Liking design and having an opinion doesn’t make you a good designer. I say this because even though I adore quality design, I’m not good at creating it. It’s tough when you’re in a position where you’re leading a team of people who have more specialized skills than your more generalized set.
This became evident recently when reviewing work from one of our designers. Everything looked great, except I didn’t like one of the fonts used, so I asked her to change it. She did, and I thought the new one was perfect. But I responded “You know what, I’m going to send both (to the client for review) so they can choose and if they go with the first I’ll have learned a valuable lesson.”
They went with the original, even when it was passed up to their creative director who had minor tweaks but loved the font.
I’m glad I caught myself making a too-common error where leaders in an organization have trouble accepting their position and their abilities aren’t necessarily correlative.
I always try to remember that, but don’t always catch myself. That’s why I want to make public my Leadership Manifesto to help reinforce it in myself. There are no magic bullets and no leadership best practices, but these are what I’ve found keep me motivated and hopefully create trust and motivation with the team.
(These have all been taught to me in some manner by a series of amazing leadership examples I have experienced both past and present.)
1) My opinions are only those/I don’t want to do your job
This is closely related to the above story. There are facts, and there are opinions; I get to put my foot down on facts but have to only suggest or hold back on opinions.
FACT: The client logo needs to be on the image. OPINION: Where it goes.
Often, when reviewing our Content Correspondents’ writing or design, I find myself thinking I would have done it differently. But if I’m not relaying past feedback or simply optimizing the post (since we have writers trained to write good content before worrying about link structure and meta data), I have to separate my opinions from facts.
Which leads to the second part. I don’t want to do their job. It’s a good job that I used to have, but we’ve hired them to do it now, and I have to respect the fact we brought them on because they’re talented. The deal is, I don’t revise every little thing they do as long as they do good work. If your team is talented (and if you’re hiring untalented people then you have a new set of problems), let their work stand.
2) If you’re working, I’m available
This one is simple. If, for any reason, someone on the team has to work late, then I am available for calls, emails, texts or to try and run down information for them.
3) My motivations should be understood by those I am leading
I believe that most people think they are good leaders because everything they do makes sense to them, but it doesn’t always make sense to those on their team.
4) Respond to every email as quickly as possible (during work hours)
This is for both clients and internal teams. I don’t always do it, but it’s a goal. And that includes responding that I received a file or a post someone has submitted. I understand that not every job allows for this, but if you have time to read an email, I think you have time to respond. Even a “I’ll respond in detail later, but here are my quick thoughts,” can keep the project and people running smoothly.
We have all had good and bad experiences with leadership in the past. What’s important is to never accept the things you didn’t like about their styles as the way business is done and to recreate the positive aspects as you advance. I’ve been lucky enough to have many more great leaders than negative ones in my life, but I also hope I’ll learn something to add to this list.