The Six C’s of Creative Leadership

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What does it mean to be the leader of a design firm? Of a design team? A leader is someone who, as David Sherwin puts it,”makes awesome shit happen.” They are more than number crunchers, paper pushers, idea killers, and the keeper of the “you can’t do that” gate. They are the source of inspiration and insight when the well has run dry, they take risks, they nurture and above all else: they are the ones meant to inspire and drive creativity within the firm or team. So what do these creative leaders have in common?

In his role as, Interaction Design Director at frog, a global product strategy and design firm, Sherwin leads teams in the creation of novel products, services, and experiences. Sherwin will share some of his wisdom gained from being a leader both at frog as well as in the interactive field at large at the upcoming HOW Interactive Conference in Washington D.C. September 3 – 5.

Excerpted from his book Success By Design, David Sherwin offers up his Six C’s of Creative Leadership as an explanation of the six behaviors all great creative leaders exhibit:

Much like a kung fu disciple, who must climb the tall mountain peaks in order to find the secret dojo where he can learn a particularly rare fighting style, many design leaders must mature in their craft before they can realize their leadership skills under the right mentor. Some of these skills are not easily teachable. They are behaviors that a design leader must infuse into his daily work habits. At the same time, a design leader be aware of of the same skills and behaviors she is trying to grow in the people that she manages. These behaviors are as follows:


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Leaders conjure compelling design work in their own right, when pressed in to service.


Leaders communicate actively with rational and emotional intelligence. As a result, co-workers and clients want to communicate with them.


Leaders coax stellar work out of their teams by creating space for creativity to flourish. This space is protected, so incursions by clients or organizational politics do no harm.


Leaders compel their teams to realize a vision, no matter who suggested or informed that vision. The best leaders know how to suss out internal motivations as encouragement, rather than external pressures.


Leaders cajole through critique, by asking the right open-ended questions at the correct time to encourage the flourishing of great ideas. The leader can also choose to hold her tongue, allowing other people to lead.

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock


Leaders cheer their teams on, both within a design organization and publicly by promoting their work. Leaders should inspire through endless enthusiasm and engagement. To quote designer Brian LaRossa, “Earnest interest and excitement can be a contagious remedy for low morale.”


Want to learn more about how you can lead consumer behavior changes with interactive design? Check out David’s session at the HOW Interactive Conference in Washington D.C. September 3 – 5! Register now and get $200 off your registration!