Common Mistakes in Managing (Creative) People

Throughout my years of employment in working for others, with others, and leading teams in several different industries, I have observed a number of trends with managers that are unfamiliar with creative minds.  Different thought process, different motivators, personal independence, balancing work objectives and productivity with time and space for creativity… it can be a challenge! I am by no means claiming to be an expert on this topic; but simply these are life lessons and tips based on experiences.


These are points that apply to everyone even if you arent in a leadership position at the moment, these are good practices in building long-lasting relationships or even understanding your manager. A lot of these trends are fatal mistakes that can lead to resentment, and negative morale that spreads quickly and people lose their drive and don’t give it their full effort. A number of these mistakes are rooted in personal insecurities and fear. Everyone of us has committed several of these at one point, its the willingness to change and improve yourself that makes the difference.


Before I start with the Do’s and Don’ts I usually approach management and tasks with this question:  Would I want to do this job myself?  This can be applied to a lot of aspects including fair wages, scheduling, individual tasks, stress & expectations, and so on.  Of course there is always going to be something that is just not fun to do but has to get done regardless. Keep the mood light by offering to do the bitch work from time to time or spread it around where the team trades off so one person isn’t always stuck with the crappy tasks. This keeps tension low and eliminates potential resentment and keeps a level playing field.


You cannot usually teach someone how to be a leader but you can improve communication skills and approach to managing people. The following points are notes I’ve compiled over time to help differentiate between bossy behavior and being a leader and how to improve in those areas:
  • Being bossy and being a leader are VERY different.  Knowing the difference and choosing the latter and adjusting behavior accordingly is crucial in effectively managing people. Examples:
    • Bosses tell people what to do and how to do it and want everything their way.  The classic know-it-all.
    • Bosses mask their insecurities with aggression. Leaders are comfortable with leaning on others’ expertise to help pull things together and direct when needed.
    • Leaders explain the objectives and goals and discuss it with their team and collectively they create a plan.
    • Leaders take others’ opinions and suggestions into consideration – bosses do things their way.
    • Leaders ask, bosses tell .
    • Bosses give instruction from a distance. Leaders treat people as equals, no hierarchy of positions  – they include themselves as part of the task force.
    • Bosses use their authority and position as power over their people
    • Leaders negotiate and compromise when things don’t go how they want, Bosses use their power position and authority to command people to do it their way.
    • Leaders inspire and lead by example and through challenging their employees.  Bossy people bark orders.
  • Give compliments! People respond much better to compliments and praise rather than criticism.  Let the small nit picks be, they usually work themselves out.
  • Provide challenges with intrinsic satisfaction. Money never hurts but creative people are usually motivated by their interests, challenges, satisfaction of completing or overcoming the challenge.
  • Be decisive! Make an informed decision and commit to it!
    • This is one of the most common mistakes… managers get caught up in stress and fear of making the wrong decision that they put off making a decision at all or make the wrong decision because of fear of the consequences of risk. Business is all about calculated risk, its okay to make mistakes so long as you learn from them. Mistakes are inevitable.
  • Trust the professionals that you hire! Set expectations and share your vision beforehand and step away and let your employees and/or hired contractors do the jobs you hired them to do.
  • Let that which does not matter truly SLIDE… Don’t make mountains out of mo-hills… Don’t over bake the cake… Carefully choose your battles and respectfully interject when your direction is really needed and will impact the end result.
  • Give specific focused feedback!  Being vague or over generalizing does not give anything constructive to improve upon.
  • Avoid forming habits!  They make you resistant to change and alternatives.
  • Step back and examine different perspectives before you express concern.
  • Appreciate others’ talents and expertise rather then feel threatened by them – they arent out for blood, they are there to help you accomplish the collective goals.
  • You are not always right! In most cases there isn’t even a right or wrong way but a different path to the same results.  Be open!
    • You might think you are right but your employees have a different approach that provide fresh ideas
  • Don’t get defensive when people dont agree with you 100%.  Its nothing personal, no one is out to get you or trying to say you are wrong, its business and everyone is there to do a job and get the best results.
  • Make a conscious effort not to transfer your stress onto your employees. They understand the responsibilities you have and usually are more then happy to help carry those burdens if you ask them to.

Don’t Micromanage!

This should be like the ultimate curse word for managers everywhere. This is really a culmination of all the above points!

  • Creative people never respond well when they are told what to do and how to do it.  Creatives are normally very passionate and emotionally involved with their work and when you tell them how to do it, their passion quickly fades and they work less efficiently trying to do it YOUR way and the end result suffers, resentment starts.
  • When assigning a project, explain the goals and expectations and not necessarily individual tasks unless absolutely necessary

How You Destroy Creativity:

  • Make your creative employees fill out progress reports before the project is finished – it makes them feel untrusted, watched, pressured, micromanaged.
  • Hovering.  Don’t watch over or check in on them often – again it makes them feel untrusted, its distracting.
  • Bombard them with emails, texts, instant messages.  This clutters and interrupts the process.
  • Utilize the talent you’ve hired! Don’t dismiss the talent around you by using pre-existing designs, templates, or stock.  If you’ve hired a designer (graphics, web, fashion, etc) and opt to purchase or use a pre-existing design you are dismissing their talent.  This is a terrible decision for multiple reasons primarily because your end result will not be original and your employees will become bitter.  The only exception is budget and time restraints in which case that should be communicated up front before the projects start.
  • Ask for advice (creative consultation) and never use it.
  • Question their process.  Are they getting the job done… then why question their methods?
  • Hold a lot of meetings – its completely unnecessary if the team is managed correctly and they communicate well, wastes time, distracts from things that actually need their attention.
  • Focus on volume more than quality.
  • Waste their time.

Some Example Scenarios:

  1. I was doing some consulting work for a client that ran an e-commerce site and a few days into the project we were going over all the different products on their existing site and prioritizing which products to add to the new site first and how to display them, reorganize, re-optimize, etc.  I started noticing a lot of the above points coming out. They were so stuck on how they did things in the past (habits) that they didn’t think it would work any other way (fear, indecisive).  This was happening in numerous instances where they just were not open to change, and change that needed to happen to move forward.  Ultimately I ended up asking them “Why did you hire me if you wanted to re-create what you already have?”  They initially responded with some push back with the reasoning… because it worked in the past.  I responded “Well, its not working now and thats why I’m here to help, so lets figure out a solution together (compromise, negotiation).  We took parts of what worked in the past, combined with some more updated design, restructure, re-positioning of the product by tweaking titles, descriptions, options and optimizing for current search trends.  Their website traffic has since increased 500%, their conversion rate is vastly improved, their click through rate is now 40% for their top 15 keywords all which get 500+ clicks each.  Their willingness to change and accept others’ ideas paid off.

Working for controlling, micromanaging, twerps…

There is a fine line between providing the needs of an assignment and the direction you have been given and being controlled.

We’ve all made these mistakes at some point, but some people just don’t have the willingness to change their behavior and even if you try to work around it or with it, there will always be a struggle. In those cases there comes a point you have to decide to tolerate it or move on.

When you give feedback to these types of people it turns into a you versus them power struggle and they view your ideas as a threat and they will shoot them down at every turn.  This goes back to insecurities – your ideas are different then theirs and they might be better, and because they are your employer/superior that just doesn’t fit into the order of things.  In my experience once this happens the only way to end it is to walk away and move on.  That will either show them that people wont tolerate their crap and will trigger change, or they become someone else’s problem (rinse & repeat). If walking away is not an option then you are stuck doing things their way.  And maybe eventually after many hours of time are wasted and failed objectives later they will try something your way.  In my experience, this rarely happens….usually that type of person will then cast blame onto everyone else rather than taking responsibility for their failed plan.

Managing ADD & OCD

Its fairly common for creative minds to be easily distracted especially when multi-tasking or brainstorming where one thought process spans to another and quickly the teams gets off topic.  When this happens, quickly reel them back in by reminding them of the business objectives.  Sometimes this is a team effort where the managers themselves fall victim to distraction and the employees need to re-focus the discussion.  Sometimes great ideas spawn from this thought-wandering so depending on the nature of the project it might okay – the trick is finding a balance between the brainstorming and the on-task topics based on the needs of the project.

Inspiration & Additional Reading…

About the Author:
Ryan holds a Bachelors in Marketing from Grand Canyon University, graduating on the dean's list. He has been providing professional photography services starting in 2003 and internet marketing services starting in 2007. His experience in specific industries including e-commerce gift/retail, aftermarket automotive industry, and Beauty/Cosmetology education and salon, and high-end designer fashion market provides him with unique insight for practical application of photography as it applies to modern advertising mediums and business needs.

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error: All Images © 2016 Ryan M. Walsh