Culture: Creative Leadership — Expectations vs. Reality

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TL;DR: Chris Moore is Sparkloft’s new associate creative director based in our Atlanta office. With nearly a decade of experience, he’s a thinker who conceptualizes and visualizes the Big Idea. He shares what it takes to be a creative leader in today’s ever-evolving agency environment.

Welcome to the world of leadership. You’ve climbed the ranks in the creative industry. Advertising agencies, in-house shops, corporate conglomerates. Although no two people take the same path, we all begin to realize that the lessons taught day one in our university lectures or with your very first internship only begin to scratch the surface.

You learn to think and work more efficiently. You learn what makes good work and to spot the good from the bad, as well as why things work creatively and why they don’t. What no one explains to you early on are the different workplace interactions that you’ll have. Most are great! Some, not so much.

If you’re smart and paid attention throughout your creative career, you’ve figured it out. Even then, you may be left with more questions than answers. Here are 5 things to really expect one you become a creative leader.

1. But I’ll still be hands on, right?

If you’ve figured anything out, it’s that a good manager knows when to let go and trust their team to get things done. With that being said, you learn how to delegate tasks and assignments. You expect to be completely involved in day-to-day designing as you first did when you approached the creative industry with beady little eyes. Part of that is true, but you will learn to split time between hands-on creative work and leading your team through multiple stacked deadlines. The further along you go into creative management, you find yourself spending less time in Photoshop and more time in stakeholder meetings.

“... You’re never going to know everything or have all the answers. But that should act as a fire to drive you to do more, if not for yourself, for your team and company. You owe it to them especially if you want the best from them.”

2. I’ll finally have a 9-to-5

Ha. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I remember my first days in agency life. It seemed as if my ACDs and CDs were never in the office. It seemed only fair that the lowest man (or woman) on the totem pole had to work the long 50/60 hour work weeks. However, I knew little about what was happening behind the scenes. Travel for client meetings, off-site productions, endless biz dev meetings, pitches. I only saw the work that was being done in front of me. The reality is, you work the same amount of hours, if not more. You just may not be physically at your desk when duty calls.

3. It’s always great to be a team player

We’ve all seen this one. I’m right there with you, always put the team first. If anyone on my team or in my agency needs help, I’m always there to help. It’s one of the golden rules of agency life. However, there comes a point where you have to start being a team captain. Taking initiative is going to a determining factor in how successful you’ll be in helping your team. You go from the one asking questions to the one answering them. That also means being the procurer of information for others. But you quickly learn whether or not someone needs a genuine answer or is just being too lazy to figure it out themselves.

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4. I’ll only have to worry about my team

If there was any expectation that I thought was true going into creative leadership, it was this. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you leave the shadows of your dedicated task, you begin to see that there are interactions at every level of your organization as well as client facing interactions. Obviously you always go to bat for your team, but you quickly learn that there should be a healthy collaboration between all departments you interact with. Account management, stakeholders, clients themselves. Creative leaders act as the glue that connects their team with the rest of the organization since they may not be involved in day to day interactions with the rest of the company.

5. I’ll eventually figure it all out

No. No you won’t. And that should be on purpose. One of the worst things you can do is to become stagnant. Just because you’ve developed processes that currently work, you should never stop looking for ways to evolve. With that being said, you’re never going to know everything or have all the answers. But that should act as a fire to drive you to do more, if not for yourself, for your team and company. You owe it to them especially if you want the best from them.

It’s probably been an incredible ride on your journey to creative leadership filled with ups and downs, but one thing is definitely a reality; that was only the beginning. Whatever ride you’re on, make it the best ride ever.

While we work hard, we play hard too at Sparkloft. Read more about our company culture on our blog.

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