Managing Creative People and Resources

Are you encouraging an environment of bounded autonomy?


Todd Henry, speaker and author of several books including The Accidental Creative, shares two things managers must provide to their creative teams: stability and the opportunity to be challenged. When the two coincide, you have bounded autonomy, explains Todd.

“What we're aiming for is a kind of bounded autonomy,” he shares. “‘Bounded’ meaning that there's stability—there's some boundaries around the process. But ‘autonomy’ meaning that within those boundaries you're going to be given a tremendous amount of freedom to explore, and to create things that make you proud.”

Watch the video to learn more from Todd about how leaders should manage creative environments.

So there are two primary things that creative people need from their manager. The first is stability. There's a misconception about highly talented creative people that they just want complete freedom. And sometimes they'll even say that, "I just want freedom." But the reality is, it's not terribly helpful. Especially when you have to create on-demand. When you're trying to create under pressure with limited resources, which we all have limited resources, it's not helpful to have complete freedom.

Instead, you need some boundaries to help you direct your energy. And so that's why stability is important. They need clarity of process. They need to know that the process is going to change halfway through the project. That the process is going to be predictable to the extent that they can invest themselves fully in an idea, and begin to execute without feeling like the terms of engagement are going to change halfway through. So that's very important.

And then also, they need protection from you. They need to know that as a leader, you're going to stand in the gap and protect them if they take a risk and they fail. That they're not going to be thrown under the bus. Otherwise, you're not going to inspire the kind of trust necessary for brilliant creative work to happen.

The second thing they need from you is challenge. Creative people want to be pushed, they want to be challenged to go to places maybe that they're a little bit afraid to go. They want to be seen, they want to be known, they want to be given faith and permission to venture into those areas where great ideas reside. But often, it's very scary to tread. And so as a leader, you need to challenge them. And if you don't challenge them, then highly talented creative people are going to start to feel stuck, they're going to start to feel a little bit bored.

In a lot of organizations, there's a high degree of challenge, but there's not really the undergirding infrastructure. The stability necessary to support the amount of challenge that's being given to the creative people on the team. And in those environments, they're going to grow angry, they're going to grow frustrated. And so really what we're aiming for is a kind of bounded autonomy. Bounded meaning that there's stability, there's some boundaries around the process. But autonomy meaning that within those boundaries you're going to be given a tremendous amount of freedom to explore, and to create things that make you proud.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of four books—The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words and Herding Tigers—which have been translat...

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