Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Designers beware of… leadership.

When I first started as a designer I never imagined that I could have such an impact on the people I worked with or that worked for me, and I discovered that to me, leading a team of designers is actually even more rewarding than designing itself.

I found that the most important thing is to reach a point where we trust each other, as people and as co-workers, a point where a culture of accountability is created. For me, it is important that we understand and respect each other as people, because inevitably, this dynamic will reflect on our work relationship.

It's true that business matters and personal matters should be kept separate, but isn't it so much better (and productive) when you like the people you work with? Even dealing with stressful issues becomes easier when the team has a great dynamic.

So here are a few things I discovered:

Even if you're the leader, the design manager, remember that leading is not about barking orders to your staff. Get close to them, be one of them, try to understand where they're coming from, their skills and their flaws, so that you can assign tasks accordingly.

Be a partner, someone they can rely on and share your knowledge with generosity. Create an environment where creative expression and fun is embraced but also be clear on when it is the time to get serious and meet deadlines. Manage them the way you'd like to be managed.

Let your staff own some projects, be in charge of tasks and even lead other staff members some time. Do this slowly and once you've gotten to know their abilities and if they're interested in doing so. Most designers feel really good that they're being trusted with new responsibilities and will step up to the plate.

Also, this will allow you to delegate more tasks and slowly empower your people, which will resonate in a better, more productive working environment. However, be aware that while you listen to their opinions and allow them to have a voice, you need to lead with your choices and ultimately, you're the one that decides.

Try not to solve all their problems, but rather guide them so that they can solve them themselves. Also, encourage them to come up with alternative solutions before talking to you, so that you can discuss them together.

Don't be afraid to be wrong, let it be an opportunity for everybody to learn. Be sure to provide constant feedback, positive and negative, create spaces for it, seek it inside the office and outside. A leisure activity is ok every now and then.

Finally, it's important to communicate the direction of the company to your staff. Once they know how their work plays in the larger scheme, you'll find that most are more committed and that they show care for the company and its growth.

Establish achievable goals, performance indicators and be disciplined about collecting the data necessary to see if they have complied. Better yet, place them in charge of collecting the information.

I've had a very gratifying (though short) experience leading people, and I've been very fortunate to have had great leaders to look up to as well. My staff went on to ventures they never thought they could handle and some became leaders themselves. I just love how I had such a positive impact in their lives and I look forward to keep on growing as a design leader.

All the best!

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