Consultant to Creatives

The Clarity Journal

Tactics, Tools, and Truth for Creative Entrepreneurs

3 Crucial Mental Shifts for Creatives to Lead Their Teams Well

A lot of important mental shifts are required to transition from having a regular, jobby-job to having your own business. You have to change how you think about your time, how you think about self-promotion, how you think about money, and the list goes on.

When your business has grown to the point of hiring employees, a potentially more challenging shift is required: transitioning from the being the doer to being the leader. This transition can be... messy. Leading and managing people is a skillset that almost no one comes by naturally, and learning those skills is no picnic, especially when there’s, you know, real work to do in the meantime.

Before you can become an effective leader, you have to cultivate the mindset of a leader. Here are three mental shifts that you must make if you are going to be successful as a leader of your organization. (#3 is the most important, so read to the end.)

Mental Shift #1: You’re the Boss, Not a Co-Worker

My very first creative client way back in 2012 founded a well-known catering company in Austin, Texas. As the saying goes, small business owners wear a lot of hats, and this was definitely true of Molly. When they were in-between pastry chefs, she would bake cookies and brownies and tarts. When they were short staffed in the kitchen, she would jump in and work under her head chef to execute the day’s orders. When the sales team was struggling with a client, she would help them resolve the issue. She knew every job in the company, she could wear every hat, and she humbly worked alongside her team every day. 

In everything Molly did in the kitchen and the office, there was one hat she never took off. She never stopped being the boss.

The temptation of small business owners is to only ever wear the co-worker hat. You want to be in the trenches with your people, getting things done, and making awesome things happen. Most of the time, you will functionally act more like a co-worker than a boss. But, if you are never wearing the boss hat, it means that no one is, and teams can't function long-term without leadership.

As leader of your company, your most important job is no longer that of an individual contributor. You are not primarily your team’s co-worker, you are primarily their boss. If you aren’t doing your most important job, then no one else will be able to do their job either.

Mental Shift #2: Delegate Responsibility, Not Accountability

The reason you hire people is so that you can delegate, step back from execution, and focus on the big picture. Adding people to your team is a powerful multiplier for your capacity and impact. And, frankly, it’s a chance to offload a bunch of stuff you don’t like doing anyway.

As you delegate responsibilities to your new team members, you need to remember what Michael Gerber says: “you can’t delegate your accountabilities.” In other words, just because you aren’t doing the work, doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for it anymore.

You have a million things on your plate and very limited time. You certainly don’t have time to do everyone else’s jobs for them. The temptation is to leave people alone and “let them do their jobs” with full autonomy and little oversight. Giving people autonomy in their work can be a good thing (if they are ready for it) but assuming they are doing their job is not. You can’t delegate by abdication, throwing a bunch of responsibility at your people and hoping it all works out.

When you delegate responsibility, consider how to create accountability. Ask questions. Follow up. Check in. Show up in person. Don’t assume everything is going as planned, but make sure that it is. You are ultimately responsible for your team’s work, so you should act like it.

Mental Shift #3: Loyalty is for the Business First, People Second

When business owners are dealing with performance or behavior issues on their team, it leads me to ask, “is this person the first person you ever hired?” The answer is often yes. 

Those employees that have been with you from the very beginning are special. You feel loyal to them, and you should. Loyalty is good until you to allow people’s performance and behavior to hurt your business and the other people working in it. Loyalty is good until you are creating jobs for people based on your relationship instead of on what the business really needs. Loyalty is good until you allow it to breed entitlement and lack of accountability.

I’m guessing you created your business to benefit people, and lots of them: your customers, your employees, and yourself. Don’t let loyalty to one person override the loyalty you should feel to everyone that is impacted by your business’s success. Be loyal to your business first, and to personalities second. 

You Choose Your Hard

I acknowledge that these shifts are easy to talk about and very difficult to practice. This involves real human beings that you really care about. But, to quote Melissa Hartwigwe choose our hard. If you make these mental shifts, it will be hard at first, but the benefits to your team will be felt for a long time. If you don’t make these shifts, it will be easier in the short-run but with potentially damaging effects to your business in the long-run that are hard to correct. Which hard will you choose?

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