Ego Juggling

Chances are, if you’re working in the creative department at your church, you work on some kind of a team. Maybe it’s you and twenty other people or maybe it’s just you and the janitor. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because almost certainly you’re not pulling off your weekend in total isolation. You work within a team.

And, chances are, if you work within a team, then you aren’t the only one throwing out ideas for the weekend. Other people on the team are bringing their ideas and experience to the table as well. And here’s the funny thing about ideas: people have a tendency to get emotionally attached to them. Especially when it’s their idea! They pout, they get upset, they get angry when their idea isn’t given the chance at life they think it deserved.

So, here’s the question, and it’s a question I get asked ALL THE TIME, whether your team is massive or tiny: How do you juggle the different opinions and ideas that get thrown out during the course of planning a weekend service without (and that’s the key word!) hurting people’s feelings permanently (another key word) and damaging your relationships?

Well, I can tell you this, it can be done, but it won’t be because you found a way to give criticism more nicely, it’ll be because you created a culture where the team values the whole over the parts. Here’s some specifics:

** 1. Start with vision **

One of the biggest issues I see with a lot church creative teams is that they lack vision and direction. Believe it or not artists WANT direction and definition and when they don’t have it they’ll create it for themselves every time. In other words, if your team lacks creative direction they’ll default to creating the kind of weekend experience THEY want to create. The video team will make videos THEY like. The musicians will pick songs THEY like. The designers will create designs THEY like and so on and so on.

Because each member of the team lacks clear vision everyone starts to pull in their own direction, they run wild (I think that’s a verse somewhere), they craft ideas for the weekend that suits THEIR idea of what a successful weekend should be and when that happens you inevitably have power struggles and hurt feelings.

At COTM we don’t have five ideas of what the weekend service is going to look like. We have one idea. Mine.

I know that sounds egotistical and creatively stifling, but in reality it’s liberating because each member of the team is free to create within the boundaries that I’ve provided instead of trying incessantly to set those boundaries for themselves and fighting with others who see it differently.

Great artists like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs & Alfred Hitchcock, all provided a crystal clear vision to the artists they worked with and when you worked with them it was clear whose vision mattered, theirs not yours, and that changes everything.

Interestingly, many of the artists who worked with these great men would tell you that it was under their leadership and direction that they did their very best work.

** 2. Create a Culture of Evaluation **

I’m convinced that the reason many people get their feelings hurt when they get critiqued is that they’re almost never critiqued! Most people just aren’t used to having their ideas ruthlessly evaluated so when they finally do experience a little critique they have no idea how to handle it and they sulk and pout.

One way to help your team get over their bruised egos is to critique them so often that they get used to it. In our world we’re constantly evaluating and critiquing so when someone says “I hate that idea” it doesn’t ruffle any feathers.

Occasionally our creative team will interact with other departments of the church to aid them with a project and in a couple of those interactions we’ve unintentionally ruffled some feathers and hurt some feelings. Not because we were trying strut our stuff and show how big and bad we are but simply because we mistakenly used the harsh language of critique that we are so accustomed to and it was a little shocking to those outside of our culture.

In those instances we had to go back and apologize where it was necessary, but in our environment, I want it that way. I want our team to be constantly looking for better ways to design, sing, write, shoot, edit etc.

Your goal isn’t some static standard of quality, that standard should be constantly moving forward and you can’t do that without constant critique. But, if you only critique every once and while your team will default to doing only just enough to reach some perceived static standard of quality instead of constantly trying to get better. Keep up the critique and keep the standard moving forward.

** 3. Tell me why **

Did your parents ever tell you that you couldn’t do something you really wanted to do and when you pressed them for a reason as to why you couldn’t do it all they would tell is “because I said so!”? How frustrating is that?

From childhood to adulthood it’s just in our nature to want to understand why. We’re hardwired that way and so when we encounter a “no” without a why it’s really frustrating.

One thing I never do as a creative leader is offer arbitrary criticism. Whether I’m speaking to my superiors or to my team I’ll never say I hate it and walk away. If you respect the people you work with then they deserve to know your reasons so I’ll always provide them with a well thought through reason. After all, if I can’t explain to myself why I don’t like something do I really deserve to criticize it to others?

Taking the time to understand why you don’t like that font, or why your camera shots look so pathetic, or why that song sounds like garbage not only sharpens your own skills (and it will, big time!) but it also helps your team to understand your point of view and helps them to see that your criticism is not aimed at them personally, but at their ideas which are distinctly different in my view.

We have to learn to value our team and be ruthless with our ideas. Understanding that I can value you as a person and not like your ideas is a HUGE culture shift for your team, because it creates resiliency to critique and not a sensitivity to it.

Alright, I’m on vacation and that’s all I have time for at the moment. If you have any questions leave a comment below and I’ll answer as many as I can.

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Whitney George
Arts Director
Whit is the Arts Director at Church on the Move, where he oversees the teams that are responsible for service planning, worship, video, graphics, and production. Whitney is passionate about the local church and loves connecting with other church leaders. He and his wife, Heather, have five children and he loves Notre Dame football.
@whitneygeorge