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Two Types of Creative Manager – and the Different Challenges They Face

Later this month I’ll be speaking to design leaders at the HOW Design Live conference in Boston, about getting the best performance out of creative teams. Preparing for my sessions has got me thinking about the different challenges managers face, depending on their own professional background.

In this post I’m going to look at two different types of creative manager, based on their professional specialisms, and the advantages they have and the pitfalls they need to watch out for.

1. The senior creative

A senior designer, copywriter or other creative professional, who has been promoted to team leader or creative director.


You understand the creative process and mindset from the inside out. You know what makes creatives tick, and what excellent work looks like. So you are very confident and capable at critiquing the work produced by your team.


All outstanding performers who are promoted to a leadership position face the same basic challenge: getting things done through other people is very different to getting them done yourself. I’ve seen this in many different industries, and it’s practically a universal issue.

When doing your own work, you have complete control. But when facilitating other people’s creativity, you have to give up a certain amount of control, allowing them to find solutions you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen yourself, and to execute them in their own style. There’s a natural temptation to micromanage, directing them to do it your way.

Another difference between doing things yourself and through others is that in the first case, you can depend on your highly developed technical and artistic skills; but in the second, you have to rely on your communication skills.


When it comes to control, resist the temptation to micromanage. As long as they are on brief you will do more harm than good by trying to mould everyone in your own image.

Reframe your role, from a soloist to a conductor. Instead of just trying to find the ‘best’ solution in any given instance, your job is to orchestrate and develop the creative talents within your team. Take pride in the fact that your team can find multiple ways to solve a problem.

Develop your coaching skills – such as listening, questioning and feedback – so that you can keep people focused and ‘on brief’ while creating space for them to think up their own solutions and develop their skills.


My free ebook Creative Management for Creative Teams – a primer on coaching skills for managers of creative professionals. Download your copy here.

2. The professional manager

Someone with a background in management, or a technical or business skill rather than a creative discipline.


You should bring good people management skills to the table, as well as in-depth understanding of the business problems the creative team is charged with solving.


You may not be as knowledgeable or confident about critiquing creative work as a professional creative. And the mindset and motivations of creatives may be less familiar to you – particularly the fact that creatives are not primarily motivated by money and rewards, and that focusing on rewards has a negative impact on their creativity. So the carrot and stick approach to management is to be avoided at all costs!


Don’t try to be something you’re not. There’s actually no need for you to offer an in-depth critique of creative work from an artistic/design viewpoint – assuming you have a creative director, senior designer or equivalent to give you an informed view on this.

It’s much more important for you to critique the work according to business criteria – does it meet the brief? Does it solve the business problem? How will it be received by the client, customer or end user?

And it’s worth making an effort to understand the creative mindset and how different types of motivation affect creative performance. Once you get this, it becomes much easier to motivate and inspire people to do their best work – even if you don’t have pots of money to reward them with.


My free ebook How to Motivate Creative People (Including Yourself) – explaining how you can use the four most powerful types of motivation to inspire outstanding creative performance. Download your copy here.

What do you think?

Are you a Type 1 or Type 2 creative manager? Do you recognise these challenges? What challenges and tips would you add to the list?

Have you ever been managed by a Type 1 or Type 2 manager? Any insight to share? (Obviously mentioning no names if they didn’t cover themselves in glory!)

If you’re able to make it to Boston for the HOW conference, it would be great to meet up – let me know via the contact form if you’ll be coming along.


  1. Hello Mark,

    Thanks for the informative article I agree with you fully. All the best in Boston. I wish I could attend one of your sessions live.

  2. Nice article,I like the part that you should be the conductor not the soloist.
    Thank you.

  3. Hi Mark,

    Just wanted to drop a note and say I really enjoyed both of your presentations in Boston. I’ve already passed on the Miracle Question approach to my manager to help her frame some overwhelming projects.

    Looking forward to learning more through your blog!

    Tay Olson

    • Hi Tay,

      Thanks for coming to the sessions, I’m glad you found them worthwhile.

      Good luck putting the ideas into practice, and enjoy the blog!


  4. Thank you for sharing your ideas and knowledge. I managed to find my way here from a link on Good Reads and have downloaded your ebooks and look forward to reading them. I am a creative writer in the process of marketing my writing on the internet and I know your information will help both myself and my coach. Thanks again!