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Herding Tigers: Be the Leader that Creative People Need by Todd Henry

February 10, 2019

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I thought Henry’s The Accidental Creative was one of the best, most practical books I’d ever read on the creative process. This one takes it up a level, literally, to managing creative teams. I’ve been managing creatives for about a decade, so a lot of the content in this book rang true. Some of it was new to me, but most of it was a sharp articulation of something I have been doing or have experienced. And some of the advice was just reassuring validation of the way I like to work.

The most helpful section of the book is on the shifts one has to make when moving from a creative doer to a creative manager. I wish I’d had this advice ten years ago. Henry hammers home the detrimental effects of continuing to do the same job—actually making the creative—instead of empowering others to do the creative and giving them ownership of the projects.

This is by far the greatest challenge of any creative manager, because the doing and the managing are completely different skillsets. And often creatives are elevated to a leadership role because of their creative product—which does nothing to prepare them for running a team.

The managers on my team are constantly working through the tricky balance of giving creatives the freedom to fail and learn without damaging the team’s reputation in the process. The tendency, especially for new managers, is to swoop in and try to save the day early and often, which is just a form of micromanagement. It’s a habit that demotivates the team, erodes trust and stifles the growth of everyone on it. It also makes the manager’s job much more difficult.

Henry gives tactics for thinking about and dealing with all kinds of dynamics common to a creative environment: protecting the resources of the team, creating a safe space for exploration, managing up to stakeholders who may not understand the creative process, navigating conflict and understanding individual motivations.

This is a very helpful book. I’d say it’s a must-read for any manager of a creative team. It’s also timely, as I’m kicking off a training series on creative management next week. I plan to borrow at least a handful of points from this book.

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