Overcoming Doubt of Becoming a Creative Leader

Overcoming Doubt and Becoming a Creative LeaderPiera Gelardi, Refinery29 co-founder and Executive Creative Director spoke at the D&AD Festival in London this week and offered some advice for adapting to uncomfortable situations, overcoming creative block, and identifying the conditions that lead to great ideas.

“We all have moments when our idea of who we are and our sense of self gets challenged,” mused Piera Gelardi. “I had a moment like that when our company started to grow and develop. I felt really comfortable in my role as a creative person, heading up creative projects and expressing myself through creativity, but I started to feel really uncomfortable and almost like an alien in other parts of my role. The executive and creative director parts of my identity were really split – and the executive part just felt so foreign.”

The women’s media brand Refinery29 began in 2005 and focused on style with a guide to the best independent boutiques in New York.  In 2013 it was named the fastest growing media company in the US, and now encompasses everything from business and politics to fitness, has 500 million users across various platforms, and has teams in New York, Berlin, and London.

Gelardi said: “I was having to do lots of things that I didn’t necessarily have any background or training in. I had to start managing these big teams and thinking out business strategies and doing a lot of negotiations and I felt so uncomfortable in these new roles that I started to think maybe our company was scaling and I wasn’t the right person for the job any more. That was a really painful moment, because here I was – I had built this company from the ground up and all of a sudden, I didn’t feel at home.”

She went on to offer a few bits of wisdom that she’s gleaned over the years:

Use your strengths as a weapon:

In her case, that meant using her creativity and listening skills to develop her own unique style of negotiating.

Create the right conditions for creativity

Identify the conditions that lead you to great ideas, whether that’s going for a run or making a Pinterest board.


Once in a brainstorming session, don’t discuss the things that limit you like budgets or targets – focus on the creativity and how to bring about the results you want.

The importance of listening

As a Leader you don’t want your team to be afraid to bring up an idea or opinion.

Find other outlets for your creativity

It’s important not to expect to find complete fulfilment in your work.  Find other ways to channel your creativity outside of work, especially if you feel constrained in your day job.

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