How to Foster Creative Respect For Your Leadership


Do others respect your work?  In many circles there are discussions about the value of love vs respect. Back in the 15th Century the Italian diplomat Machiavelli is quoted as saying... 

And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. [...] Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.
— Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Today the whole “being feared” leadership method doesn’t work out quite as well, especially if you are trying to lead a creative project.  When people are afraid, they don’t take valuable risks and may feel uncomfortable bringing up ideas out of fear that they will be shot down.

However, the healthy version of fear, respect, can be very helpful for leading creative projects.

I do a lot of work with non-profits and so I’m familiar with organizations that produce great media.  One of the things I have noticed is that creatives want to work with other creatives that they respect.

Back around 2010, there were a number very talented photographers, cinematographers and animators who wanted to intern with the organization Invisible Children because they produced beautiful and engaging stories about child soldiers in Northern Uganda.  

They were able to produce these stunning works because they were founded by Jason Russell, Laren Poole and Bobby Bailey, all of whom were filmmakers that collaborated on the original Invisible Children documentary that served as the launching point for their organization.

In the end, they suffered from having too much success with their Kony 2012 film, and the organization imploded.  People assumed that because they were so successful that they had everything they needed and shortly afterward donations started drying up.  But before then people really wanted to work for them.

Before we brought Arley Cornell on our team, he pursued an unpaid internship with Invisible Children in California.  He knew that he would learn in that environment, and he had creative respect for the organization’s leaders.

Another organization that produces amazing media is Charity: Water.  They don’t actually drill any wells, their purpose is to raise money to give to local partners who are doing the work on the ground.  In order to engage their audience, they absolutely need to produce great stories.

One of the reasons their media is so effective is because their founder Scott Harrison, started off as a photographer and spent time on Mercy Ships, an organization that sends hospital ships around the world offering free surgeries to those who can’t afford them.  

During his time there, he realized that there are so many people around the world that don’t have access clean water, and when he went back home to NYC, he started an organization to do something about it.  It is the fact that creatives can respect his work, and they knew that he would value their work that made them want to work with Charity: Water.

Their draw is so big that Arley, who was living in California at the time, deliberately made the effort to find ways of work with Charity: Water who is based out of NYC and eventually worked on this video with them:

So the big question I have for you is this: what is your position and current role?  Are you a creative or do you work within an organization in a non-creative role?

It’s important to do a self-evaluation to be clear on where you should focus.  If you are a creative, focus on being great at what you do. Musicians look up to other musicians who are talented.  In the same way that younger athletes look up the pros. If you are a filmmaker, focus on honing your craft and producing work that others will admire and respect.  

Keep working hard to be good at what you do and you will earn creative respect along the way, which will open up new opportunities for you.

Now if you are in a leadership role, hopefully you have enough self-awareness that you can evaluate how much creative respect people have for you.  If you have a hard time evaluating yourself, talk to someone you know and trust who will be comfortable giving you an honest answer.

After doing an evaluation, if you come to the realization that people don’t have very much creative respect for your work, that’s ok.  All is not lost! What that means is that you need to find someone to whom you can entrust the process of being creative, give them authority to act, cast your vision, and GET OUT OF THE WAY! You will only slow the process down if you try to micromanage the process.

Earning creative respect is not easy to do and you can’t directly work on it.  It is a byproduct of producing phenomenal work. But once you do earn it, you will find that it’s easier to work with other creatives.  You can speak a common language and everyone likes to work with people when there is shared respect for each other’s work and skill set.

Regardless of where you are at, continually strive to make sure that every day you produce your best work yet.

Wesley Dean