How to manage creativesManaging creatives.

Managing a team of creative people can be challenging.

It’s challenging because universities and private providers are nurturing a generation of independent thinkers. Most are not taught to work collaboratively and many don’t like being told what to do.

And it’s challenging because creativity is inherently unpredictable but an integral part of a design manager’s role is to reduce risk and deliver predictable results.

Herein lies the problem.

Management styles

A quick Google search finds hundreds of online references on how best to manage and lead. In a Harvard Business Review article Leadership that gets results, Daniel Goleman outlines six basic leadership styles:

  1. Coercive: managers who demand compliance
  2. Authoritative: like a military leader, these managers mobilise people towards a vision
  3. Affiliative: a caring-sharing manager that builds relationships and promotes harmony
  4. Democratic: a manager that promotes democracy through participation
  5. Pacesetting: those that lead by example, setting a standard and pace for others to follow
  6. Coaching: managers that identify what needs to be done, delegate responsibility and develop others for success.

Goleman identified the authoritative leader as visionary. In his view, people who work for authoritative leaders understand that what they do matters, and why. It’s arguable that all managers need to be authoritative.

It’s the management styles he doesn’t like that I find interesting.

Goleman identified coercive and pacesetting leadership as having a negative effect on culture and workplace performance. Coercive is self explanatory: it’s hard to imagine any worker would like to be led by a coercive manager. The problem with pacesetting, Goleman says, is that it’s a form of egomania.

Pacesetters don’t nurture talent in others, they work to produce cookie-cutter replicas of themselves. Since successful, sustainable creative teams need to include a mixture of technical and creative skill-sets and diverse backgrounds and personalities, pacesetters often don’t build great teams..

Take home point.

Setting an incredible pace for others to follow isn’t leadership. All your team can see is your back. That’s not motivating nor nurturing. It’s just a group of people partaking in a race.


This is an edited section of an article from the DBC’s Design Studio Management Program due for release in February 2017. The program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path.


Carol Mackay

Carol is the founder and creative director of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 33 years in business. Her expertise is in the use of design to make the complex simple: package complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information that are easy to understand and digest.

She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not-for-profit sectors. Connect in LinkedIn, or read more at

Currently Carol is co-writing a new program for the The Design Business School.

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