What Managers Can Learn From Creative Leaders

At Fortress, we have a range of creative teams contributing on all of our projects. These teams, with their unique, creative skill-sets also require a leadership style that fosters growth and creativity rather than simply management. We have a highly collaborative and learning-friendly environment that runs the gamut from interns to industry experts.

Each team, whether it’s sales, design, web development, marketing, or copywriting has its own leaders and different creative elements. But, we all work together to produce a final product and a satisfied client. As new people join our team, we have realized that everyone has something to learn and something to teach. Because of this, we have all taken on a leadership role at one time or another. But, a leader of a creative team must approach management with a non-traditional attitude. By incorporating some of the tactics creative leaders use, any manager will be able to foster a more productive and communicative environment within their own team.


“Coming from a big corporate background with multiple companies, I got to see what I liked and disliked as far as management styles go. I was then able to craft a company culture around that vision where everyone’s input is valued and everyone is a part of the team with a greater goal. This basic concept helped boost creativity immediately. We even have one of our Fortress Foundations, which is a list of the values that we stand by, that says to think outside of the box and that wild ideas are always welcome.”

Joel Mathew, Fortress President 


When evaluating your own leadership, ask, “Am I acting like a boss or a captain?” You are still a part of a team and leading is not the only hat you wear. The term “boss” can evoke somewhat dictatorial images – controlling, delegating, and not well-liked. To effectively lead a team, leaders need to place themselves at the center rather than above everyone else.

All channels of communication can lead back to you and, ultimately, you are making the team function. But, everyone needs equal access to you and to be on a level playing field when it comes to idea generation and proposal. The newest team member could have the best idea for a new project but, if your team is organized using a top-down approach, their idea may never be heard.

Traditional managerial styles at larger corporations are often top down, limiting communication among the different “levels” of the hierarchy. It is important to remember that just because one has risen through the ranks and earned a title, their ideas aren’t necessarily more valuable than other team members. Veteran employees in an industry will be able to generate ideas based on previous experiences, but newer team members are also likely to supply valid ideas based on research and personal experiences. Brainstorming sessions where everyone’s voice is heard will allow fresh, new ideas to add to the old standbys.

At Fortress, we tell everyone that we want to learn from them, not just have them learn from us, which helps create new ideas that are valued by all. For a business to succeed, every voice must be heard. That means listening to every member and giving all ideas equal consideration before landing on the one that is right for the project.


“Design is a subject where there is always more than one right solution to a problem. It’s simply about finding which solution is the best one. As soon as one person thinks they have all the answers it becomes a toxic and limiting creative environment which will likely cause ideas to become stagnant.”

Aubin Dyer, Lead Graphic Designer


As leaders, our main task is to set an example of how to do the job efficiently and effectively while trusting that our team members can handle the work that is given to them. While leaders need to act as part of the team, you are still responsible for ensuring that each project is completed before the deadline. So, offer timely praise and constructive feedback. This is especially important on highly creative teams, like graphic design or writing that depend on client feedback and multiple rounds of revision. Establishing timelines, guidelines, and boundaries that allow space for creativity, while also fitting into a professional schedule, will help keep your team on task.

For creative leaders, this takes the managerial job description to a new level. Ensuring that we are organized enough to assign work with a long enough timeline can be demanding. But, when a team is given a longer timeline, they may begin to produce higher quality work that leaves them feeling more satisfied. In turn, this will keep everyone motivated to continue producing content of the highest degree. Satisfaction in their own work can inspire employees in any industry to be more productive and inspired with each new project.


“It is my firm belief that a team will run more efficiently and create the highest level of work if they have a personal relationship with other team members. I always take the time to get to know each individual on my team on a personal level, their likes, dislikes, family, and environment preferences. It allows a trust to be formed that goes beyond being coworkers. They trust you to lead them, trust you to make creative decisions, and trust your constructive criticism.”

Linda Hanlon, Digital Project Manager


With the center-out approach to leadership, leaders won’t need to be involved in every aspect of every project. We must encourage collaboration that doesn’t involve us. This will give teams more room for creativity and keep them from feeling stifled by authority. It also will show that you trust them to get the job done right — maybe even better than you could.

Leadership is a learning process. Be open to learning new things from your team. Regularly asking for feedback and cultivating an environment in which your team feels comfortable giving honest feedback will help you improve every day. And ultimately, make the workplace the best that it can be. So, lead by letting creativity flourish and being a team player, and you will start to see a more productive and inspired team.



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