Creative people working

Are you creatively empowering or disempowering?

Even the nicest people can be unwittingly disempowering others around them simply by being unclear of how their behaviour and decisions either empower and disempower others. Here are 30 specific ideas to consider:

Like with all my blog posts I am happy to share what I have learned through my training, through experience as a manager, and also from experience when doing it all wrong!


  • Having no guidelines to work to – simply base decisions on your own whim (even if you think it is a well-educated decision. If it is random then only you can ever make decisions)
  • Make creative changes based on subjectivity (that sounds like ‘I just want it my way…’)
  • Correcting full points on sentences (Either having them all on or all off that is – there is no right or wrong for bullets so changing someone’s work is subjective unless it is to make them consistent)
  • Making text bold or not when it doesn’t really matter (subjectivity again)
  • Taking someone’s name off the work (except for branding reasons)
  • Changing a design that was approved by the creative director already and you are not in the agreed approval process (eg. An account director changing font sizes or copy, a producer changing the approved edit without approval)
  • Taking a project off someone and doing it yourself for no apparent reason (you think it will be ‘better’ – you may even think this is a sound process because others did it before you)
  • Having only one outcome as an expectation (‘my way or the highway’)
    Giving total freedom and then judging results against own expectations without guidelines (‘Yeah, do what you like’ and then later ‘Why the hell did you do that?!’)
  • When someone asks to collaborate (and has a right to expect to be involved) and you don’t allow them the opportunity by being late, sending it finished to check typos only, making excuses why there wasn’t an opportunity
  • Shutting down an open and collaborative conversation with a pre-decided subjective view
  • Qualifying ideas before they are collected up properly (not using funnel thinking)
    Using a judgmental and harsh tone to control others (‘How could you think like that?!’)
  • Creating an environment where every detail must be approved by you for the business to move forward (not to mention then having to change everything and making delivery late!)
  • Questioning other’s judgement rather than showing them how or setting parameters
  • Telling people to use their ‘common sense’ and give them freedom but without clear guidelines that are fixed and broad enough
  • Getting stuck in the detail of the moment and forgetting the wider context – is it in budget, is it for the better of the business, is it delivering what is expected even if it is done differently than you would do it?
  • Being petty and questioning someone else’s process of doing their job! (Within reason – like who cares if they take 2 copies instead of 1 if they get it done faster and use manual processes to help think…  really)
  • Blaming others for their actions
  • Are you looking for what is wrong continually, and leaving what is right without acknowledgement? (Silence is not approval or acknowledgement!)
  • Telling people what they can’t do, without showing them how or what they need to do instead
  • Having invisible tests in place – Having your idea of how something ‘should’ be done and assessing others on that basis even though they don’t know that invisible test exists (eg. ‘I’ll know it when I see it’)
  • Telling people what your decisions are without any collaboration or hearing what they have to say (regardless if you are the boss. eg. ‘I have decided….’) – Within reason because decisions by committee restrict forward motion too.
  • Putting issues to a group forum as an open-ended request or problem without making a decision or delegating to individuals (certainly not if you expect to get anything done)
  • Delegating to someone and then dealing with the issues or making decisions behind their back so they have no clue what’s going on
  • Using systems or software that only you can use – as a way to control people and disarm them
  • Making a decision without the full information from your team (key players are the experts at what they do so use their experience)
  • Asking questions with the outcome already in your mind eg. ‘Surely you are not thinking….?’
  • Using words like ‘should’ ‘have to’, or ‘must’. These are an indicator that there may be beliefs in place that may not be empowering others
  • Expect people with different values to you to do something they fundamentally don’t agree with


  • Having clear brand guidelines and company policy and enforcing them consistently
  • Having an agreed process (and sticking to it!)
  • Having clear chain of command and authority (and enforcing it religiously)
  • Be clear on who does what – reporting lines and also project process
  • Set budgets and have clear guidelines for spending
  • Allow people to do their job – if the EP produces all budgets then let them (even if you know the price yourself and it is slower to wait)
  • Correcting spelling mistakes and typos with the mindset and intention of helping and making everyone look good rather than simply making others look bad or feel bad (we all do them – I probably have in this post!)
  • Making changes that fit with business plan (providing it has been shared or you explain why it fits)
  • Making decisions that fit with business culture (providing it has been shared or explain why it fits)
  • Having an expectation for delivering as promised and enforcing it
  • Asking questions to clarify why something was done the way it was (with the intention of genuine understanding and learning) and qualifying based on best result for the project (then it is not personal)
  • Allowing staff to have autonomy and independence (really)
  • Allowing department heads to make decisions (even if you are more senior or more experienced)
  • When training others on a new process or standards, and managers’ involvement is very hands on, make sure that it is temporary and when everyone is up to speed they can be left autonomous
  • Genuine collaboration to come to the best solution for the desired result
  • Balancing the design or correcting major design flaws (within context of chain of command and explain/teach the principles when doing so)
  • Being open to new
  • Being open to feedback and changes from the team
  • When a problem is faced asking ‘How can we?’ before raising all the problems and shutting it down
  • Asking ‘What do you think?’
  • Having clear boundaries and guidelines for people to work to (profit levels, quality expectations, time expectations, rules, criteria, process, formulas, templates)
  • Allow people to make mistakes and to learn from them – adjust the parameters rather than stop any decisions being made without you
  • Respecting that people make decisions with the best of the company in mind – they’re doing their best
  • Focus on results not on the methodology (within reason – sometimes the process ensures results)
  • Respecting that the world is made of all types and we all have an appropriate place
  • Believing that the behaviour of others and the results you get are the result of something that you are doing (or not doing) and take responsibility for that
  • Show them how to make decisions that serve the overall project or company rather than simply telling them what they can’t do
  • Help everyone know that the feeling of comfortable doesn’t always mean it is sound (you wont grow to a new level if you can’t let go of your past habits and fears)
  • Look bigger than just you – see the patterns across the business (bottlenecks, style of work, problem and successful areas)
  • Have decent manners (it may be old fashioned but it goes a long way. Speak in a respectful tone & manner at the very least!)

I don’t believe we all get it right all the time either. If we can aim for empowering others 80% of the time, then that’s a fair goal to work towards. There are many circumstances that push a good person to be less than empowering, and we need to consider it all within the overall context of where the business is going and the types of issues ingrained. I know from my own experience when there are others with very closed minds and limiting behaviour affecting the business results I know there have been times I’ve had to be less flexible and set down some ground rules. Within the context, I think we need to be kind to ourselves and ultimately balance that with the results. If results are not coming because a stuck team wont move then it is time to move on – and leave them to it.  They can’t always see what you can see; and that’s OK – just don’t play there any more.