Learning to Let Go

Cella_slant_headerLearning to Let Go
By Jackie Schaffer

To advance in your career, you need to manage things within your control to positive outcomes. For example, if you are a designer and someone helps you with part of a project, you review that part of the project before sharing it with the client to ensure it meets your expectations and your clients’ expectations. Likewise, managers review the work of new team members very thoroughly before having them share their work with clients. As the team member progresses, the manager begins to allow them to work more independently as appropriate for the request.

But as you progress in your career your success hinges on delegating and decreasing your control over some aspects of the team and its operations—which is easier said than done for most of us. Depending on the size of your team this may mean no longer interviewing every candidate (once my team hit 50, it became really challenging to meet with every candidate, so I transitioned to only interviewing manager level and higher). Similarly, you may need to pick and choose which projects you will have your hand in and which you will trust your team to manage successfully; depending on the volume of projects your team manages, this may be more exclusive than only seeing Tier 1 projects. It may mean only seeing 25% of the Tier 1 projects.

For many creative directors the introduction of account managers and/or project managers can cause some angst. No longer is the CD responsible for all client interactions or managing all aspects of the projects. Instead someone who may or may not report to him/her is being relied upon to manage the customer experience and deadlines—two of the three aspects that drive client loyalty and satisfaction. The third aspect, quality, is still 100% under the CD’s leadership. On the surface (and in reality), CDs should be excited about giving up tedious communications with clients and managing the minutiae of projects, as they now have more time to dedicate to impacting the quality of the creative across more projects. But there is an uneasiness that needs to subside.

Learning to “let go” is challenging for many leaders, as the reason we have risen to the role we’re in is due to our ability to manage outcomes. The more senior you become, the more you need to delegate and trust that you have hired and mentored your direct reports to perform at the level you expect. If you have difficulty letting go because you feel you are not supported by the right people with the right skillsets this should be an area of focus and concern for you.

If, as in the CD example above, you do not have direct oversight over those you are relying upon, you need to have trust that your shared managers have done this. In addition, building a relationship based on honesty and open communication will help during the transition.

At the end of the day, none of us can move upward in our organization or in our roles if we hold on to the responsibilities we have traditionally succeeded against. Specializing and taking on new challenges is what will propel us to new opportunities.


InHOWse Managers Conference
Did you know there’s a 3-day conference devoted solely to helping in-house design managers succeed and thrive and the author of this column is one of the conference speakers? Come hear more insights from Jackie Schaffer at the InHOWse Managers Conference. Attending will help you take your career to the next level and get you face to face with other creatives just like you. Don’t miss this unique experience!


Jackie Schaffer, vice president and general manager of Cella Consulting, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions and has the unique opportunity to speak with hundreds of creative leaders each year. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative.

 Cella is a co-author of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report and authors weekly blogs on business operations topics pertinent to the role of creative leaders.