• Owen Johnson

Leadership in Creativity: Anecdotes to Help Leaders in a Creative Industry

Updated: Feb 17

I'm the Assistant Director at Student Video Productions in the Rocky Mountain Student Media Offices in the CSU Student Center. Over the last two years of working in this position, I've learned plenty of new things to help manage a team of students in creating commercial video. Here's a small collection of ideas, suggestions and anecdotes to help others in a similar leadership position, or simply for people who want to work better in their creative team.



Establishing Yourself as a Leader and a Team Member

When I was first hired into the student media offices, I wasn't hired on as camera guy or editor or anything, my first position inside of SVP was a managerial spot. I was incredibly afraid of being pulled in as an early sophomore and having to ask students who have been there longer than me, and who were likely older than I was, to do things, or even to instruct them in how to do something better.

I'd been in a managerial position before, leading a landscape crew, and helping manage the whole company for the entirety of my high school career, and at the time was still doing that work during the summer vacations so I understood something very important: if you are asking someone to do something, you damn well better be willing to do it yourself. The reason you should be asking someone to do anything for you is because you are, for some reason unable. Whether its due to time constraints, lack of technical ability or physical ability. This way you are not seen as a "boss". People working for you have less and less respect for you the more they feel you treating them as actual "subordinates".

One of the ways I helped this was by doing as much work as I could. If a commercial needed editing by a certain date, and I had the time, I just did it. Rarely did I ever feel as if I didn't want to, but even when I felt that way, I checked myself, and just pushed through it. It's my job to be a part of the team first, and to manage second. Thankfully, the team accepted me almost instantly. Speaking with them later on actually revealed that most of them believed I was a senior, and prepping to graduate, so I suppose that helped as well. I also quickly identified myself to the others through my work that I was the most capable in the team at color correction and grading it.


Being Honorable in your Shortcomings: Do all you can to fix mistakes you've made.

There was this one project. Early on in the semester we were contracted to help a department in the university construct a documentary about their history. We were supplied with a ton of historical footage, as well as some recorded interviews. Our job was to work with the writers to compose a script for a narrator, record the narrations, and build a 12-20 minute documentary.

I had vastly underestimated the amount of creative energy and willpower that designing and executing a vision for this film was going to be. So much so that I mostly wrote it off. I asked other team members to take a crack at it a few times, continuously postponed my legitimate involvement in the project. At a certain point, I finally sat down to get involved and learn where it was at and what needed to happen next. I was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of work needed to be done. I started my procrastination process.

I stopped asking others to work on it at all, since I didn't feel right asking anyone to undertake a project that even I didn't want any part in.

The edit file sat in the desktop, waiting to be worked on, and weighed in my mind, slowly taking up more and more space in my head as the deadline for the first draft approached. Usually if a film is already in early draft stage, and the skeleton is already in place, it's not hard at all for me to jump in and start working on nit picking it to completion, but this one needed a structure. My weakest point.

With one week left in the semester, my team had mostly checked out and gone home for the holidays. It was all on me. I had finals stacking up, and with just a few days left, I made a mental commitment. Following my ultimate final exam on the morning of the last Thursday of the semester, I would go to the office and not leave until the draft was finished. I was editing in that room until Friday morning at about 6:00. The draft was finished and sent off. It wasn't great, but it was done. Following that incident, I always make sure I know the scope of a project before passing it off to someone else, and if I screwed something up, to own it and fix it.


Being Understanding, and Never being Condescending

Student Video Productions is an employment opportunity exclusively for students. And while it has a goal of functioning as a not-for-profit company, it is ultimately a program for getting students real-world experience in their field before they are even out of university. One of my jobs then is to help educate everyone I can in every way I can. One of my goals was to create an environment in the workplace that was incredibly open for learning and asking questions. I tried to make it clear to everyone that if they weren't technically knowledgeable enough to do something, to bring it up, so that we can assign that project to someone else, and in the meantime, help them to learn so they can take on a similar project later, and have that skill for other times.

Despite my attempts to make this practice as clear as possible, one student working with us was new that semester, and was put on an assignment to take photography of some dancers' routines for their portfolios. He agreed, and then came up to me following the meeting and asked if I could give him a quick run down on the DSLR he would be using since it had been a while, and hadn't taken action shots quite like this before. I said sure, and told him I'd come with him to help take the first few pics to get him situated.

On the day of the shoot, we showed up on site about 15 minutes early to help prep him for the dance photos. It quickly became clear to me that this student had never touched a camera like this one, and had actually been hired on due to his video and editing ability. As soon as I realized this, I decided to stay with him throughout the entirety of the shoot, help him learn the camera, and to practice getting good photos. Thankfully I had my own camera, so we could both be working at the same time, and he could ask me for help when he needed it.

His photos turned out beautifully, and the client was happy. At the next team meeting, we were going through the projects of the previous week with the team, and he showed a few of his photos to the group, to words of praise.

Unfortunately that student couldn't continue to work with us following the impact of the pandemic, but now he has that skill, and that's what SVP is for.



Ultimately these teachings boil down to being 1. Hardworking and 2. Empathetic. I hope these anecdotes help others to be better leaders in their team environments.


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