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

Staff Reporter

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