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How suited is your personality to working in media?

Business psychologist and coach Janet Evans says people with introvert and extravert personalities are good at different things – and successful creative companies need both to thrive.

A recent piece of research, widely reported in the press, found that comedians had very unusual personality characteristics. Like many other high-functioning creative people they score highly in the tests designed to diagnose psychosis (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). But comics have a particular profile. They score very highly on two apparently contradictory traits: they are simultaneously unhappy introverts who avoid social contact, and outrageous impulsive extraverts who seek it out.

This is consistent with the high levels of bipolar disorder diagnosed among creative people, though comedians appear to experience both the poles (the depressive low and the “manic” high) at the same time. 

In my earlier blog on the creative personality, I reported the hypothesis that the manic phase of bipolar involves very fast processing and link-making at unconscious level, which results in new and surprising insights into the world; while the depressive phase both provides some of the material for those insights, by taking the artist to dark places, and the need to create to escape from those difficult thoughts.

The researchers conclude that the extreme profile of comedians suggests that their outrageously extravert performances have a similar function in medicating the performer against his or her desperate mood.

They quote Stephen Fry: “There are times when I’m doing QI, and I’m going “ha, ha, yeah, yeah”, and inside I’m going “I want to fucking die. I.. want… to… fucking…die”.

If many comics are simultaneously outrageous extraverts and unhappy introverts, what about the rest of us? In my last blog I said how useful it could be to understand something about our own and other people’s personalities in a systematic way.

In this blog I want to introduce you to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This, unlike the instrument used in the comics study, is not designed to diagnose the extreme traits associated with psychosis (or even neurosis, from which we all suffer to some degree), but provides a simple, unthreatening but profound model to help us see what’s going on in the interactions which make up our normal working lives.

The MBTI has been in very wide use for 60 years in all walks of life in the West. It measures a number of dimensions, but this blog focuses on Introversion and Extraversion, where its assumption (as with the other dimensions) is that people’s comfortable, “default”, state ( their “preference”) is one or the other, to varying degrees.

So, which of the following sounds like you?

1. “After a hard and stressful day I like to unwind and recharge my batteries by:
(a) Having a drink and a conversation with a group of friends in a bar”, or
(b) “Having a quiet dinner with my partner and watching some TV”.

2. “When I get a really good idea, I like to develop it by:
(a) Brainstorming with some colleagues – I understand its implications much better when I’ve talked it through”, or
(b) “Setting time aside to think it through on my own, maybe in writing, before I talk to anyone about it”.

3. (a) “I like open plan offices – there’s a buzz of energy, which energises me, and they make it so much easier to communicate.”
(b)“ I hate open plan offices – there are so many distractions that I just can’t think.”

In each case, if (a) felt more like you, then it’s likely that you’re an extravert. If (b), then you’re probably an introvert.

We all have a picture of extraverts as gregarious, outgoing people, and of introverts as solitary souls most at home in libraries. But actually it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Extraverts need external stimulation to perform well. As the word suggests, they get their energy from turning outwards, interacting with stimulating environments and people.

Some even find it easier to concentrate on a difficult task in a noisy, buzzy environment, like a busy office or coffee shop. As soon as a thought crosses their mind, they want to say it out loud, and share it. With an extravert, what you see is what you get.

Introverts, on the other hand, are very sensitive to external stimulation. They process everything that comes their way, and if there’s too much happening round them, they get overloaded and distressed. They get their energy from turning inwards, putting all the stimuli and data together to make sense of them.

With introverts, the important things are happening internally, and are not obvious to the outsider. Someone suggested that when you talk an extravert, you’re talking directly to the CEO, but when you talk to an introvert, you’re talking to the CEO’s PA – the CEO is in the inner office and you don’t necessarily know what he or she thinks.

The recent book about introversion, Quiet, by Susan Cain was acclaimed as “an intriguing and potentially life-altering examination of the human psyche that is sure to benefit both introverts and extraverts alike”.

This is because we live in a world which favours extraverts –  a world which values quick thinking, personal impact, being “out there” networking - and tends to undervalue introverts.

But introverts and extraverts are good at different things – the creative media industries need both and they need each other.

We obviously need the extravert qualities – people who feel a compulsion to engage in an active and energetic way, who love new experiences and the challenge of constant interaction with new problems and people. Because they are always picking up external data, some extraverts have an almost uncanny ability to foresee how a scheme will unfold, where the support and where the obstacles will be.  

But introverts are very good at something equally vital - taking in and processing the relevant information and then engaging in sustained thinking. They will spend hours or days wrangling with all aspects of a problem, and emerge with a solution which the extraverts couldn’t have reached in years by their preferred method of brainstorming and discussion.

So, introverts and extraverts are good at different things.  The best leaders recognise this and act accordingly. They need different conditions to thrive – in particular, introverts need time and a quiet space to think, they hate being asked to respond immediately or being corralled in endless meetings, and they may prefer to develop ideas and plans in writing rather than face-to-face.  Many highly creative people are introverts – they have rich and detailed internal visions, but often fail to communicate them well enough – an extravert skill, which they need to focus on and learn to do because it’s not their natural mode.

You can “diagnose” introversion and extraversion very easily by using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. It’s really worth doing – it can be revelatory.

If you know you’re an introvert, you stop worrying about the fact that big parties and meetings drain your energy, and evolve ways to manage yourself better, guarding your precious and productive thinking time and focusing your extravert effort on the times when it’s really important that you are  “out there” engaging and communicating.

If you’re an extravert, you realise that you need to be stimulated to give your best (you can’t lock yourself away for three days to write the business plan – it’s much better to talk it through with your colleagues). You also understand that your introvert colleagues may not appear to think as quickly as you, but that if you give them time, they may well come up with the crucial insight.

It’s important to remember that the MBTI model emphasises the notion of preference. We all have a preference between introversion and extraversion to varying degrees, but we can all do both when it’s required. Introverts are capable of extraverting and vice versa.

It’s really useful for teams to understand each others’ personalities. It will transform the way in which their members interact, give them a language to talk about their differences and complementarity, and really help them get the best from themselves and each other. I always start here with new coaching clients and I really recommend it!

The author: Janet Evans is a business psychologist, executive coach and consultant on leadership and strategic planning, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on

Posted 05 February 2014 by Janet Evans

Becoming a better leader in the creative industries

Business psychologist and coach Janet Evans on becoming a better leader: understanding yourself, and your team members

“The mind is an elephant with a rider. The rider is conscious controlled thought. The elephant is everything else - gut feelings, visceral reactions, emotions, deeply held values, intuitions. Sometimes the rider and the elephant may be at odds. In these cases the superior power of the elephant will win.” (Jonathan Haidt – “The Happiness Hypothesis”)

We tend to think of ourselves as a rational species, and that workplaces are governed by conscious, rational thought. I find the elephant metaphor a really helpful way of reminding myself and my clients how wrong that is.

The really important things happen at unconscious level, and surface in our emotional reactions, and deeply held beliefs and assumptions. We all operate according to a set of mental and emotional models of the world, some of which are innate and the rest of which we have acquired from our upbringing and subsequent experience. We hold some of these at conscious level and can articulate them. But we may never have articulated the most important ones which are held at very deep levels indeed.

In my first blog, I said that the first step in becoming a better leader is to understand yourself better. But what does this mean?

When I’m coaching, I find it helpful to think of people in layers which become bigger and more important the deeper they are. Part of the role of the coaching process is to help people uncover and examine the models which make up these psychological strata, and reject or adjust those which are not helping them achieve what they want to.

- Layer 1 (the top layer) is your consciously-held knowledge, skills, interests, overt motivations, explicit values and assumptions about the world and your place in it;

- Layer 2 is personality. There is an enormous amount of research on personality and a number of simple but very useful models which can help you understand  and get the best from yourself and other people;

- Layer 3 is about values, assumptions and motivations which may be very important but are not explicit: these are often buried quite deep in the subconscious mind. Whether you know what your own are depends on whether you’ve thought about them – I spend a lot of time helping my coaching clients uncover what really matters to them, which is crucial if they are to make the right choices and spend their careers in a way which really fulfils them;

- Layer 4 is about deep processes. These are the emotional models of life and your place in it which you learned as a child, often before your conscious mind had developed. This is where people’s insecurities and limiting assumptions about themselves reside. They are not conscious and not  articulated in words; they are held in emotional patterns at subconscious level, and are very powerful. When you’re really upset or angry or suffer a sudden lack of confidence, but don’t know why your feelings are so strong, it is one of these deeply held patterns which has ambushed you. They are likely to be the cause also of any repeated difficulties in relating to particular types of people, particularly those in authority, or whom you have to influence.

So what are the practical implications of all this for you as a leader?

You may think you’re completely clear about your own motivations and values (layer 1), but it’s worth reflecting on them. You will have acquired some of  them from parents and teachers, and may find on examining them that you don’t in fact subscribe to them anymore. And do you know what is important to the individuals in your team? Our default assumption tends to be that everyone is like us, but that couldn’t be more wrong. To motivate and get the best from your team you need to know what drives each member. If you don’t know, ask.

It is easy and very worthwhile to get a better understanding of your own and your team members’ personalities (layer 2). One model which is very widely used (and has been for 70 years) is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the subject of my next blog. This will tell you some vital things about how you and your team members prefer to work, and help you use everyone’s strengths and handle the differences in a productive way. For example, you may like to talk problems through, but have a team member who prefers to have time to think about an issue before being asked for a view. You will get much more from them if you give them the time they need to think. You may be focused on the task in hand, but have a team member who is people oriented – they can be really helpful to you in alerting you to the wider team’s concerns and getting them  on side.

Layer 3 is crucial to your personal authenticity as a leader (and indeed your happiness and fulfilment). Are you in the right job? Do you care passionately about what you’re doing? Do you have an inspiring vision of where you want to get to? If you do, you need to make sure that you’re taking the time to communicate your passion and vision to the team, and then it will rub off on them. If you don’t, the people who work for you will spot it immediately and it will demotivate them.

Layer 4 is very interesting indeed. I work with people a lot on Layer 4 issues. They are common among highly successful people, particularly those in the creative industries. This may seem paradoxical, but in fact it’s not. Many driven people who strive for perfection in everything, do so because it soothes deep feelings of doubt about themselves which they acquired in childhood. People like this are therefore more common than one might think at the top levels of organisations and in creative roles. If you are one of these you need to understand yourself and what triggers your feelings of doubt. Once you have done so, you will be able to deal with them and to recognise and soothe these feelings in your team members as well.

So, though focusing on yourself and reflecting, perhaps with the expert help of a coach, may feel like an indulgence, and a distraction from getting on with the job, it may well be the best investment of time and resources you could make in the future success of your business, and indeed in your own happiness and fulfilment.

Janet Evans is a business psychologist, consultant and leadership coach, with an MA from Oxford, an MSc in Organisational Psychology, and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring Practice. She was a senior leader in Whitehall and now works extensively in the public, private and third sectors. Her clients in the creative media industries include the All3Media Group, CreativeSkillset, TRCMedia, a number of independent producers and a host of individuals from throughout the TV, Film and Digital Industries. She can be contacted on Her website is

Posted 25 September 2013 by Janet Evans

The art of successful leadership in the creative industries

What is this mysterious thing called leadership? Does it really matter to business success or is it just a construct invented by theorists? What sort of leader are you? How can you be a better one?

The research suggests that good leadership really does matter. Leaders shape the culture of the organisation – how the people who work in it feel about it, how committed they are, the assumptions they hold in common about “how we do things round here”. Culture is the “dark energy” of organisations. You can’t see it, but it’s everywhere, and it’s an immensely powerful force: research shows it accounts for nearly a third of financial performance.

Studies of the impact of leadership development (specifically, coaching people so that they become better leaders) have shown the average return on investment to be more than 500%.

I talk to my clients about leadership all the time. There is loads of literature on it, and it’s difficult to know where to start. This is the first of a series of blogs in which I will address the different aspects which I think are crucial to being a successful leader.

So what is leadership, then?

Leadership has two dimensions: the intellectual and the emotional. The intellectual part is about setting the right direction for the business. Leaders need to keep scanning the environment, make sense of what they find and spot where the opportunities lie, develop a  vision of where the business needs to get to, and put the right structures and systems in place to deliver it. This is the strategic element of leadership.

But the strategy won’t work unless the people who work in the organisation are engaged with it emotionally as well as intellectually. This is where the dark energy comes in. The vision must be a compelling one; everyone must feel they own it and have a stake in delivering it, and that they will be recognised and rewarded for their efforts. And you need to develop the same kind of emotional connection with the outsiders you need to influence to succeed.

I will deal further with both aspects of leadership in future blogs. For now I will simply say that to do all this well requires a combination of strategic and people skills which no one person is likely to have. So the first thing good leaders do is to take stock of where their strengths lie and make sure their senior teams make up for the gaps in their profile.

That’s all very well but I just don’t have time for all that. I need to get business in

Small business leaders in this industry do indeed have great difficulty finding the time to think about strategy, developing their vision and aligning their team behind it. They often spend their time pursing their creative interests or chasing commissions. But you need a clear view of where your competitive edge lies and where the opportunities are, if you’re not to dissipate your energy on a series of random enterprises. You need to structure your business and your financial plan round this vision. And you need to engage your team in the common enterprise so that they are as committed as you are.

How does leadership differ from management?

Leadership is about direction and inspiration. Management is essentially about delivery – having the right structures and systems in place to make sure that everyone knows what they should be doing and you know how everything is going. You need both.

Do you have to be one of those charismatic characters who are larger than life to be an inspirational leader?

No, you have to do it your way. Key studies have found that the most successful leaders are often quiet, unassuming people. What distinguishes them from other people is their complete passion about and commitment to the business. All of their values and emotions and energy are aligned in the same way as the mission of the business – like iron filings towards magnetic north. Commentators have called this quality “authenticity”. If you are going to persuade people to follow you, you have to believe in what you’re doing wholeheartedly - at the emotional level as well as the intellectual level. You have to walk the talk. People will respond to this. And they will spot it instantly if you aren’t being authentically you. You are “the instrument of leadership”.

Do I have to be a “natural”, or can I learn leadership?

You can learn to be a better leader, but first you need to understand yourself and what sort of leader you are now. Some questions to start you off:

- What does your team think of you as a leader? What would they like you to do more of, and what less of? Ask them. There will be lots of positives as well as some negatives, and you will be surprised by some of them

- How well do you know yourself? For example, do you know what your personality type is and how it impacts on those of your team? If you don’t, get a Myers Briggs Type assessment done

- What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you better at strategizing or at influencing people? Do you tend to focus outwards from the organisation or inwards? Do you communicate your vision clearly enough? Are you better at detail or the big picture?

- How can you build on your strengths and address your weaknesses? Would you benefit from some training or 1:1 coaching? Do you have the right people round you to complement your particular skill set?

In my next blog I’ll look in more detail at this first and most crucial stage in improving your leadership skills – understanding yourself.

Janet Evans is a business psychologist, consultant and leadership coach, with an MA from Oxford, an MSc in Organisational Psychology, and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring Practice. She was a senior leader in Whitehall and now works extensively in the public, private and third sectors. Her clients in the creative media industries include the All3Media Group, CreativeSkillset, TRCMedia, a number of independent producers and a host of individuals from throughout the TV, Film and Digital Industries. She can be contacted on Her website is

Posted 23 April 2013 by Janet Evans

What can I do to nurture my creativity?

Executive coach Janet Evans urges creatives to deal with their addiction to smart phones and to build in much more creative time.

My last blog discussed the conditions which favour the creative process and pointed out that the demands of the media industries can be inimical to it. How does the creative person make sure there is room for creativity in this very fast moving industry? Here are some hints and tips which my clients have found useful.

“We do not know where we get our ideas, but we know we do not get them from our laptops” John Cleese

“If you never stare out of a train window how are you going to write a novel?” Ben Elton

The use of electronic media is a particular issue. Ever more sophisticated hand-held devices in particular seem to exert an addictive hold over us. We need to be out there but we’re also hooked on the gratification of a communication showing that someone else is focusing on our work, that we are part of an online community of peers. But this constant babble in the forefront of the mind seems both to interfere with the unconscious processing necessary for creation and prevent ideas and visions from coming to the surface.

What is going on here? It has been suggested that the use of digital media swamps our “working memory”, a narrow channel through which our short and long term memories communicate. It therefore inhibits the “priming” of the mind necessary to start unconscious processing relevant to a specific problem, and the emergence of the conclusions into consciousness. In the long term, it may inhibit the laying down of new memories and links in the long-term memory, thus impoverishing the stock of unconscious “vocabulary” and associations on which the creative draws.

So my first tip is: try and deal with your addiction. Of course you need to be in contact with a large number of people but do you really have to  be available all the time? Are you going after a series of small short buzzes at the cost of cluttering your mind and creating something really worthwhile? Discipline yourself to turn off the handheld for a certain number of hours each week and use the time to think or let your mind drift and start to make those connections between disparate elements which lead to new ideas.

Coleridge famously blamed his failure to finish his poem, Kubla Khan, on a “person from Porlock” who interrupted his train of thought. John Cleese says that to create, the creative must have “boundaries of space and time”. They need “a tortoise enclosure. So the mind can think it’s safe to come out.”

Redmond O’Hanlon (the explorer, travel writer, and broadcaster) says that is why he works at night:

“You are en route somewhere, on a journey, and in your imagination you experience it more intensely than when you were really there. If someone opens the door or asks a question at a moment like that it’s like being shot in the head”

So my second tip is: plan your time, and build in creative time. Creative people are often very bad at this. They take on too much and this is how they burn out. Allow time for feeding your creativity  - by reading, thinking, watching other people’s work. This may feel like downtime, because you’re not producing anything tangible, but it’s the most valuable thing you can do. And programme in time for the process of creation. When are you at your most creative? – block that time out in the diary and guard it with your life. (I had a client who was most creative at night, and she organised her life so that she could stay up all night once a week).

My third tip relates to the nature of the creative process itself. You need to prime your mind with the problem. But after that, the creative process can’t be hurried.  One of the main characteristics of creative people is that they are able to live in a state of mental suspension, to tolerate ambiguity while their unconscious processes make order out of chaos. Sometimes an idea is a slow burner, and this process can take years. Or a vision may coalesce gradually in stages.

So my third tip is: when you’re working on an idea, don’t worry away at it. Trust the process. There will be an uncomfortable period when everything seems to be banging around in your head and you can’t see your way through it. Focus on something else to let the unconscious processing take place without interference. Absorbing sensory activities are ideal. Sleep, go to the gym, have a massage, learn to meditate. Then, when something crystallises, capture it, and use it to prime your mind for the next stage.

The author: Janet Evans is an executive coach and consultant on strategic planning and leadership, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on

Posted 10 January 2012 by Janet Evans

Understanding the creative process

Some of my most creative clients have come to me with worries about their creativity. These have ranged from a feeling that they simply don’t have the same spark anymore to serious concerns about burnout.

I’ve found it helpful to take a two stage approach – to reflect with them first on what the creative process involves and what creative people need; and then to think about what they can do to nurture their creativity.

In this blog, I want to look at the process itself, and next time I’ll set out some hints and tips that can help you to help yourself or the creative people you work with.

“I don’t know where the ideas come from….I sit down and it’s almost as if I’m in a trance. The subconscious is producing these ideas based on impressions and its own activity.”
Alexander McCall Smith on the process of writing novels

“Inspiration is the beginning of a poem and it is also its final goal. It is the first idea which drops into the poet’s mind and it is the final idea which he at last achieves in words.” Stephen Spender

Studies of the psychology of creativity tell us a lot about both the creative process and the creative personality. There is also a large number of first hand accounts of the act of creation, from pre-eminent creative people in both the arts and sciences (from Coleridge and Einstein to John Cleese and Sam Mendes). In these subjective accounts the creative person describes a process of focusing on the problem (“priming the mind”), then disengaging from it, often by sleeping or doing something completely unrelated (“incubating”), and then finding that the creative vision springs into their mind fully formed, as an outline which can be worked on and developed or as a new and better iteration of something they had previously been thinking about.

John Cleese describes working on a screenplay, losing his work, and very reluctantly having to start again and try to recreate what he had done, then finding the first version again, and being astonished by how much better the second version was. His mind had continued working on it while he was searching for the first version.

The creatives and the psychologists agree about the conditions necessary for the creation of something truly original. The creator must be steeped in the domain in which they are creating (whether science, music, poetry, or film-making), so as to have the necessary “vocabulary” in which to express their ideas.

They also need to be able to think in a certain way - to be able to see patterns and new relationships between widely diverse ideas not normally seen as linked. Metaphor and wit are key illustrations of this style which is a hallmark of the creative personality.

But the sources also emphasise the vital role of inspiration – a process of which creators are not consciously aware and are not in conscious control. Cognitive and neuro-scientists hypothesise that what is going on during this process is the fast processing of large numbers of links and associations in the brain, many of which may be stored at deep levels in the unconscious. Highly creative people seem to be able to store more ideas and information, see broader patterns, and bring them into consciousness more easily than others.

So, to create, creative people must inhabit their own internal worlds. They need time and space to take in new inputs and incubate and develop their creative ideas. This process is unconscious and cannot be forced or done to a timetable.

The creative person must prime their mind with the task and then disengage and wait for the unconscious processing to take place and the vision to pop into the front of the mind.

In contrast, the creative industries are extravert, fast moving and deadline-driven. Their culture emphasises hard work and unremitting activity, reinforcing the notion that everyone must be moving at top speed, 24/7 to achieve anything worthwhile. The combination of this environment with the passion and drive which the individual creatives apply to their work has generated a self-perpetuating culture of frenetic activity.

There are clearly serious tensions between such an environment and the needs of the creative person. So how can creative people working in this industry nurture their creativity? In my next blog, I will provide some hints and tips which my clients have found useful.

The author: Janet Evans is an executive coach and consultant on strategic planning and leadership, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on

Posted 09 November 2011 by Janet Evans

Bullying in TV: a business psychologist's view

From my perspective as a business psychologist and coach working with people in the TV industry, the debate on bullying that takes places at the Edinburgh TV Festival this month is right on the button.

In a recent Televisual article ahead of the bullying debate, RDF Television md Jim Allen said the following in response to the question, “Is bullying the TV industry’s dirty secret?”: “TV will never rid itself of bullying but collectively and individually every broadcaster and production company could do more to make a stand, extol the right values, invest time and money in training the skills of people management and reduce levels of aggression, neurosis and hysteria. After all it’s only television and we might even discover that a more relaxed, supported, encouraged and dare I say it, carefree industry will create a sustained burst of creative flair. Happier staff and better shows – what a thought.”

I very much share Jim Allen’s optimism about change and the possibility of an industry which is both happier and more creative.

In the same piece, Hilary Rosen suggested that the TV industry is prone to bullying because it is full of perfectionist creatives.

The psychology of creativity tells us that this is likely to be true. Creative people have rich and intensely personal visions which they are obsessional about realising. That is why they can be inspirational. They don’t always communicate these visions effectively and they become very frustrated when things or people prevent them - as they see it - from achieving perfection. That is why they make unreasonable demands.

And some highly creative people may have additional challenges to deal with. Research has shown that creative people may be as much as four times more likely to suffer from mood disorders of varying levels of severity – in particular depression and bipolar syndrome - than non-creatives. These are linked to feelings of insecurity and make some creative people particularly vulnerable to criticism, which they take as a highly personal attack.

As a result, creative leaders may be concerned above all else to protect themselves from things which trigger their own insecurities. This may lead them to adopt an aggressive posture as a means of defence, and so have little energy left for understanding their staff. The extreme (and fortunately rare) case is the person with narcissistic personality disorder, where a grandiose sense of self-worth and entitlement cloak a deep sense of inadequacy, anxiety and fear – the classic bully profile. Put an aggressive, insecure creative leader, with a defensive insecure creative staff member, and you have the ingredients for a relationship which can seriously damage the victim.

Many of these brilliant brains were never intended to manage or lead. Or could they, with the right nurturing or training?- asked Donna Taberer.

Yes! Creative bosses with insecurities can be excellent leaders precisely because they can tune in to the vulnerabilities of the people working for them and provide them with the nurturing they need. To do this they need a degree of self-understanding and insight into their own personalities and motivations and those of the people working for them. Then they are not at the mercy of their own destructive emotional impulses which they don’t understand.

And, it is surprisingly easy to equip people with these skills, especially when they are highly intelligent and insightful as creative people are. I have recently been coaching on a major Skillset-funded leadership programme for executives and senior producers from across the TV industry. The participants loved the “hard” business training and sessions by industry experts. But it was the training in “softer” emotional skills - leadership, understanding the impact of your own and others’ personalities, influencing, engaging your team - and the 1:1 developmental coaching, which they found revelatory, absorbed like sponges and then came back for more.

My fellow coaches and I were very struck by the relative lack of attention which some of this industry gives to the vital issue of how to deliver through people. Many of our clients have far less understanding of how to motivate and develop their teams than leaders of similar seniority in other sectors. This knowledge is not a “nice-to-have” - it relates directly to quality and the bottom line – and its lack is ironic given that the industry depends on nurturing individual creativity for its success.

Of course economic pressures and the fragmented structure of the industry make it difficult to invest in leadership skills. But I wonder if there is also a cultural bias against doing so – some bosses think that since they fought their way to the top without help, their employees should do so too. And the industry is not naturally a reflective one – constant activity 24/7 is the norm. But I agree with Jim Allen – how much more productive the industry would be if it invested just that little bit more in getting the best from its people. And I am optimistic about its ability to do so, if it is really prepared to focus on these issues and do something about them.

The author: Janet Evans is a business psychologist, executive coach and consultant on leadership and strategic planning, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on

Posted 03 August 2011 by Janet Evans

Managing 'difficult' talent

Why are creative people so sensitive about their work?

In her response to my last blog, film producer Rebecca Long said:

“I have found that in the creative industries we are all so passionate about what we do, and ideas and projects seem to be so much more personal and emotional than in most people’s work, and as a result you find that creative people can be very sensitive. If you then throw into the mix extreme pressures such as time and money and managing a lot of people, this makes for a boiling pot of difficulties…”

Rebecca speaks from experience. She is right to identify the passion which creative people feel about their work and the personal nature of that work as key elements in this mix.

But some highly creative people may have additional challenges to deal with. Modern studies and analysis of the letters and diaries of highly creative people throughout history have shown that creative people may be as much as four times more likely to suffer from mood disorders, of varying levels of severity, than non-creatives – including bipolar and unipolar depression.

Some well-known examples are Coleridge, Keats and Shelley, Berlioz, Mahler and Tchaikovsky, F Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Wolf, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko…. the list goes on.

Why should there be this link between high levels of creativity and a particular psychological profile?

There are various hypotheses which seem to me to ring true. Depression is intimately linked to feelings of low self-worth, which may result from dysfunctional childhood relationships. So

• depressive people have experienced suffering and want to make sense of things through their work or change them.“They learn in suffering what they teach in song” (Shelley on poets);

• provided that the depression is not completely disabling, intense concentration and absorption in a complex task may permit an escape from depressive thoughts, and the act of creation, in producing a tangible product of intrinsic value, can help to dull those thoughts;

• depressives also have an acute fear of failure (because it will further damage their self-esteem), which can motivate them to strive harder, perhaps even to overwork in a manic phase. This means, however, that actual failure can completely paralyse them. They may therefore be very vulnerable and lacking in resilience;

• in the case of sufferers from bipolar depression, the increase in speed of thinking and the sheer volume of thought during the manic state may produce unique ideas and inspirations – so may be a catalyst for creativity.

The creative is in a double bind. Their work is meaningful and resonant with others because they have experienced powerful feelings and put so much of themselves into it.

But they are also posing publicly a self which is particularly vulnerable to criticism. And because of that vulnerability and lack of resilience, they may hear any criticism as a highly personal attack on their self worth, and may refuse to accept the points being made, fight back or even descend into creative paralysis.

So what can you do if you are leading or managing someone with this profile?

To get the best from insecure creatives, the leader needs to parent them, to try and tune in to their vulnerabilities, provide large amounts of support and encouragement, and show how much he or she values the contribution which each individual makes.

When the team members are secure in the belief that they are valued and appreciated, it will be much easier to persuade them to accept constructive criticism.

The same applies to “difficult” talent, whose big egos often conceal deep insecurities, and who try to get rid of their bad feelings about themselves by projecting them on others – eg by demanding that particular crew members be fired. The enormous ego of the narcissist is a protection for acute vulnerability.

And what if you recognise yourself from this description? If the problem is really severe, and prevents you from working effectively, then don’t be afraid to seek help from a qualified professional.

If it’s not that severe, but you’d like to increase your resilience in the face of setbacks or criticism, there are lots of techniques you can try, and I’ll talk about them more in a future blog.

The author: Janet Evans is a business psychologist, executive coach and consultant on leadership and strategic planning, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on

Posted 15 June 2011 by Janet Evans

How to manage a creative team

How do I get the best from a creative team who’ve come together for the first time for this project and don’t know what my vision is, me, or each other? How can I communicate what I want and get them engaged in delivering it? How do I establish myself as leader?

I get asked these questions time and time again by producers and directors. Over the last two years I have been working as an executive coach with people in the creative media industries, most recently on CCTV, the Skillset-funded leadership programme for executives and senior producers from across the TV industry.

I suppose I must have had approaching 100 discussions with creative people in the last three years and it is very striking the degree to which those discussions have focused on a few significant themes. And it’s not surprising that ‘how to get the best from a creative team’ is one of those themes.

It is clearly very challenging to get a disparate group of people together and try to produce something engaging and original to a timescale which is too tight and a budget which is too small. But this is how these industries operate. So why does it go wrong and what is my prescription for making it work?

First, understand yourself. It is not empty stereotyping to suggest that there is a typical “creative personality”. Creative people are highly intuitive. They have ready access to their own unconscious processing and can see links and associations the rest of us can’t see. They can bring order out of chaos. They have rich and detailed internal visions of their projects and how they should be realised.

If creatives are to see their visions made real, they must be able to communicate them to other people, above all the production team, but they often fail to do this effectively.

Their vision is so clear to them that they think they have explained it when they’ve given the barest of outlines and that it has somehow been transferred to the minds of the hearers as if by telepathy. They even get bored while explaining it because it is so familiar to them.

So, it is crucial to communicate the vision fully. You can’t describe what you want too many times or with too much precision. Show examples of similar effects, reference other people’s work. You’ve been thinking about this for months if not years. It will take a while for the others to catch up, but if you invest in this up front, it will pay enormous dividends down the track. Not only will they know what you want but they’ll be able to feed ideas in and the final product will be better.

Secondly, understand your team. They also have a lot invested in this project – they are human beings and human beings are driven by emotion.

New teams go through four phases: “forming” (getting together in the first place); “storming”, while people struggle with each other for position and to get what they need emotionally from the project, “norming” (as they settle down into particular ways of behaving which are accepted by the team); and “performing”, ie getting on effectively with the job.

They will get to the “performing” stage more quickly and without major mishap if:

- you have succeeded in communicating your vision and they have been allowed to feed into it so that they feel ownership of it too

- they are clear about their roles and how they relate to each other

- you know them as individuals, are sensitive to what they want from the project, and they know you value their contribution. Creative people are very susceptible to feeling under-valued (but that’s a topic for another blog….)

These things seem obvious but they often get neglected. Projects start before they are in place and then things go wrong – relationships deteriorate, people have rows or leave, and time and money are wasted. Spend enough time at the beginning of the project on getting these things right. Talk to everyone individually and as a group. Mobilise their creativity. Get them engaged in a joint enterprise which matters as much to them as it does to you.

The author: Janet Evans is an executive coach and consultant on strategic planning and leadership, with an MSC in Organisational Psychology and a Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring. She works mainly in the creative media industries and the public sector, having been a senior leader in Whitehall for many years. She runs her own consultancy, Adsum Consulting Limited, and can be contacted on

Posted 01 June 2011 by Janet Evans
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