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14 July 2014

Sky Arts Director Phil Edgar-Jones on Creative Leadership

Phil Edgar-Jones is Director of Sky Arts, commissioning shows like the critically acclaimed Portrait Artist of the Year. Prior to this, he spent 9 years on Big Brother as Creative Director. Here he gives us his top creative leadership tips...


Be nice to people and expect to go further. One of the biggest and most basic things to remember is: manners. Reputation is a fragile thing in this world and it’s all you’ve got. If you screw your reputation up, then you’ve had it so please and thank you's go a hell of a long way. One of my runners ended up being made head of entertainment for a major UK terrestial TV channel so it pays to be kind to any employee at any level – one day they might lead you.

Recognise your own weaknesses. Once you understand yourself and what you’re not good at, find people on your team with complementary skills that can do what you can’t, better. The quicker you can identify strengths in others that you alone do not possess, the quicker you and your team can push forward and get good work done.

Bad news should travel fast, good news can wait. The creative process is fluid which means things will go wrong but it’s best to communicate problems at a stage when there is something you can do about them – not when it’s too late. A healthy atmosphere for a creative leader is one where people don’t feel afraid to say how they feel. I want to empower people to feel that they can talk to me openly and, likewise, it's also good to talk openly to your team -  they won’t know what you're thinking unless you say it.

Don’t be precious about your ideas. Collaboration is all about trust. It’s about communicating outwards but also listening to others. As a leader, I can’t do it all so collaboration is key. It’s what makes your work and the team go further. So when you pitch an idea, listen carefully to what other people have to say about it and - since you don’t know all the answers - allow other people to take something you’ve thought of and let them work to improve it.

Empower others to feel creative. Fostering an environment where you suspend judgement and instead allow for a free flowing conversation is vital to idea generation. When producers come into Sky to pitch ideas to me, I try to extract the ‘selling’ part out of it so we can actually have a creative conversation.

Admit defeat. You will fail, that is a given. It’s how you fail which bares the most importance. There will be times when you'll have to admit that you're wrong and be honest about this as a leader. Failing doesn’t mean giving up, it means getting back up off of the ground and just keep going. If people fail but fail well, they will achieve more.

Give credit where credit is due. It’s important to recognise the talent and ideas of other people. If someone’s had a good idea say thanks and then share it, along with their name, to the rest of your team.

Don’t do something unless you 100% believe in it.  As a channel controller for Sky, I've got to make sure that marketing, press, the genre heads, finance and strategy people completely understand what my channel is, where it’s going and what it’s for. Quality control is therefore vital. It’s my job to inspire people to pitch ideas but if I can’t see myself watching a television programme, there’s no way I’d commission it.

Try and have at least one belly laugh a day. It’s really important to keep a sense of humour about everything. Take the mickey out of yourself if you can, try and lighten the mood and talk some nonsense! At the end of the day, what you may be hung up on today probably won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Don't forget - we’re all just passing through.

Parkinson Masterclass airs on Sky Arts HD on Thursday's at 6pm.

Read more about Phil Edgar-Jones here