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The creative frame. Where does leadership end?

The creative frame. Where does leadership end?

Find the tipping point to hand over full ownership. Your business needs your leadership, but maybe not in the way you thought.

Photo by Thomas Franke on Unsplash

Leadership is the base for everything that follows. It is inevitable that the product vision, responsibilities, methods and processes are clear to everyone at all times — only within this frame people can bundle their creativity and create something great. Of cause this orchestration can have every level of complexity.

As fast as you develop your business, your organization must transform as well. Business success will grow your teams, change responsibilities and structure permanently. A new technology will change your tech stacks, team skills, tools and workflows to commit to it. You will continuously improve your product life-cycle to keep your learning-curve high and add tests, user feedback, data and other channels into the loop.

For some people this transformation process may be painful, for others it’s fluent.
In other words: some need coaching, others not.

You try to keep it simple and smooth, that this natural renewal process is fun and people can focus on work. There is a tipping-point, where you don’t want to manage these processes anymore. If you have been successful, that time will come sooner than you expect.

This is what most companies don’t get: there is a time where full ownership replaces leadership. Coaching replaces management. Cross-Communication breaks structures. Innovation comes from within. From the people who create it. Let these people own, take care and drive the innovations themself. When you proofed to be a good leader, people will want your support as a mentor. Expose your reason why — this is what leaders will follow. Guiding principles give a framework that can be adapted and developed further. You want people to make decisions and to take responsibility for them. Otherwise, how can you let go of the rudder?

If people don’t take ownership, probably they need more coaching from your side.

Clear indicators that your team lacks coaching is when:

  • your team needs leadership at the micro level.
  • you always prioritize features yourself.
  • your processes do not change over time.
  • you do not receive change requests or criticism.

No matter how smart and experienced we are. At best, we are 60–70% right. In other words, we are always wrong to a considerable extent. So if nothing changes over time, that’s an alarming sign. A company that doesn’t change doesn’t grow — worse — it doesn’t learn. Innovation comes from rebellion — you do things differently than before. You learn and create something new. You take risks. Since everyone has a different view of how this should be done, there are also different strategies. But no matter what plans and methods you have or what the roadmap looks like, every step forward is always a risk. Standards and best practices only provide a deceptive sense of security. They often become outdated too quickly. Challenge them. Change is a necessary part of the game.

Leaders want to establish the right principles and ensure that they endure. Methods wear out — principles don’t (as quickly). The best recipe is probably to teach passionate people to deal with it. Let them own things, experiment, and create an open, fault-tolerant culture that welcomes new things. Allow approaches from outside, but let the teams decide and don’t restrict them with consultants, stakeholders and managers. Frankly, they can’t keep up with the pace at which teams develop anyway. Additional structures and rules suppress when imposed for control reasons. It’s simple. You can only give creativity a frame, inside it has to be free. Control stifles creativity. Less control — more creativity. How else should you fire an innovation engine?

Success unfortunately too often has the wrong metrics, and so often personal goals, sensitivities, power and fear get in the way of something great. The game of money and power always remains. But there is a chance. Find the people who really care about a company or product. Those who follow a vision and make decisions with open eyes have the best chance to truly make a difference. They should take responsibility and need the support of leadership to do so.

You know it’s time to step back, when:

  • you see how innovations emerge from individual teams
  • you find new technologies that have been established across the board
  • you recognize new cross-communication streams between isolated departments
  • you see regular disruption or rule breaking
  • you get complains about slow processes
  • your team challenges you

Leadership comes first. Ownership will follow. When you have done your job properly, you will reach a point where your business becomes independent. If the creative framework is clear, and coaching has been successful, then probably all has been said. Product teams can run autonomously as they share a common vision. From here it’s only about the people. Now it’s time to establish the trust and let teams collaborate to roll out new standards, workflows and initiatives. And by God, let them run. They’re probably more accomplished, creative, or passionate about their craft than you are because you or your team hired them to do it. Otherwise, you’d be doing their job.

In this respect, your task has changed completely: You now have to protect their space and keep them on the right track. When you trust people to take your advice as granted. That they will show full ownership and become themself a mentor for others. You will think about holding the hierarchy flat, as you understand that additional managers will not help you. Maybe instead you decide to invest in trainings, culture and raise salaries to retain talent. Employees will certainly be more loyal to an employer who values and promotes them and gives them the opportunity to reach their potential.

When we look at people, a culture of innovation, and the ability to learn as the true value of a company, everything changes. Collaboration instead of structure. Freedom instead of control. It even changes ourselves. I think it’s the core of what is called digital transformation…

Perhaps this is also the view of a product romantic for whom the commercial success of his product is the highest good. But shouldn’t this be the goal in general?

Let me know, what you think 👊🏻
Best, Stefan

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