Leading creatives is a unique skill. Just because you have leadership skills doesn’t mean you are creative, and vice versa – many creatives have no interest in managing people. So bringing it all together is a rare and tricky talent.

At the Promax Conference 2019 at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, creative leaders spent Tuesday exploring what it means to be a leader in a creative industry and what they can do to hone and improve those skills.

Sessions were divided into four, with each one representing one of the following four concepts: Volatility turned into vision, uncertainty into understanding, complexity into clarity and ambiguity into agility (or VUCA). The two morning sessions focused on the first two concepts: vision and understanding.

To discuss vision, Rabia de Lande Long, executive coach and management consultant at Chartwell Advisors Inc., gathered together a panel of industry leaders: Jeff Collins, president, Collins Avenue Entertainment; Kendrick Reid, SVP and executive creative director, BET; Lara Richardson, group EVP and marketing director, Discovery; and Drew Tappon, chief creative officer, 495 Productions.

Each executive shared their own stories – how they got where they are today, what they have learned from that journey and how they apply those lessons to their own leadership styles.

“My learning is that it’s okay to lean into what it is that is different about you,” said Collins. “What used to be valued in the corporate world was sameness. Now, what people are looking for is authenticity.”

“I learned early on that my uniqueness is my super power,” said Reid, who is known for his Afro-centric personal style.

Having a good sense of who they are and what each of their strengths and weaknesses are have helped leaders grow into their roles and have vision for their teams, the panel said.

“I always think it’s a great thing to encourage [that uniqueness in the] people who are under you. You give someone a task and get the hell out of the way. You aren’t going to get brilliance by telling people how exactly do things,” said Collins.

“You learn more from the bad bosses,” said Tappon. “I pride myself in being someone that people want to work for. I often find people who feel timid or a little bit scared because those are the people I can relate to. I pride myself on being someone who can manage down and manage up.”

Those skills came into play when Tappon found himself working for a boss that didn’t particularly like him or value his skills. “Think about what you stand for and stand firm. Focus on what you know and what you’re good at. Focus on the people who work for you.”

Being a good leader often means being clear on who you are. It also means sometimes keeping your emotions and moods in check so as not to affect the people who work for you and their productivity. And some of that means taking care of yourself and allowing yourself some work-life balance right along with your team.

“You have to be inspired yourself in order to inspire them,” said Collins.

“It’s about really understanding your superpower,” said Reid. “If you walk in and you’re in a mood, the whole place gets tense. It’s about knowing what your strengths are and feeling good about it.”

But it’s almost as important to know your weaknesses so that you can create a bulwark around that as well.

“I always hire my weakness,” said Reid. “If I’m not that good at that and you are, boom, you’re hired, same thing if I don’t like to do that and you do. I do not need to be the smartest person in the room.”

“We’ve all had those bosses who had to be the smartest person in the room,” said Collins. “For me, it’s like ‘if you’re smarter than me, come sit next to me.’”

Part of having a vision rests in having confidence that allows you to take risks, maybe succeed, maybe fail, but always pick yourself up and move to the next thing.

“We’re in content, we’re in television. It’s a cliché that gets used a lot but we are not operating on a human being. If you make a wrong decision, no one’s going to die,” said Richardson. “If you decide you want to do a campaign and it totally flopped, there’s going to be another one. There’s always something else coming right behind it.”

Moving on to the concept of understanding, the next panel included leaders from A+E Networks’ creative team: Tim Nolan, A+E, executive creative director and co-chair of Promax’ board of directors; Kate Cook, VP, growth marketing; Benjamin Asher, creative director; and Arturo Interian, EVP, current programming, MGM, who just moved over to MGM from A+E-owned History.

This team talked about the importance of creating understanding within its teams and within the company through transparency, empathy, and ultimately, accountability.

“A big part of change is that it’s very exciting but you need to be grounded in some sort of understanding,” said Nolan. “At our company it starts at the top with [A+E Networks Group President] Paul Buccieri. No matter what the department is—finance, budget, sales, distribution – it’s important to him to create a world of complete transparency and understanding.”

What that’s led to at A+E is an environment of trust and understanding. Employees understand from where the company’s revenues are derived as well as why they are being asked to do certain tasks.

“The more transparent you can be, the more you can understand your business and how you do your business and accounting the better. The [fewer] secrets you have, the more productive you can be in your jobs,” said Nolan.

“Be honest and truthful with each other about how a creative process is moving forward. Once you have achieved that level of being on that same team, you can feel freer to beat up a creative process,” said Cook. “That’s the key to this idea of candor – if somebody doesn’t like your idea, that doesn’t mean that you are wrong. It’s not about you. You are not your idea.”

The above spot, which features a Vikings fan getting extremely excited when he learns he is 1% Viking, is an example of what can happen when an internal creative team trusts each other enough to work together collaboratively.

The below spot, for Lifetime’s Glam Masters, is another:

“It’s about pushing people to come up with ideas that they are personally passionate about,” said Asher. “This spot for Glam Masters cut through a space that is really cluttered.”

“Innovation is the key to our entire industry,” said Nolan. “This is one of most innovative industries out there. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges I have. Every day, I have to push the team to think differently. It’s a tough job but you really just have to inspire the team to think of things differently.”

As an example of a piece of work that inspired the team at A+E is the below spot from FX for its recently aired limited series Fosse/Verdon:

Tags: conference 2019 leadership

  Save as PDF