If you have kids that play sports and have been around for a few seasons, you’ve probably come across some good coaches and some bad ones. We’ve all heard horror stories of (or witnessed first hand) a coach screaming at his players, veins bulging from neck and forehead, voice hoarse from over using his vocal chords.

Unfortunately, that’s the caricature many people have of how a coach is supposed to “lead”. One of my goals with this blog is to break the stereotype of what a leader looks like.

Rough sketches of Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy

I heard an interview with Super Bowl coach Tony Dungy last year that really stuck with me. When asked about his quiet demeanor and famously low key coaching style, he shared insight into his philosophy behind being a coach.

The topic was servant-leadership (which I’ll write about in other posts), and in that context, he explained that the real job of a coach is to give the players whatever they needed to be the best they could be. Sometimes, a coach gives encouragement. Other times, specific training. Sometimes you give them rest. Sometimes you give them extra reps. Sometimes you give them a bench to sit on for a couple of weeks if clear expectations weren’t met or team rules were broken. Equipping can come in many forms.

When it comes to leading creative teams, here are 10 key things I have learned about how to lead like a coach and equip those you lead to be the best players they can be. Good creative team coaches…

1. Involve players in creative decisions and concept development.
It will give them a sense of teamwork and ownership in everything you do. Nobody wants to feel like a production drone. As enjoyable as that is at times, creatives want to create…to help bring something new into being that didn’t exist before. That’s the heart of creativity.

2. Give players opportunities to make “above the water” decisions.
Don’t micromanage in areas that won’t sink your business. Give them room to try…and fail. Your focus should be helping them grow.

3. Establish an umbrella of mercy.
Create a studio culture where creatives feel free to share creative ideas freely. Many creatives just want to be heard. They don’t care as much about their ideas being implemented as they do just being heard and validated. Teamwork is inherently collaborative.

4. Give them additional training.
If there’s an online coarse, or specific conference that fits their skill set, additional training goes a long way in helping them (and your organization) thrive.

5. Surprise them with some unexpected “hang-time” and strategic team building.
One day last fall I surprised our onsite team with a kayak trip down the Savannah River. We talked and laughed for hours. You get to know people a lot better when you change your surroundings and do something completely out of the norm. A change of perspective brings freshness and team momentum.

6. Serve creatives by letting them go if they are not a good fit.
It sounds cold, but it’s better for your team and it’s better for them.

7. See their potential before they do.
Be their biggest champion and encourager and you’ll draw out the best in your team.

8. Give them hummus.
Not all creatives like hummus or specialty coffee, but they all like something. Find out what that is and get them some. It will show that you have taken the time to get to know them personally and that they are an integral part of the team.

9. Let them see you risk and let them see you fail.
This is leading by example. Risks are inherently risky. I know that’s redundant, but if we are really taking risks to grow (ourselves or our companies), there will be failures.

10. Let them see you own It.
We are not perfect leaders and our teams know it whether we hide it or not. If you make the wrong call, the best thing to do is own it and show how you can grow from it.

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