Four Thoughts on Leading Creative Leaders

By Michael Neale

Through the years, a few lead pastors have asked me, “What would you want me to know when it comes to leading creatives in our worship and arts ministry?” Or they will say, “Michael, you’ve got to help me know how to lead our worship and creative folks; I just don’t get them!”  Having walked the adventurous road of serving high-level, high-octane, visionary senior leaders for more than 20 years, I can say I’ve learned a few things relating to them as well as leading highly creative people. There is so much to say, but here are four practical principles to ponder.

1. Value the person more than what they produce.

Get to know creatives as humans, not just producers. Get to know their story. Be aware of their personality wiring and what they love. Utilize tools such as Enneagram and Strengthsfinder. This will help you communicate in a manner that will be most effective. While leadership principles are universal, each individual will relate uniquely based on his or her story and personality. First and foremost, build a relationship.

2. Define the “win,” but allow them room to help create the playbook.

Be clear about what you are hoping to achieve in any given situation. It may be the overall ministry model you envision, the particulars of a powerful Easter service or something like that. Use examples if you want a certain look, feel or tone, but you don’t know how to describe it. Once you have articulated what you hope for, allow them to help design the way to get there. Sometimes leaders will try to control every aspect of the process. Artists will likely say, “then you don’t need me.” I’ve seen some leaders get so far down into the minutia it’s as if they are saying, “Draw me a beautiful coastal landscape. Use the brand of pencil I use. Use only these colors. And be sure and hold the pencil as I do. Wait, that’s too dark. Wait, that’s too light.” You get my drift. Getting all the way in the details will not bring out the best in your creatives. Once you’ve defined the target, be hesitant to move it around too much without communicating. That is a sure-fire way to demotivate and demoralize creatives.

3. Allow proper time and resources for the vision to be realized. In doing so, you are setting them (and you) up for success.

The greater the scope of the idea, the greater the runway of time that is needed for it to be executed successfully. It is true; constraint can be a great friend and catalyst for creativity. Many times in church ministry, we try to microwave for this coming Sunday what might need weeks or even months to develop. Work with your creative leaders to decide on a realistic timeline. Ask them, “What do you need to make this happen?” Then lead them to stick within those parameters.

4. How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate.

Creatives need coaching, but maybe not like the angry “suck it up” athletic coach you had in high school. In many athletic cultures, it’s completely acceptable to sarcastically taunt, ridicule, “bust their chops” and shame athletes to get them to perform at their highest potential. But there’s a better way. Primarily, you need to learn what motivates your creative leader. Kindness, clarity and encouragement will go a long way to start. In essence, it all comes down to relationship.

Michael Neale is Lead Worship Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter @mwneale.