Creative, sensitive & misunderstood?

This really upset me: it was the opening sentence from a post by a celebrated leadership teacher-trainer, and his advice on how to best work with creative people.

The frame he offered his thoughts within was that creative people USUALLY have big egos AND major insecurities.


Aghast isn’t too strong a word to how I felt reading that.

I have hundreds of creative friends and colleagues, and very, very few of them fit either part of that description. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, ego and insecurity are not in any way exclusive to – or intrinsic traits of – somebody who happens to be good with a paintbrush, words or the piano.

While it is true that many creatives are very sensitive individuals, sensitivity is not the same as insecurity (although the two are often confused).

Many creatives belong to the 20% of the population termed Highly Sensitive People. Their nervous system has increased sensitivity than average, and they experience deeper cognitive processing of external stimuli. Elaine N Aron has a wonderfully helpful book on the subject called “The Highly Sensitive Person.”

In my experience, the biggest egos and demonstrations of insecurity I’ve seen in 25 years in the creative industry have come from people in management and leadership – not at all from the creatives I’ve managed, served under, and worked alongside. In fact, the lion’s share have been very humble and quietly confident in their abilities. Many have devoted their lives (often alone and in their own time) to honing their skills in order to create the best platform they could so that someone else, or their product, could appear as attractive as possible. There is little self-serving ego involved in any of this, but rather a whole lot of unseen and unacknowledged altruism and love.

Many of us feel deeply the importance and weight of whatever we create, and are acutely aware how much it matters to those who commissioned us, as well as the impact it may have on the people who will engage with the finished work. This is where we stand our ground and present our case. But this isn’t ego. This is caring, often way beyond the call of duty.

In one sense, it is entirely understandable if some creatives do develop insecurities if the disciples of leadership experts are being taught to see them this way, without giving the creatives a chance to be known or offering a way of defending themselves.

Quite honestly, seeding the minds of leaders and influencers with the thought that the next creative you meet is likely to be some kind of prima donna with an inferiority complex, is irresponsible, untrue, and profoundly unfair.

That’s not leadership, to me. To be honest, it feels more like bullying.

Instead, why don’t we all simply do our best to draw out the gold from whoever we meet, and speak courage to them so they can pursue with intensity and integrity whatever their passion and gift may be?

That’s what I’ll be aiming for.