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How creative leaders can empower teams to find their voice

How creative leaders can empower teams to find their voice

In this new space, we’ve been pushed into in business, amidst the challenges, we are seeing an opportunity to do things differently. A place where we can dare to lead differently and dare our teams to try new things, step forward, and scale new challenges. If you read my last post you’ll know that for me this is encompassed by the idea of Courageous Leadership (catch-up on why I think courage in leadership is more important now than ever before https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-its-important-become-courageous-leader-todays-world-joanna-howes/)

I truly believe the creative industry can lead the way on this. Here, I’ll be diving into why you need to empower yourself and your team to find an honest, compassionate, and courageous voice, and most importantly, how you can start doing it even when working virtually.

Courageous leaders have a voice that’s heard – whatever the volume.

Over the last few weeks, a big pain point I have been hearing from creative leaders is how to harness the opportunity for change and move their teams into a space of personal and professional growth. A space that is currently out of their comfort zone, where their teams can find their voice in virtual environments and innovate boldly. Speaking up is one thing, but being able to give a point of view and not just be an echo chamber for the loudest voice in the team, all whilst over Zoom – is tricky to say the least. Tricky, but vital for business success.

Empowered teams with the confidence to speak up will continue to innovate and adapt, no matter what the environment.

Creative companies have legacy behaviours that could make the much-needed change difficult.

There are still many creative agencies with a layered hierarchical team approach. I have consulted for some with 7 layers in one department from junior to senior. Yet, even with all these people, the trust is very low. The senior leaders are still insisting on seeing and signing off all the work before it can leave the agency. This approach has created teams of ‘doers’ and not teams of ‘thinkers’. Resulting in a slow, inefficient culture, which clients are tired of, but that is for another article.

Many agencies have tried a core team approach to empower cross-functional teams, and yet time and time again it falls down. The core teams are told they are now responsible and leading their account. Yet as soon as one core team member feels they are not being heard they jump ship and go straight to their line manager for solutions. Undermining the whole set-up!

This is not empowerment, this is control.
The result of this is each level of leader is learning to ‘tell’ vs ’empower’. So throughout the organisation trust is low and low trust = high cost and low speed – as Stephen Covey said in the Speed of Trust.

The first step to an empowered team

The first step to empowering your team is to encourage decision making. Allow your teams to follow through on their decisions, to be able to learn from the good ones and grow expeditiously from the bad ones. Setbacks are the golden keys to growth.

You need to be a courageous leader who allows people to make a mistake. Yes, fair judgment needs to be made from you as a leader, but it’s also important to be okay that you may not always be right and a new perspective could be a new opportunity.

What your team need from you to feel empowered

Here are the key skills I have been imparting to leadership teams navigating this time. This is relevant whether it’s for you or for your team.

  • Your team needs you to encourage them to find their voice: Ask your team what they think about the brief, creative piece of work or how to sell an idea. Really listen to them and ask what decision they would make, what idea would they choose to sell, and why. Then choose to back them, or if you’re taking it in a different direction, teach them why. Ensure they learn from decisions and you will start to see an empowered team confident to find their voice in decision making.
  • Your team needs to feel trusted: As a courageous leader you must learn to let go, focus on where you can add the most value to the business. Empower and trust your team to run certain projects, let them decide the best approach, and set targets they will meet. This is proven to increase motivation and success of hitting a target. If your team does not fulfill the task, don’t give up and stop trusting them. Review what went wrong and how you can teach and support their growth.
  • Be a team coach: A courageous leader coaches their team to success. They have the patience to ask effective questions that will help the team members find solutions themselves and expand and upgrade their thinking abilities. The precious gift you can give your team is your time. With your time they can reach performance goals they didn’t even realise they were capable of.

The exercise you need to do.

This week, check-in with yourself, review the list above and measure the level of empowerment you believe your team currently has today. And then ask them. Encourage feedback on your leadership. Ask them what they would like to be empowered to decide and think about (using my framework above to get the conversation going). 

I recognise that it could feel like putting yourself in a vulnerable position, especially if you discover the level you believe your team is at is way off what they actually think – but also what a golden discovery to make. Vulnerability with yourself and your team immediately moves you into a place of growth as well as them. This is the path creative leaders need to be on right now to pave the way for success, not only amidst the chaos of now but to lead through the next 10 years. The question is, do you have the courage to start the journey?

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