I will never forget when everything changed for our team.
When I first started building our multimedia marketing and storytelling team, and we were planning our annual alumni leadership conferences, I came up with the themes and ideas for how to bring them to life through content and experiences for the hundreds of attendees. I regularly encouraged the team to take bold creative risks, step into their discomfort, and give voice to their ideas. Then, one year, they did just that.
I had been riffing on a creative theme and felt good about how the script and idea was starting. But I quickly got stuck trying to pivot from framing the struggle and releasing the tension to bringing forth the necessary inspirational crescendo. At the next meeting, the team said they had huddled and come up with a new idea for the creative execution. I was a little taken aback, but also excited they had taken the initiative. They made their pitch, and they could tell from my reaction that I was somewhat skeptical about the proposal. So they asked for a little more time.
They returned a few days later with a draft script and ideas for the visuals. I was impressed, but still not convinced. The team again asked for a little more time.
At the next meeting, they said they had a video for me to see. They had taken the script and shot a rough video, using themselves as actors, to show how it could be made real. I was still unsure, but they proved they were committed to and invested in making it work, and they clearly accepted the charge I gave them to step up, step out, and lead. I told them I was 1000% behind them and to let me know what they needed from me to be successful.
Then they absolutely crushed it. That day, I stepped back and followed their lead. I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to relinquish that role and humble myself. We creatives can dwell in insecurity and fear of insignificance. But that was the tipping point when everything changed, and it was no longer top-down driven.
Sure, I still contribute project and campaign ideas, craft copy, and facilitate team connection and growth. But with my team newly empowered, I shifted to other important roles — more often a follower, thought-partner, editor, cheerleader, resource-provider and roadblock-buster, the person who helps refine ideas, works with team members to help them get unstuck, rather than the driver of things.
Everyone is a leader on our team. Even our interns run point on projects. When someone steps up, the rest of us come alongside them. Our team is stronger, more cohesive, so much more inspired, more productive, and more effective, and our work is so much better because of this approach.
Once you get past your ego it’s actually a great relief to realize that having bigger titles doesn’t mean having all the answers (or pretending to), or even better answers. That’s why you have a team. The faster you learn that, the more impactful leader you’ll be.