One of the biggest challenges impacting the effectiveness and credibility of the in-house design community is the lack of expert managers in leadership roles. The root cause of this problem is the unwillingness or inability of in-house leaders to evolve from functional and subject matter experts to expert leaders coupled with the lack of professional development opportunities.
Time and again I’ve either heard of or witnessed first-hand, excellent designers, writers and art directors being promoted into management positions without any consideration of their coaching, mentoring and process management skills and worse, with no professional development plan having been put in place to set these newly appointed leaders up for success.
What ends up happening is that at best, they struggle and reinvent the leadership wheel, inflicting unnecessary pain on themselves, their reports and their peers. At worst, they never truly make the quantum leap into a leadership mindset and hobble along pretending to attend to their management responsibilities while looking for every opportunity to avoid them and do the hands-on work they truly love.
If you’re of the latter group, do yourself a favor, man up and make a choice to either consciously and actively develop your leadership skills or find a position more suited to your professional goals. If you’re the manager doing the promoting, be sure you’re moving people into leadership roles they either trained for or have the clear potential to be schooled up about to take on.
As far as available options for professional development, there are a few industry organizations that provide an ad hoc approach and some academic institutions that have more robust programs but necessitate a level of time and resource commitment that may be overwhelming. These include AIGA’s excellent but expensive “Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders” program delivered through the Yale business school, the HOW InHOWse Managers conference and blog, Design Management Institute programming, IHAF’s offerings and Pratt’s Design Management program among other academic options. There is also the MBA route though most curriculum developed for this degree do not provide a focus on the issues unique to running an in-house creative team. All of this points to the fact that there are opportunities available for in-house professional development.
Unless creative team leaders are truly prepared to be effective leaders, the foundation necessary for improving the overall performance and status of the in-house design community will not be built and industry-wide success will remain out of reach.