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How Micromanaging Your Creative Team Leads to Mediocrity — and Why Leaders Must Learn to Let Go

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It can be hard to let go of control and let others take the reins. I get it.

As a graphic designer turned creative agency founder, I struggled with this myself in the earliest days of my company. I had started my career doing the same work I needed to eventually hand off to my team, so I could expand my focus. And it was hard. But I did it. I had to.

Now, for different but equally important reasons, I often tell our branding clients the same thing: You’ve got to let go.

Related: Why You Need to Stop Micromanaging Your Team and Learn to Let Go

The importance of letting go

When hiring a creative team for your branding and design, giving space to let others move is about more than just freeing your time for other areas of the business. It’s also about quality: If you apply too much control without having a strategically sound design background, the reality is you risk getting bland design. The more you try to direct the creative process, the more you risk losing all benefit of calling in expert, talented creatives in the first place. And you hired them for a reason.

Ideally, you hired a team with stellar experience, creative vision and style. Even better, you hired a team that also understands strategy. When you work with professionals like this — who possess vision, futuristic thinking and impressive design talent — it’s just a matter of setting the necessary parameters and then giving them space to play and innovate. The best campaigns are usually the result of creatives taking risks. So let them!

As a founder, you bring your own irreplaceable skill set to what you do, but unless you also have a creative background, your team probably has a different mode of genius. You don’t want to suffocate their creative process before it has a chance to really wow you.

Would you hire Andy Warhol and tell him that Campbell’s soup can would really be more striking in pastels? Would you bring in Monet and insist on choosing each individual flower he paints in a field?

I hope not.

While your business has specific needs, the truth remains that creatives need space to shine their brightest. Your input is essential, of course, and when all is said and done, you need to absolutely love the end result. But as the process unfolds, remember that your aim is to be a constructive collaborator — not a controller — and to trust the process. That means working with the team so they know what objectives you need accomplished and then letting them do what they’re great at.

This process comes down to a foundation of trust and hiring a team you can believe in.

Related: True Leadership Requires Letting Go of Control

Easier said than done? Here are a few tips to help you get there:

  • Hire a team with incredible vision, style, experience and strategic thinking that aligns with your objectives. When interviewing, ask thoughtful questions upfront about what means most to you, and look at their portfolio of work. But do not hire an agency because you want exactly what they did for another client. A good agency will steer you on a path that is unique to you and your objectives, not an echo of another look-alike brand.

  • Once you’ve hired a great team and let them know your needs and essential parameters, it’s time to give appropriate space. Set a firm intention to not overtly control the design, unless this is your background and a clearly communicated part of the process you’ll go through together — yet, then I beg the question of why you hired an outside team in the first place if only just to push them around. The best results happen when you communicate clearly at the outset, then sit back, trust the process, and try to see the proverbial forest through the trees.

  • When it is time to offer your opinion, do not design by jury or constantly ask outsiders not involved in the project for their opinions. This will only confuse things. An abundance of opinions often keeps you from really forming your own.

  • Lastly, if something isn’t working, don’t just keep ruminating on it quietly for fear of hurting feelings. Communication is a two-way street, and both sides need to be in lockstep. Share with the team what works for you and what doesn’t, then step aside again. Remember that even if you don’t love the first ideas you see, it’s still important to not lose trust and take control. The best creative processes are often messy and iterative. After you offer your feedback, let your creative team recalibrate and reach for something great that’s more aligned.

It can be hard to let go, but it’s so important. If you find yourself struggling to give enough space to your creative team, just remind yourself: With too tight of a grip, your creative work will be mediocre at best. I can guarantee it.

If you let go even just a little, the outcome will be 120% better than you envisioned. Lean into trust, and expect great things to follow.

Related: What Is Laissez-Faire Leadership? What Are Its Benefits and Drawbacks?

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