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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 janet@adsumconsulting.co.uk. Her website is www.adsumconsulting.co.uk.



Posted 23 April 2013 by Janet Evans
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