinkedIn, offering better pay and promotions. I average several messages a week from recruiters asking me if I am satisfied with my current work environment and pay scale. This is the world your new employees live in. No wonder their resumes only show a couple years at each company. They are looking out for themselves and can move on a whim if they don’t feel content or challenged.
You cannot let this bother you. It is the new norm. However, you can set expectations with new employees and you should. They are making decisions about you as much as you are making decisions about them. Be upfront. Don’t hide the blemishes. A worthwhile and mature employee should know the grass is not always greener at another company. Every company has its issues.
Hiring and Interview Tips
Finally, here are a collection of tips I have collated over the years. I hope you find them helpful.
Hire Slow and Fire Fast
This is more of a principle than a tip. Take your time the hiring. There is nothing worse than rushing to get a warm body to fill a seat only to find out later you made a mistake. I understand there may be pressure to fill a position quickly. It is better to fill it with the best candidate than realize later your new hire needs to be put on a performance plan.
If you find you did make a mistake, work with your HR team to see the best way to handle the situation. Consider a 30-day contract period to truly determine if the person has the skills and temperament to get the job done and is a good fit with the team. If the contractor is working out well, you can transition the contract role to full-time. For full-timers, set a task that within 30 days of hire to meet with each new employee and review their progress, competence in the job, and what additional resources, tools, or training are needed. If skill gaps or unproductive behavior exists, take quick and concrete action, including termination if necessary (more on termination in the next chapter).
Prepare a Questionnaire Ahead of Time to Use During the Interview
You may have access to a questionnaire from your Human Resources department, or you can create your own. The key is to have one prepared in advance based on the job requirements, competencies, and cultural fit. This will be extremely useful in the interview so you can focus on the answers versus stumbling over what question to ask next. You can always add additional questions during the interview if you desire to probe further on a particular item. In some cases, you may be required to use a specific questionnaire from Human Resources. If that is your situation, make sure you can squeeze in creative-specific questions as well.
Set The Stage and Set The Tone
Let the candidate know what the role is they are applying for and your expectations. How you present yourself will determine how the candidate reacts. You can be all-business or you can be friendly and accommodating but the best rule is to be yourself. You are creating the culture for the team—reflect that culture.
Past Behavior Can Be a Predictor of Future Behavior
Use open-ended questions to probe a candidate’s past behaviors, accomplishments, and how they handled difficult situations. While it is true that people can change, under duress we tend to fall back on past, ingrained behaviors. Know the behaviors you seek in an employee and see if they exhibit those qualities. Create questions that elicit real-life examples. Instead of asking how would you, ask how did you.
Ask Open-ended Questions as Much as Possible (see sample questionnaires in the Creatives Lead Companion Workbook)
As stated above, you want to use open-ended questions to get the candidate talking. People often love to talk about themselves and the more you can get them to talk the more you will learn. Open-ended questions generally start with “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How”. “Describe a time…” or “Tell me…” are also good ways to start open-ended questions. Closed (Yes and No) questions should be reserved for simple job qualification questions: “Are you able to lift 25 pounds?” Etc.
Examples of powerful open-ended questions:
- How has your education and experience prepared you for this job?
- How necessary is it for you to be creative?
- Why do you want to work here?
- In your current (or most recent job), what was your greatest accomplishment?
- What are the major qualities this job demands?
- Describe a situation at your current (or past job) where you had to influence people on an approach or task?
- What lessons did you learn from a project that did not end well?
- Who caused you the most problems completing a project?
- How did you get your last job?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- If we were to make you an offer, what considerations would you have in terms of accepting the position? Probe further on other jobs they are in the running for. Avoid the money question as HR should have screened on these details, or maybe they have other personal conflicts in terms of timing.
- What questions do you have? Always allow ample time for questions – the contents of the candidate’s questions can be as telling as their earlier answers. Also, remember they are “interviewing” you as much as you are interviewing them.
Learn How the Candidate Thinks / How They Approach Their Work
As you conduct the interview, it is often the case that a creative’s portfolio reflects the final product of stakeholders. While all the work may not be the result of the candidate, you can and should find out how they approach work and their thinking process. This will tell you more than a series of pages, pictures, or websites.
As the candidate talks, do they provide the problem they were trying to solve? Do they talk about creating a plan? What was that plan? What actions did they take as a result of that plan? What was the final outcome of the project? Answers to these questions can provide a wealth of knowledge and separate the qualified candidates from the not-so-qualified.
Listen for “I” Statements and “We” Statements
While you want a team player, you also need to know what the candidate did and how they uniquely contributed to a project. Listen for how often they use the words “I” or “We” and if they use “I” too much listen further to see if they feel they are a “star performer”. Is that person going to be a good fit for your team? If they use “we” excessively, you may want to ask them specifically what they did on a project.
Don’t Accept the First Answer—Probe Deeper / Layer Questions
This takes practice. It is as much of a skill as it is an art to probe behind the initial answer. For instance, you may ask: “Tell me about an unpopular decision you had to make.”
You could certainly move on to another question from there but look at how much more you could learn if you probed further with:
Who did it affect?
Why did the situation arise?
How long did it take to make the decision?
How do you feel you handled it?
What did you learn from the event?
What would you do differently next time?
During the Interview Ask for Examples and Details
As stated above, don’t let the initial answer be the only answer. Ask more questions. Ask candidates to be specific about what their role was on various projects or within their team. For example, if they are taking credit or being vague about who redesigned a website it should come out in the conversation.
If required to ask specific questions in a determined order, work with HR ahead of time. You may need to get approval on any creative-centric questions to ask in order to make a discerning decision.
Ask Questions 20% of the Time and Listen 80%
This tip speaks for itself. For this reason, it is critical that when creating your initial interview questions, keep them few yet powerful.
Keep the Interview on Track—Don’t Let a “Talker” Derail You
Creatives can often run overtime. You may have a candidate who cannot stop talking (that’s their personality or they are nervous) or one who is a fast talker, making it hard to get a word in edge-wise. Don’t let that distract you. Stay on task. Stay on time.
Don’t Let a Candidate Off The Hook if They Get Flustered
I have seen and experienced getting flustered because the candidate did not have a prepared answer. Sometimes it seems easier to move on to another question. Don’t do it. If it is a “throwaway” question it should not be part of your questionnaire. Give the candidate a moment but don’t let them off the hook. This tells you as much about them as it does how they answer the question.
Take Good Notes and Let the Candidate See You Taking Them
First, take good notes to refer back to because after numerous interviews you are likely to forget how people answered. Second, it’s good for the candidate to see you are taking notes and that you are taking what they have to say seriously. They know you mean business and they should as well. However, be careful that your notetaking does not distract you from fully listening to the candidate’s responses. Focusing too much on your notes and not providing good eye contact with the candidate, can make the candidate even more nervous than they are.
Armed with these tips and resources, I know your interviewing will go much easier than my first ones did. Be sure to tailor your questionnaire to the job, the kinds of skills, and individual qualities you are looking for in a team member. Again, I cannot stress enough to work with your Human Resources department as much as you can. Finally, be willing to set aside time to practice using your questionnaire so you can maximize the time with your candidates.
I hate to bring the lawyers into this, but to ensure you have a legally defensible hiring practice here are a few additional tips:
- Ask the same base questions of all candidates for the same job. Again another reason as noted earlier for having a preset list of questions prepared ahead of time.
- Avoid any question or line of questioning that could focus on a person’s protected class as defined under local, state, and federal regulations (https://www.eeoc.gov/employers/small-business/3-who-protected-employment-discrimination).
- If an employee volunteers information that would be considered under these regulations as protected, it is best to simply put your pen down, listen, and move on. Don’t probe further. By putting your pen down the candidate won’t see that you have recorded any information that may be used later in the hiring decision.
- Seek feedback from others in the interview process and ensure they are following the same guidance as above. Align ahead of time who will focus on what questions.
- Document your final decision, including feedback received from each interviewer, in a consistent manner focusing on qualifications and capabilities.
Consistency is key. You will do well if you and the other interviewers have treated each candidate consistently. You can honestly show that the ultimate hiring decision was based on the job requirements and not on other non-defensible/protected characteristics of the candidate.
 Martin Yates, Hiring The Best: A Managers Guide to Effective Interviewing (Holbrook: Adams Media Corporation,1994, 4th Edition), 55.
 Yates, Hiring The Best: A Managers Guide to Effective Interviewing, 49.
 The STAR method often covers the following: Situation, Task, Action, and Result
Applications for Week 1
We have covered a lot this week. Below is a list of actions you will apply to get to know your team better. These will take time. How much time is up to you. Be willing and intentional about setting time aside to complete this list. Also, try your best to connect with HR and be a partner. You’ll be setting yourself up for the next week as you go.
1) Calendar meetings to hear employee stories. Spend time with each of them. Get to know their background stories, their hard skills and soft skills, their likes and dislikes, and their goals. Write these things down. You will begin creating a Team Profile Sheet (TPS). You can do this in a notebook or use the Creatives Lead Companion Workbook.
– Practice empathy by putting yourself in their shoes
– How would you want to be treated?
2) If you haven’t already, take the temperament assessment (see link below).
3) Have each of your team members take the assessment and share their results with you.
4) Put together a temperament grid and list your team’s primary and secondary results. You’ll use this for yourself and the upcoming team off-site (see chapter 2).
The Temperament Assessment:
This online assessment should take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find it here by visiting: [URL available in the book]
When you look at your results, you’ll find that you have a primary type and a secondary type. Some naturally go together and make for a wonderful set of strengths.
I hope you enjoyed this reading sample from Creatives Lead. If you are new to leadership, interested in leadership, or mentoring and training new leaders in your organization, Creatives Lead is your go-to resource! Get your copy today.
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