Ethical leadership for creative businesses

By September 2, 2016September 14th, 2018Staff


Recently, I came across this article about ethical leadership. It’s called ‘five traits of an ethical leader’ although in fact it talks about six.

The personality to defy groupthink
The ability to set a good example
Their door is always open
They’re not afraid to be challenged
They take responsibility for everything

Interesting and some times contentious stuff (for example, can your door really always be open?). But it got me thinking about how ethical leadership works for creative industry companies.

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that creative practitioners who find themselves in leadership positions, often feel prepared for the experience. Having trained as creatives, they sometimes don’t feel “authorised” to be in charge of a company or an organisation. Others feel they lack the relevant training, having only ever been schooled in their creative craft.

But those who discover the capacity for leadership within themselves can find their ability to come up with creative solutions to problems serves them well in leading a group of people in a shared endeavour.

So creativity and leadership are some times difficult concepts to marry up. Those traits of ethical leadership listed above apply to creative leaders too, but here are a few ideas to add to this list, which might be familiar to creative companies.

Choosing to not work for clients with whom you disagree on ethical grounds

A dilemma many creative companies who provide B2B services may well have come across. Witness the difficulties the Biennale of Sydney found itself in over the activities of a sponsor, which conflicted with many of its community.

Acknowledging the originators of concepts and ideas

Creativity trades off ideas and plagiarizing others’ work is widely condemned. But what do we do to recognise the work done within our internal teams? Who gets credited when they come up with a winning concept?

Whether to pitch for free

For many design companies, this is not at a dilemma at all: the answer is simply ‘no’. But those that take this hard line may well find themselves in competition with those for whom the answer is ‘sure’. The stance a company takes on this will be heavily influences by the opinions of its leaders.

Charging fairly for work the client is unfamiliar with

If we can’t fix our own cars, we trust the auto mechanic not to rip us off. For many clients, the job being completed by a creative company is equally as baffling as a broken down car. There’s an opportunity for exploiting this unfamiliarity with the creative process and overcharging, although it undermines the client’s interests.

My work with leaders of creative companies rarely considers ethics directly. But it often covers the question, ‘what’s the right thing to do in this situation?’ The right thing by the company, by the staff, by the client or by all of the above. Which is not too far from the topic of ethics, and certainly within the realm of leadership.

Our coaching sessions provide an opportunity for business owners and CEOs to talk about these issues in a frank and confidential environment, and explore the distinct challenges of leadership in a creative environment. Get in contact via email or Twitter if you want to find out more.

Thanks to Wendy Mather, Business Adviser at Generate for her thoughts on this post.