Thoughts on Creative Direction: Be Invisible

I was with a number of executives recently reviewing a huge project. They were presenting to their boss while I played the role of fly-on-the-wall, observing and taking notes. The review went extraordinarily well.

As we were leaving the meeting, a thought occurred to me: I was invisible. Not just during the review, but throughout the entire process. The executives I worked for were the heroes here, as were members of my team who contributed to the project. But I was completely invisible. This got me thinking.

As a Creative Director, you should be invisible. The last thing a presentation, or just about anything for that matter, should be about is you. The work should be the center of attention. Your client should shine. Your boss should be the hero. Your team should get the credit. If everyone around you is getting the accolades, you did something right.

This is a foreign concept for many CDs to grasp. So much of the creative business is fueled by ego, often times the bigger the better. You may be familiar with “Imposter Syndrome”, there also exists “Creators Syndrome” and the myth of the lone creative genius. I’ve even been overheard declaring “if your ideas are good enough, you can be as big an asshole as you want.” That may be true, but being an asshole does not make you a good leader. Getting the best out of people and making certain the work is excellent does.

Do you run a risk by being invisible? Sure. Everyone wants to be seen as being valuable and contributing to the success of a project. When you’re invisible it is hard to quantify what you did; your role as the leader may not become apparent for weeks, months or ever. If all goes well, your success comes later on down the road, like when you are chosen for another plum assignment, or repeat business keeps coming in the door, or you retain employees who are happy, healthy and productive.

It may be hard to put your finger on it, but that is when your success becomes tangible. People around you feel and understand why they are successful. Your role then becomes all too apparent.