Be a Modern-Day Leader

Most of us can attribute at least some of our current success to guidance provided by an outstanding teacher, mentor or boss. And it probably isn’t too difficult to point to those individuals who were less-than-inspirational. With President’s Day approaching, it’s an appropriate time to consider the leadership qualities that separate those who bring out the best in us from those who don’t.

Leadership skills are particularly important when managing creative professionals. It’s likely you oversee a diverse group of designers, each of whom has unique personality traits. By fostering teamwork and creating a positive work environment, you’ll help employees produce their best work. Following are some tips.

Communicate clearly. The strongest managers not only let employees know what their job responsibilities are, but also relate those tasks to the company’s overall objectives. Make sure a junior graphic designer understands, for instance, that the print advertisement she’s producing features a product that the company expects to gain the most market share in the next year. Placing a job in context is motivating for employees because they have the information necessary to make the best decisions and can see how their work makes a difference.

Also, consider whether you send your team mixed signals. If you’re receiving contradictory messages from a client, for example, don’t just pass this information to your team and hope for the best. Make sure you have all the facts, and be consistent in the direction you provide. If goals for the project change, explain why to limit the frustration your employees may feel.

Don’t be a "fair weather" manager. Do you stand by your team when the going gets tough? Employees will only trust you if they feel you’re on their side. It’s best to demonstrate your commitment to them through actions, not words. Support your staff members when times are difficult or when they’re unfairly criticized. Likewise, don’t forget to give credit when it’s due. It’s tempting to assume that if you’re not giving any negative feedback, team members must know you’re happy with their work. Most employees, however, want direct encouragement or recognition. It’s as easy and inexpensive as taking an individual to lunch to thank him for his efforts on a project or writing a sincere thank-you note praising his accomplishments.

Keep your promises. If you want to be seen as someone with integrity, don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. For example, if you told your employees they would receive new Macintosh G5s once the company’s profits improve, follow through as soon as business is good again. If there’s a delay, explain it to team members. Maybe the company decided to wait for a full year of positive results before approving new technology investments, so it’s out of your hands. While they may not be happy with the news, they’ll at least trust you to tell them the truth and know you’ll continue pushing for new computers.

Lead by example. Keep in mind that you’re a role model for staff members. If you’re upbeat, they’re likely to be as well. If your words align with your actions, theirs will too. Treating each person with the same level of respect also sets an excellent example.

Delegate. Most managers have tasks they’d like to hand over to a member of their team, but they don’t because it seems faster to finish the work themselves than explain it to someone new. While in the short term that could be true, in the long term it’s more efficient to rely on the skills of those around you. By assigning important tasks to your employees, you’ll have more time to focus on strategy and high-level duties, and team members will have the chance to improve their skills on the job.

Not everyone is a natural born leader. Fortunately, those abilities can be developed. By communicating effectively with your group, working with them to meet common objectives and setting a good example, you’ll establish a productive, positive working relationship with each member.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.