Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted and are now the Supervisor/Manager/Director (Insert Awesome Title Here) for your department or team. So what does the new title mean? Hopefully, you got an increase in salary and a few new perks but what it really means is you’re now responsible for leading a team. And whether your team consists of two or 20 people, you’ll need to call on a whole set of skills that you didn’t learn in art school.
Managing creative folks — especially designers — is downright challenging, and I can say this because I’m a designer, and I’ll always be a designer: if you cut me, I bleed PMS 485. I know that sounds like a 12-step confession, but face it, we designers are an odd bunch! If you’re married to a non-designer, you probably know “the look” you get from time to time from your spouse. It part bewilderment, part amusement and part why-are-you-so-upset-that-it-is-set-in-Comic Sans? Those are our spouses, the ones who love us … so how do you think the rest of the world and our company view us?
Like many creative directors and design managers, I followed the tried and tested route: starting as a designer and working my way up to senior designer, associate creative director and finally creative director. Along the way, I learned some lessons about managing creative people. Below are two simple checklists: the first explains ways you can support your team and the second consists of ideas to support yourself and grow as a manager.
The “How to Support Your Team” Checklist
- Be a champion. In the corporate environment, the best ideas don’t always float to the top, and if they do, they risk getting squashed by a committee. Champion your team, their work and their ideas.
- Give credit where it’s due. Don’t make leadership about you. Make it about your team and never take credit for their work.
- Make your team feel you would do anything for them. Inspire them, raise them up, defend them and they’ll give you their best work.
- Give your team time and space. One of my biggest challenges as a manager is battling client expectations of great, out-of-the-box, ground-breaking work (which we CAN do) and the fact that they want it the day after tomorrow (which we CANNOT do).
- Help them grow. Help your team grow as designers and as people. Keeping them engaged means they produce better work and are less likely to leave. Keeping people engaged can be hard but finding new people who are the right fit is harder.
Checklist for You
- Believe in yourself. Be confident. Your company saw someone in you that you may not have recognized in yourself: a leader. Being a leader is like being a parent; you don’t have to be a perfect manager, just a good one. And like parenting, just being around and accessible is a big part of it.
- Find a mentor. Identify leaders within your organization that you admire and ask for guidance. Find people who have walked the path you’re currently on and learn from them.
- Thank you cards. Keep a pack of thank you cards in your desk. You’ll be amazed at the power of a sincere, personal thank you.
- Connect with your peers. Whether it’s at happy hour or through events such as HOW Design Live, connecting with other in-house design managers is beneficial. In-house design managers are constantly speaking to two audiences. We talk to our teams about brand, typography, paper stock, photography and such, and then switch gears and talk to upper management about ROI or lead scoring. It’s a unique position in any organization and connecting with other managers can bring you clarity and help.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Like most people, throughout my career I’ve had good bosses, great bosses and some who were – shall we say – not great. However, everyone I’ve ever worked for has taught me something. Sometimes the lesson was what not to do or say in a given situation, so thinking back can give you some guidance on how to be a good manager.