Practical tips for leading creatives.

How do you make the jump from “I can be creative” to “I can lead creatives”? Many times, particularly in the church context, gifted creatives are elevated to a leadership position over creatives of multiple disciplines. This is a nuanced and under-discussed transition that requires some fundamental paradigm shifts. Todd Henry, author of Herding Tigers, talks about ways to make those shifts and lead in a way that accomplishes great work and develops your team.

>> Episode 5: Mike Cervantes


Transcriptions:

Mike Mage: Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. 

(Music Intro)

Mike Mage: Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast, where we here believe that healthy things grow and growth means life. I’m Mike Mage, and today we have an insane podcast. We have an insane conversation with Todd Henry, the author of a book called “Herding Tigers” as well as “The Accidental Creative” and plenty other books. He also has a podcast called “The Accidental Creative” podcast that apparently he has been doing for ten years, or over ten years which I didn’t even realize. But I came across “Herding Tigers” earlier this year when it was released because my creative director actually handed it to me, as almost like a gift, and it’s one of those like wink/wink things like, “Hey, you should read this book.” And then I would say, “Oh yeah sure.” And then they would say, “No. You really should read this book.” And so I picked up on the hint and I read the book and it literally, it blew me away. And then come to find out, Jason, you actually have a pre-existing relationship with Todd, right.

Jason Smithers:

Todd is very, is a very generous person with his time, as far as being able to give his knowledge to young authors like me. I say young, not in my age, but green I should say, green authors. So he’s just been really helpful for me just learning the craft but along with that, with “Herding Tigers” it was, I realized for me, I used to be in the church world, but now I am, I’ve transitioned into a Director of Operations for a marketing agency, for a branding agency. And all of the things within “Herding Tigers” resonated with my past job and my current job. So this thing became for me like this manual. I still use it in my job and you know Justin, our other co-host here, being my boss, I suggested to him, “Hey you should really check out this book,” not in a way that I’m like, “Hey, there’s some things you should change in your life and in the way you’re leading your organization.” So that’s kind of how it all came full circle. 

Justin Price:

I’m angry that, I’m angry at myself that I did not listen to Jason sooner to read this book. So, maybe that’s a good line. Six months ago, Jason’s like, “You should read this book.” He didn’t sell it hard. We know he’s not a sales guy. He’s also saying this like from the perspective of like, “Oh I’ve managed the social media for this. He was a client of mine.” So I’m thinking like, “ok like, he’s thinking it’s got some good stuff in it.” Like, little do I know it’s a key to unlock my entire kingdom. And Jason’s just like, “Yea, you know, I think you’ll get some good stuff out of this.”

Jason Smithers:

And you’re right, I don’t do a good job selling, but on this side of things, if I would have known, if I would have had this book when I first started in ministry, it’s a manual. I mean, “Herding Tigers” I would say is a manual for the person that has not had experience managing or leading a creative team within the church. I think it can be used as a manual too, as I keep going back to the book and like finding, like what am I struggling with right now, what am I wrestling with within our organization and finding points in the book that I can go to and get super practical advice right away. 

Justin Price:

The reality is, I think, whether or not you’re qualified to be a manager or a leader, you’ve been put into a spot as that leader, and you desire to do a good job. And this book, while a lot of the principles are difficult for us to put to practice, like it’s hard. There are some real hard truths in there we have to work through. I think the majority of most of you guys who are out there listening, would like to know what more hard work you can do, cause it’s also hard failing at leading a team. And the reality is, most, whether you’re qualified or not, most of us in creative leading positions, we just really want to do a good job. It’s not that we’re afraid of the hard work, or the painful things, we just need that direction so that we can go down a path that’s what’s best for our team and for our organization. 

Mike Mage:

Well, and it’s almost, it’s very similar to the idea, and we talk about it in the conversation, that creatives need boundaries to create well. I mean you can’t just give them a blank canvas. And it’s almost, managers, also need boundaries in how to manage well. Directors need boundaries in how to direct well, and like this, “Herding Tigers” and really Todd’s entire body of work, is incredible boundaries and guidelines and signposts in how to direct creatives in working well. And there’s just not a lot of people doing that. And I think it’s going to be incredibly helpful. Just like you said Jason, it was incredibly helpful for me earlier this year, stepping into a new role as directing a bunch of creative people and how to accurately manage them well. 

Justin Price:

With that Mike, I think we should jump into the podcast.

Mike Mage:

You know what, let’s listen in on our conversation here with Todd Henry with the Healthy Church Growth podcast.

(Music)

Todd Henry (Introduction Quote):               

Usually the signal to us that they’re capable of going to the next level is that they’re really good at what they do. But being really good at what you do does not mean you’re                

gonna be really good at leading other people in doing what you do. Those are fundamentally different skill sets. 

Mike Mage:

Welcome to the Healthy Church Growth podcast. We have an incredible guest with us today. We have Todd Henry, who is the author of some incredible books. The most recent one is “Herding Tigers.” Todd, thank you so much for joining us. How you doing?

Todd Henry:                

Well, it’s great to be here. I’m doing well, hope you guys are doing well as well.

Mike Mage:               

Doing awesome. So, Todd, I just kind of want to start out. I just love If maybe you could give a little background on kind of how you got to the point that you’re at being an author, speaker, all that kind of stuff. How’d you get to you doing that now? 

Todd Henry:                 

Well it was, as my friend Mitch Joel calls it, it was a squiggly path, right.  And I think most careers are squiggly paths, so I think it’s not a straight line always. If you’d told me, say, 30 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have laughed at you because I had no intent of doing this, but so I went to school to study marketing. I put myself through school partially by performing music. And so, as I now call them “my misguided twenties,” I’m careful to call them that in front of my children, traveled and sang music for a living for a handful of years. And then I met my wife. As these stories go, she convinced me that music business, gainful employment, and marrying an amazing woman, like you can have two of those three but you can’t have all three at the same time. So I chose gainful employment, marrying an amazing woman and was fortunate to be involved in a church community in Cincinnati called Crossroads, which at the time, which now is massive, massive, massive. It was big at the time, but it wasn’t nearly as massive as it is now. And, through a variety of circumstances because I’d been involved there, ended up becoming a staff member there at Crossroads. And was also interfacing a lot with, you know, being based in Cincinnati there a ton of brand and design firms, because the mighty Procter and Gamble is based here. So obviously being the largest advertiser in the world, there are a lot of brand agency presences here. And so I was spending a tremendous amount of time with designers and writers and creative directors and people from that world. And in 2005 I launched the podcast called “The Accidental Creative,” which was basically basically targeted at, you know, some of the stuff I was hearing from them about what was working, what wasn’t working, frustrations, frustrations I was having as I was trying to grow my team. So anyway launched that podcast. The podcast quickly took off, became a thing which was really fun, but also a little bit terrifying. And then that opened the door for me to be able to go in and begin to work with organizations and to sort of help them sort through some of the creative issues that they were having. This is like 2006, 2007. I started getting invitations to go and speak to companies and to work with them, to help them think through that intersection of business, creativity and you know, spirituality I guess you could call it, although they may not call it that, you know, how can we make this profitable, how can we make this efficient and effective, but also, how can we make this meaningful for our team. I think those are questions that we’ll ask. So I spent, you know, about a year, year and a half doing that and then decided, “Hey, I think this is where I’m supposed to be.” So I launch my own business. I ventured out into the unknown, was offered, this is the part where I say, “Oh, and then I was offered a book deal by Penguin Books.” And that book was “The Accidental Creative,” and it did really well. You by this time, I had a number of years of on the ground, you know, working with people and researching and consulting and that kind of thing. And then, you know, the second book, “Die Empty” came out in 2013 and that book did well. “Louder than Words” came out 2015 and then “Herding Tigers,” as you mentioned, just came out 2018. And “Herding Tigers” really was sort of a return to “The Accidental Creative, kind of my roots, because I spent a lot of time working with people, individuals and their creative process. And I would hear from people, I was working at companies or or speaking at a conference or something, and people come up and say, “Hey, you know, I really appreciate what you’ve been doing for me and I appreciate the practices and the rituals and my personal creative process is so great. But let me tell you about my boss,right, and then proceed to tell me about how miserable their organizational climate was.” And so what I wanted to do was just sort of peel back the layers of the onion a bit and talk about what it is that allows creative people to thrive within organizations and you know sometimes what it is that your managers are often thrown into positions of leadership without any kind of formal training, or, you know, any kind of personal development as it relates to what creative people really need. And so I just wanted to in some ways shine light on that and help people inside of organizations understand the kinds of things that allow creative people to thrive.

Mike Mage:               

I think that’s like that’s such a great segue way because I was handed the book “Herding Tigers” by my creative director, who told me about “The Accidental Creative” and “Herding Tigers.” And it’s funny that you say that, you know, “The Accidental Creative” is sort of like, it’s almost like a prequel to “Herding Tigers,” you know, like they’re both, they’re linked together, it almost feels like. And last year I went from just being, you know, a worship leader having a team, you know, volunteers all that kind of stuff, to then being put in a position to where I have actual employees reporting to me. So, like I literally went from maker to manager and like exactly what you say. I had no idea what I was doing. (laughter)

Todd Henry:               

Yeah. Yeah, Well, that’s true of a lot of people, right. Yeah, in you know, in design firms and other places, even where there is a pretty clear hierarchy of authority within the organization, there’s a pretty clear path to getting promoted. Still, for the most part, people, their only training and leadership is whatever their former manager did, right. And what we do is we say, “Hey, you know what? You’re a great designer. You know what you should do? You should become a design director. You know what you should become an art director, you should become a creative director.” And so we just kind of promote people. And even though they may be perfectly capable, usually the signal to us that they’re capable of going to the next level is that they’re really good at what they do. But being really good at what you do does not mean that you’re gonna be really good at leading other people in doing what you do. Those are fundamentally different skill sets.

Jason Smithers:                

I think when you’re coming from the church world, we’ve all, I think, we all have similar stories. We’re all musicians before we did this and we had no corporate training. We didn’t have the experience going through that. We played in bars. We played in other bands. Then all of a sudden, maybe your church is growing and you don’t know how to manage all that. Are there some practical tips that you could give the other people out there that are in similar situations to transition from maker to manager?

Todd Henry:                 

Yeah, I think the very first thing, so there are a couple of things in “Herding Tigers” I talk about two important transitions that you have to make. The first is a mindset transition, and the second is a mechanics transition, right. So you have to focus on your mindset first and then focus on your mechanics. How do you lead the creative process, you know. How do you instill processes and culture in your team? Those kinds of things, those are mechanics based things. But I think the very first thing you have to you have to recognize you have to do is you have to recognize that it’s your job to lead the work and not do the work, which means you have to transition from a mindset of ‘I am responsible for the way that the work gets done.’ Not ‘I am responsible for doing the work and controlling the work.’ So it’s really a transition from control to influence, meaning that, you know, the work getting done cannot be predicated upon your presence. It has to instead be predicated upon principle. It means that you have to establish a leadership philosophy for your team, help them understand how you make decisions, help them understand what a good idea looks like, help them understand how conflicts should be handled, help them understand how to make those important strategic decisions in the midst of the process so that they don’t have to run to you every single time and say, “What should I do about this?” That’s your job as a leader, and that’s gonna be slow going at first as you’re building your team and you’re developing your philosophy and you’re instilling culture and you’re doing all of these things, it’s gonna be slow going at first. But if you are constantly stepping in and doing the work for your team and controlling the work of your team, which, by the way, when you care about what you do, and most people care to some extent, but what they do, but when you’re working for a nonprofit or you’re working in the church community, you feel like the stakes are a little higher right. And so, of course, you care about what you do, and sometimes that care can very very quickly transition to a mindset of control. I have to control this to make it exactly what I want, but that is the antithesis of what a healthy, creative environment looks like. When you grow from a very small organization and you start growing very quickly into a larger organization, that transition is difficult because you really you probably many people probably are the ones who do everything at first. And as your team begins to grow, it could be really difficult to release your grip on some of that work and to say, “You know what? We might have to endure some seasons, where it’s difficult and where some of the work isn’t exactly what we want it to be. Or maybe it’s a little bit subpar because we’re letting people take some risks and try some things, but it’s all in the effort to eventually navigate them to a place where they can make decisions on their own and the work that we create skills well beyond my personal capacity.” When you control the work, the work never skills beyond your personal perspective and your personal capacity. And as a leader, your job is to try to, I believe that there were three qualifiers of a healthy leader of a creative team. A  healthy leader of a creative team accomplishes the work. Which, by the way, is where most people put a period right. They accomplish the work great. We’re done. No. Accomplishes the work while developing the team to tackle new and more challenging work. If you’re not developing your team to tackle new and more challenging work, which means releasing your grip on the work and allowing them to take risks and try things. And, yes, there’s gonna come a time when you have to step in and make sure that it’s not a disaster. Absolutely. But in the midst of the process, are you controlling every decision? You controlling all the work? If you are, then you’re not really fulfilling your responsibilities. 

Justin Price:           

Can we just acknowledge that for a really good leader, for a really good creative, this is again, probably somebody who’s in that position because they’ve got some serious skills, there was a phrase you said in there that, like I think it was against, all creatives that would be like a cheese grater to the face and that is ‘we have to allow for there to be some subpar work while giving space for people to experiment and improve and be hands off.’ Can you unpack that process? Because that’s an easy thing to say. But, man, if I’m the creative director at a church in it’s Christmas and I’m trying to be hands off and let my team grow and they take us down, you know, even if it’s just a slightly subpar, I’m like, “Yeah, but this is our one time to celebrate Baby Jesus.”

Todd Henry:                 

So just a couple of qualifiers on that because I’ve had a lot of interesting pushback from people who have read the book and of emailed me and said, “But I’m gonna lose my clients if I do that right. I’m gonna lose my job.”  I’m not talking about putting subpar work out into the world. That’s not what I’m talking about. There’s gonna come a time when you have to say, “Okay, we’re not getting there fast enough, and now I need to step in and guide the process and make sure that we’re navigating to a healthy place.” So it is important to recognize. I’m not saying, “Oh, you know what? Your organization is just gonna have to suck for a while, and your clients are gonna have to be really ticked off at you.” No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is, are you allowing enough space in the process for your team to be able to experiment, to think for themselves, to take risks? Or are you basically telling them what to think? Are you stepping in and doing the work for them at every turn and saying, “Hey, do this? Hey, try that. Hey, go this direction. Do these things.” Is that what you’re doing or are you allowing them some space in the process? Now there isn’t always going to be space in the process. I have experienced that as a leader. I’m sure you guys have as well. Many people listening have experienced that where, listen, we have a time crunch project or this is an absolutely critical project that I need to be involved in at every step because we need to make sure that this is delivered in the way that that meets our expectations and standards. Christmas, and the example you gave Christmas, probably would be one of those examples, right. Or Easter, or something like that. Absolutely critical that those are delivered in the right way. But are there, is it that way everywhere in your work? Are there other projects where you say,”You know what? I’m gonna release the reins a little bit and let them run. I’m gonna let them try to experiment and figure something out on their own here.” Or are you, do you feel the need to control every aspect of the work all the time? I would argue that if that, control at the end of the day, control is ultimately a security issue, right. It’s about insecurity. It’s about your unwillingness to recognize that other people can do things as well or better than you can if you give them the tools and the freedom to do so. And for a lot of leaders, when they get promoted to a managerial role, they’ve defined themselves as a designer or as a musician or, you know, that’s how they define themselves. That’s their identity. They placed a lot of identity on the values they’ve produced. Well, now that I’m a manager, who am I? What do I do? What value do I create? They feel the need to insert themselves. And I believe that your area of greatest insecurity is the place where you have the potential to do the most damage to your team. Those areas of deep insecurity that you carry around as a leader, whatever you’re trying to protect, whatever you’re trying to hide, whatever you’re trying to defend in some way, that’s the place where you have the most potential to do damage to your team. So you need to watch out for that and you need to let loose the reins every so often and let your team run. And then there are gonna be times when you have to snap back the reins, and you have to come in to make sure that the final deliverable is on par with what you expect. But you can’t be involved in control every step of the process or you’re damaging your team. And by the way, talented people are not going to stick around for very long if that’s your culture. If your culture is, ‘I am a domineering creative director,’ well, people are gonna say forget this. I’m gone. I’m not sticking around here. This isn’t any fun. You’re not letting me develop.

Jason Smithers:               

To shift shift gears, Todd. I know you talk about in the book, and we’ve had these discussions before, I have never heard a church staff member not refer to their team as family. And I know you say very clearly in the book, ‘Your team is not a family. Don’t treat it like one.’ Can you kind of get some clarity on that, because I think one thing you’ve told me before too is, “you cannot fire family.” So how do you navigate that feeling? I know they want this sense of, like, we’re a really close team, but to the detriment of not being able to make changes on your team if you need to.

Todd Henry:                 

Yeah, we can, we can sacrifice for one another. We can care about one another. We can do all the things that families do. But we’re not family as an organization. And this is a really tricky thing right in the church world, especially because, you know, there is a spiritual reality that you will live with, which is, we are family, brothers and sisters, right? It’s right there. It’s in our creed. It’s what we believe, right? And yet you’re working for an organization, and that organization is not the same thing as the church. And so I think it’s important to recognize that there is a distinction between my job and my function in my position within the body or my position within the church. My position within the church is not, I am, you know, my job is such and such. I’m a creative director. I’m a musician. I’m a worship leader. Whatever it is, that job is always subject to termination. There aren’t enough funds. Sorry we have to let you go, right. Or you know what? You’re not delivering. You’re not doing what we hired you to do. You’re done? Well, you don’t fire your family, you know, and so I think that creates an unhealthy expectation, and a lot of organizations where people think, it becomes a very comfortable place just to exist. Right? I have many times, I always believed and I continued to espouse that vocational Ministry is not a career, you know, it’s not a career. It’s a season. It’s a calling, something that you choose. But I believe it’s something everybody should examine themselves in and say, you know, every so often, maybe every year or two say, “is it’s still my calling. Is it still what I’m called to?” You know, because it’s not. It’s not a career, it’s not, you know? So I think people settle in. Sometimes they get really, really comfortable because, you know, it’s great. You never have to question whether what you do every day is having value to the world, right? If you work for a big international conglomerate, believe me, I’m out in these organizations all the time. I’m working with people. I’m constantly talking to people who are questioning, ‘Does my work really matter?’ Does it matter that I saved somebody fifty cents on the bar of soap? I don’t know, you know. But you never have to question when you’re doing that kind of direct work that a lot of people listening are doing, so that’s a huge blessing. But also, you know, it’s easy to conflate that with, you know, our organization is family and you can allow it to become a really comfortable place just to exist and to justify it. We have to feel free to fire people. It’s an organization, right? An organization trying to accomplish a purpose. And frankly, you’re also, there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility and trust on behalf of the community that you serve when they are paying your salary to do the work of the community that needs to be done. You have to feel free to make decisions like, this person needs to be let go because there’s a performance issue. There’s a moral failing, all of those things. If my son has a moral failing, I’m not gonna fire him, right. Like, I’m gonna lovingly sort of try to figure out a way to get him back to a healthy place. You want the same thing with, you know, with performance issues like my son doesn’t take out the trash, I’m not gonna fire him from the family. But you know what? If somebody in your organization under delivers for a period of time then they probably need to be let go because you’re not being responsible with the resources of the community. So I just think we have to be really careful how we talk about these things. Now, re we still positionally brothers and sisters? Are we still positionally family? Even if I fire you? Absolutely. No question. And I might even be doing what I think is the most loving thing for you by firing you. I do think that, you know, it’s important that we be very careful about how we, words matter. Terminology matters. Semantics matter. We have to be very careful how we throw words around, and I think when a leader says “we are family,” it’s usually again rooted in their personal insecurity. It’s ‘I need to feel like we’re close and we love each other, and isn’t it great to be on the team.’ You know, like I need that reassurance from you more than you need it from me. So we have to be really, really, really careful how we talk about stuff like this.

Mike Mage:                

So going off of this “words matter” thing, I feel like people put in a position, so going from maker to manager, and they sort of get put in this position initially because they’re good at their job and cause people like them. You know, you don’t get put in a position of leadership because people don’t like you most of the time, at least in a church. So it ends up, especially in the beginning, you sort of adopt this conflict averse mentality. You want to make sure everyone likes you. You want to make sure, you know, you don’t rock the boat too much. You don’t want to just come in guns blazing kind of thing when you get this new title or whatever, this new leadership role. So maybe talk to us a little bit about how do you step into these difficult conversations still focusing on, you know, all of the important things, making sure, you know, you’re married to the mission and all that kind of stuff. How do you look past, almost this, like I can’t adopt this conflict averse mindset for the sake of the organizations? What are some, maybe some practical tips into stepping into those difficult conversations?

Todd Henry:                

That is a great question. I think that we are largely defined by what we choose to hide from other people, and we are largely defined by the questions we refuse to ask. Most of the time leaders get in trouble because they refuse to ask important questions that they know need to be asked and they don’t ask them. Why are we doing things this way? Why is this behavior tolerated? Why are we choosing to take the safe route here instead of the what I think would be the more risky but the more effective route? You know, we avoid questions, because when you ask a question, it creates immediate accountability. The moment that you ask a question, that means that you’re accountable for whatever the answer might be. And we don’t want that. Again, it goes back to insecurity and comfort. You can be liked and be effective as a leader. You can be both. I mean, I’ve met many leaders who were both liked and effective, but you cannot chase being liked and chase being effective at the same time. At some point in everybody’s leadership career, they’re going to have to do something that is gonna cause them to be disliked because it’s the most effective thing to do. And so I think it’s a really good meditation for leaders to do on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to do it on a weekly basis. Is there any area where I’m behaving in a manner to be liked by the organization, even though I know probably the most effective thing to do is something entirely different? And just really even looking at that, just asking that question, I think will illuminate areas where you realize, like, ‘Well, you know what, I’m tolerating behavior in my meetings because I want to be liked, even though I know it’s not the best thing. I’m tolerating this person not getting back to my emails because I want to be liked, even though I know it’s not the right thing. You know what, this person in leadership is not giving me answers as quickly as I need them, or isn’t isn’t being diligent in what they’re doing, and I need to speak truth to my leader. I need to manage up.’ Something about leading, by the way, is people think of leading is being on top. It’s not. Leadership is about being in the middle, right? You have to manage pressure down. You have to manage pressure up, constantly. So you not only, that people think about leadership is I have to advocate on behalf of the organization for my team. So the organization wants something, I need to make sure my team gets it done. But it’s equally about advocating for your team, toward the organization and saying, ‘Hey, you’re not delivering your end of the bargain here. I know you have all kinds of pressures, all kinds of constraints, all kinds of things. But I need you to do your job better so that my team has what it needs to do its job better because they’re the ones being ground in the gears by your lack of diligence or attention or whatever it is.’ So you know, that’s something that’s not going to make you liked as a leader. If you do that, if you have to speak truth to your manager, to your own leadership. But it’s absolutely critical if you’re gonna be effective. So I think just asking that question. Am I doing this to be liked or am I doing this, because I really believe it’s the most effective thing. If you just make that part of your discipline, it’s gonna help tremendously. 

Mike Mage:                 

Good gracious. That’s very convicting. (laughter)

Justin Price:                

Todd, can we hire you to talk to all of our clients? (laughter)

Todd Henry:                

The answer is yes. (laughter) That’s a funny thing that people think that, ‘this doesn’t relate to me. I’m not a leader,’ right? But that’s not true. If you have clients, you have to lead your client. I mean, we all, it’s so cliche to say, ‘everybody’s a leader.’ But the truth is, everybody has leadership functions in what they do, regardless of their role. And so you have to, and hopefully your goal, your ambition, is to overtime increase in your responsibility. You still have to lead, even if you don’t have a position of leadership in an organization, you still have to lead. 

Jason Smithers:                 

I like that. You bring up stability in “Herding Tigers.” You talk about the “five myths of creative people”. The one that stuck out to me the most is that there’s the myth that creatives just want total freedom in their job. You gotta like, leave them alone, let them do their own thing. They’ll come back in eight days after they’ve come down from the mountain with a full beard and they’ve got the idea. So, like, let them do that thing. Keep them in there at a distance and they’ll come back with something brilliant. What are your thoughts on that? Where’s that come from? How do you counteract that?

Todd Henry:                

Yeah, it’s a myth. It is a total myth. Creativity, healthy creativity requires boundaries. You need boundaries, otherwise your creative energy dries out on the plain. Orson Welles said, “the absence of limitation is the enemy of art.” You have to have some bounding arc for your creative energy or your creative energy is gonna dry out on the plains, it’s just not going to be effective. And so I think that we as leaders, we have to recognize that our team, no matter how much they push against boundaries they rail against, you know, any restrictions you try to put on them, no matter what they say to you, deep down, they crave some kind of boundary, some kind of limitation, some kind of creative direction so that they can focus their energy more effectively. If you say, ‘hey, all bets are off, anything goes,’ a lot of creative people just will be paralyzed. They have no idea what to do. There was an artist who I came across in researching “The Accidental  Creative” who used to make random lines on campus, when they started a new work. They would just, you know, take a paintbrush and just go “loop” and just make a random line. And then they would create the art from whatever that random line said to them. And the reason they did it was because they needed a place to start because a blank canvas isn’t very helpful. But a canvas with one single squiggly line on it suddenly, that begins to give you some sense of direction. It’s almost like the canvas is speaking to you what it wants to become. And I think in the same way we have to do that for our team. We have to say, ‘Hey, we may not get exactly where I think we’re gonna get, but here’s the general direction I believe we need to go. Here are some boundaries, some rails, some expectations. Here’s the process. And now go for it. Right? And I’m gonna give you a little freedom, and we’re gonna have some checkpoints along the way so you know exactly what, we’re gonna have conversations about how things were going. Now go for it.’ And that’s much more helpful to the average creative person. That’s by the way, how you retain great talent, is by doing that. By giving them; Most creatives are professionals that you know, they want to get it done. They’re highly talented. They’re highly capable. They just need somebody who’s willing to give them a little bit of direction and let them do what they do best instead of having to figure it out on their own. They want to be protected, and they want clarity. That’s really what stability is all about. 

Mike Mage:               

Do you think as a creative manager, I mean, I think that that’s harder to do than just straight up just doing the work yourself. Do you think that that’s one of, like, the primary reasons it feels like creative managers fail, is like maybe just at its simplest, like it’s just harder to do?

Todd Henry:                

Yeah, it takes a lot more effort, you know, it’s like, I hate it when people, don’t hate it when people use analogies of their children, with like, in business scenarios. I do, too, but I’m about to do it. (laughter) So, it’s like it’s like parenting your kid. It’s so much easier just to say, ‘Hey, stop doing that and do it this way,’ right.  It’s so much easier to do that as a parent, like it, it makes my life more comfortable. But it’s a lot easier, it’s a lot harder, but a lot more effective if I let my kids make their own mistakes and I give them some boundaries within which to experiment and then, you know, at the end of the day they learn on their own what works and what doesn’t work. It’s gonna stick a lot more verses my kids just waiting for me to tell them what to do. Same principle applies, you know, like it’s a lot more convenient to just control. It is, that’s why people do it. It’s a lot easier. It makes my life easier. You know, I don’t have to worry about my job or the results or whatever, but that’s not what leadership looks like. You know, there is a great scene in the miniseries based on the book “Band of Brothers” which is a great great book. But the miniseries, the HBO miniseries where, Dick Winters, who was a captain at the time, his soldiers were trying to take the town of Foy, and the soldiers were being led in on the attack by, Foxhole Norman, you know, Norman Dike, and he he got paralyzed in the middle of the attack and split the platoons and did all these terrible things. And Dick Winters, you know, he was an experienced soldier and had led the men into lots of battles. So he grabs his gun and starts running toward the front line, you know, to take over command. And his commander, Colonel Sink says, “Captain Winters, you get back here, you…” you know, it’s stuff I can’t say on this podcast. (laughter) You know, he said, “No. I know you care about the men, but you can’t do this.” And what he was telling him in that moment is, ‘listen, your position of leadership and the role that you play and the value add is much more significant than you going in there and losing yourself in the midst of this battle. We can’t afford to lose you in the midst of this battle.’ You have to recognize that as a leader, you have a role to fulfill and that role is a strategic role. It’s not an executional role, and yes, the results matter. And yes, there are times when you have to step in. Absolutely. But it’s important that you recognize that your job as a leader is to not to pick up the gun and run to the front line. But your job is the leader is to make sure that your team is equipped with what it needs to be able to do to do the work. And so, you know, I learned a lot from that. Actually, it’s funny, that really hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw that scene and thought that’s a great illustration of what it really looks like to be a leader. It’s not that you don’t want to run to the front lines. It’s not that you’re not capable. It’s that you recognize that there are people on my team who need to take that responsibility upon themselves.

Justin Price:                 

On that topic, you mentioned that it is good for you to get your hands dirty as a leader. And I was thinking about the fact that it’s, a lot of times the reason why we’re good at whatever it is that we’re good at that got us to that management spot is because we, it’s actually something we enjoy and being good at it, we really like it. So, to Mike’s point, and what you’re saying that, it is more difficult to manage. There’s even something like, we almost have, like a loss in being great leaders and being hands off. Can you close this up with some thoughts about that? The juggle between how we can be fulfilled, enjoy getting our hands dirty without controlling the process and doing it for our teams, and finding that balance.

Todd Henry:                

Yes, so they’re a couple of things on that. The first is, you have to get your hands dirty because you have to maintain your credibility as a leader, right. If you’re just seen is always floating above everyone and issuing edicts and stuff, well, that’s not, I mean, You’re gonna lose credibility with your team. You’re gonna be talking about the work, you know, but not really talking about the work. It’s a very different thing. Talking around it, I guess would be a better way said, rather than talking about the work. And so there’s a credibility gap that emerges when you don’t have anything that you do, any value that you tangibly create. So you have to do that to some extent and also for personal satisfaction. You have to stay engaged so that you have, at least some sense that you’re still developing your craft, whatever your craft is, that you’re still involved in some capacity in doing that. So I think for those reasons, it’s really important to get your hands dirty at least a little bit. So you should always have some project where you’re doing the tactical work, right. Or something that you’re producing that is of value to the organization so that people can see that you’re still invested. Engaged. Now I think that the larger issue as it relates to that is one of personal rootedness and satisfaction. You know, as a leader, many people get into doing what they do because they love what they do, right. ‘Are you kidding? I get to design. I get to write. I get to, you know, make videos. I get to make music. I get to make whatever it is I want to make. That’s great. I get to do what I love, and I get paid for it.’ And then over time, we lose touch with that first love. And so I think keeping some work reserved for yourself and doing some work is also a part of keeping that flame lit, the quiet fire that burns beneath the surface of all of your work. So it’s as much a matter of making sure that you don’t lose touch with your first love as it is with, you know, making sure that the team sees you as an effective contributor.

Mike Mage:                

Well, Todd. This has been amazing. Like, seriously, so, so amazing. Thank you so much for joining us. I really hope that we can have you on again at some point. But I really, really appreciate you being with us. Just one more quick thing. Is there any, like, maybe just a couple sentences of advice, parting wisdom that you want to give our audience?

Todd Henry                

Yeah, I would say, I say this to the businesses, I  say this to, you know, untold numbers of people. I just said that yesterday in Washington, D C. at a conference. Listen, in 100 years, no offense, but nobody’s gonna remember your organization, you know. Most likely, with very, very few exceptions, nobody’s gonna remember your organization. They’re certainly not gonna remember that project you’re working on right now, that is just the most important thing that you’ve ever done in your life. And you’re sacrificing everything to get this project right. You know, in five years people aren’t gonna remember, let alone in 100 years. So you know, now on that depressing note, recognize that impact that you have on the people that you lead and the people around you is going to continue to resonate for generations to come. There are people’s lives who will be different forever because of the way that you lead them for better, or for worse. And that impact then is going to echo through generations of people that they lead and the people that those people lead, even people that those people lead. So just be mindful of generations of leaders who follow you are going to be impacted by what you do every day. So my encouragement you is commit to being a leader who makes echoes.

Mike Mage:               

Very cool. Perfect. Well, Todd, once again, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You’re awesome. And we hope to talk to you again soon. 

Todd Henry:

Yeah, thanks so much.

Justin Price:               

Wow. I feel like every creative who just listened to this podcast needs to be delivered a warm blanket to just kind of snuggle up with for a second. 

Jason Smithers:

I just need to sit down for a second. (laughter)

Justin Price:

I mean, everything that he said is like, it’s just opening up any wounds and just like cutting straight to the surgery. And just highlight, he hit so many just key target points for us as creative leaders, I think, man. Just something I’m incredibly grateful to even get to be a part of that conversation. It was so cool. What about you, Jason? What can we do to engage in that conversation further?

Jason Smithers:

Yeah, I know I said at the beginning, the podcast, but this really is a manual that you can use as a creative professional, whether you’re in ministry or you’re with an agency. You can get “Herding Tigers” wherever books are sold, on Amazon, in other places as well as if you want to dig deeper with your team, you can go to herdingtigersworkshop.com and there’s some great resources that you can actually dig further in with your team. And, as always, to follow Accidental Creative podcast. Subscribe to that because I’ve been listening now for, oh gosh, maybe eight or nine years, and it’s definitely at the top of my list of things I listen to every week. I would make that a high priority for any professional creatives out there that if you aren’t listening to the Accidental Creative podcast with Todd Henry, definitely do so now.

Mike Mage:               

Yeah. Well, speaking of podcasts, if you like this podcast and you want to hear more, there’s some real practical tips that you could do that would really help us, and really just just help the engagement from us to you, if you share this podcast wherever you get them. Share it on social media. Share with your team at church. Share with your family, even your enemies, share them with people that you don’t like. Just try that out. You can also rate us wherever you get your podcasts. And like we said, you just don’t do a one star. You could do a five star for even a four star. It’s fine. Just stay away from the one star, we’d love for you to review and rate us and maybe even ask us some questions there. Maybe even some topics that you’d love to hear us talk about next week. Speaking of topics, we have an incredible topic that we’re going to be discussing with an industry professional, about what does it look like to mix and master your music well. I know there’s a lot of churches out there that are diving into creating their own original music, exploring that possibility just because it’s honestly so affordable and so accessible. Way more than it has been in the past. So you’re not gonna want to miss that. It’s going to be amazing. Once again, thank you so much for listening to the Healthy Church Growth podcast where we believe that healthy things grow and growth means life.

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