3 Things Every Artist Secretly Wants

Apr 18, 2016

(Adam Kring is an exceptional leader. Numerous times I've heard him discussing our church, our processes and our approach to ministry and have always been impressed by his answers. He leads our entire creative team here at NewSpring Church. He wrote this post about leading and loving creatives and this insight has helped me for years when working with our creative team!)

I’ve grown-up in and around church for the majority of my life. When I was 15 I took on the title of “pastor’s kid” and haven’t looked back since. Being that I was the pastor’s kid that meant I was at the church quite a bit. And so from time to time I would have to find ways to entertain myself.

One of those ways occurred one afternoon when I found myself in the tech room switching on the computer to play on the internet. For some reason instead of doing that I started clicking through software and opened a video editing program. I started playing with it and truthfully I was mesmerized. I had always been fascinated when it came to movies, television, and production. I saw those people who made them as magicians. Here I sat in front of a machine that I saw tap into that magic; and it was that afternoon sitting in the church tech closet that launched me on the journey I’m still traveling today. These days I find myself leading a crew of talented people who make some pretty amazing things. Even though I’ve learned some tricks and practiced the art for several years, it still feels like magic.

Now, to many people, the folks who work in our businesses, offices, and churches that switch on a computer and churn out designs, videos, and art still seem like magicians. There’s a lot of mystery to what they do and who they are as individuals. Many of us don’t know how they do it, where it comes from, but often we find them creating things that can stop us in our tracks and cause us to say ‘WOW!’. We love what they create and know it’s essential to helping spread a message or communicate an idea; but when it comes to leading them it can be challenging, intimidating, and may be downright frustrating. Instead of seeing them as magicians we can start to see them as a necessary evil. Maybe one of the reason’s that happens is because we spend too much time trying to manage them and fit them into a box instead of leading them toward the potential of who they can be. Here are 3 things you should know that every artist wants from you as their leader:

1. To know 'the why'

Two things to know about artists: they have a desire to give their very best and they are people pleasers. Now, granted there are people pleasing tendencies in all of us, but I think I see it more in artists than any other group of people. Pair that with their drive and all of the sudden they're willing to attempt the impossible, try something new, and work hard to make it happen. The key is finding the right way to focus these passions and a strong vision to make that happen.

Most people who are on board with a vision will bend over backwards in order to make it happen. When they understand ‘the why’, and there is a common agreement, most people will do whatever it takes to see that vision come to fruition. This can be a good and bad thing. The good side of it is, they throw everything they have at a project. If you give them good vision/clarity on what you are looking to achieve, you line them up, give them keys, and they're gonna run until the tank runs dry. This can generate amazing results. The bad side is, if you don't focus them, lead them with great vision/clarity, and you allow them to take the same time and energy I just mentioned on something that is ultimately not going to work...it can be devastating. Remember artists desire to give their best and they are people pleasers, and when they miss the mark it can feel like they failed at life. They'll question why they spent all their time doing something and whether what they are doing even matters. Those effects can linger beyond one project if it happens over and over.

Don't be afraid of leading with strong vision but take the time to explain 'the why.'

2. To know your expectations

Once you’ve established the why, artists want to know their role is and what you expect of them. This is true of not just of a project but also their job. I think this is where some leaders can miss out on tapping into the potential of the artist. They fall into the trap of believing artists do their best working with more freedom and less restrictions. However, the best work I've made was not done when I had blue skies and no rules. It was when I knew what was expected of me and someone took the time to clarify what the expectations were.

Making art is a collaborative effort and your role in that as a leader is to always provide them with clarity of what’s expected. Be as specific as possible! If you want them to be at the office by a specific time, tell them that. When you have them in a meeting make sure they know what you expect in terms of preparation. If you want them to keep a clean office space, make sure you tell them. They should also know what is expected of them in terms of their growth in their craft and talent. At the beginning it should feel very “paint by numbers” and you will have to repeat yourself on more than one occasion, but you’ll eventually build a rhythm. As time passes your artists will learn to expect you to clarify expectations and they will work to meet the ones you’ve already outlined.

If you're leading someone who is always saying they want more freedom and less restrictions they might just want more trust; but trust is earned and time is the key component. Don’t rush it, even if they are pushing you to give them more freedom. Other reasons they’re always asking could be because they are lazy and egotistical and have a skewed view of how things actually get done in the 'real world’ :-) Don’t be afraid to upset the apple cart, they'll get over it. If they don’t you might want to find someone else who does. You’re team can only move forward as you work to provide clarity and define reality.

3. To know you are for fighting for them.

Artists might seem like lone wolves. Recluses hidden behind a mop of hair, skinny jeans, and thick framed glasses. Add in the mysteriousness of what they do and we’re happy to leave them be. But I can’t count the conversations I’ve had with different folks over the years who feel alone, and it has nothing to do with being around people or not. It’s  because they believe their leader doesn't have their back or their best interests in mind. Whatever the set of circumstances that has led to this conclusion (and it’s hardly ever just one instance that drives this), it is more common than you think.

Artists commonly work long hours and are under tight deadlines in an effort to meet high demands. It's stressful. So if he or she comes to their leader and says they need more time to finish a project, or need to spend more money than originally planned, or need to purchase some piece of equipment/software in order to accomplish what’s been asked and without hesitation they’re met with a simple no, it’s easy to see why they might start to draw those conclusions. I’m not advocating that you just write a blank check or remove all deadlines, but what the artist is really asking in those moments is “can you help me?”.

Here’s the thing, you may not be able sit down at a computer and do the things they do, but you can meet them in that moment and help them accomplish what’s been asked of them by having a conversation and getting them the things they need. It’s cruel to ask someone to do something but not resource them with the things they need to do accomplish the task. You may not know all the reasons why they need what they’re asking for, but I encourage you to ask questions, fill the gap of what you don’t know with trust, and then fight for them to get it. This is especially true when it comes to workload. If you sense your team is overburdened, stick your neck out for them and fight for margin. When they see you do these things it's an equity builder and it encourages them to come and talk to you about things in the future when they might need more than just software, equipment, or time…you know, the stuff that really matters.

In summary, there are more mediums and platforms for you to speak to people than ever before. The need for visually communicating our messages to large audiences has never been greater. As a result it’s important that your work stands out so people can understand what you have to say and will do something with that message; your artists are the key to helping you achieve this goal. When they are led well and you’re looking to maximize them as individuals more than just trying to get work out of them you’ll end up with better quality work but more than that they’ll be willing to follow you and you’ll be a stronger team as a result.

(If you've enjoyed reading this post, I hope you'll love my new leadership book The Most Excellent Way to Lead where I talk a lot more about leadership by love. You can visit mostexcellentwaytolead.com to find a store near you and get your copy today!)