If you’re fortunate, you’ve had a good manager who has shown you what it feels like to experience a supportive boss. But just because you know what it’s like to have a good manager, doesn’t mean you know how to be one. Also, going from flying solo to directing one or more people’s work doesn’t just entail a change in title, it requires a fundamental mindset shift and more advanced work strategies.
Through my own experience with managing others and through coaching individuals at all levels from first-time managers to top executives in large organizations, I’ve discovered these best practices. If you find yourself wondering how to handle your new role or struggling to get a handle on your current one, here are steps you can take to help you become an extraordinary creative manager.
1. Embrace Your New Role
Becoming a manager is a fundamental shift in the relationship that you have with the individuals around you. Similar to the transition to becoming a parent (but hopefully on a much less extreme level), becoming a manager puts you in a position where it’s no longer just about you.
In addition to thinking about your own work, schedule, and needs, you now need to direct the work of others. That means planning for others, being available for questions, and making sure they have the resources in place to succeed. In many cases, you not only need to cast the vision but also explain some details of how you want the work done. Failing to provide clarity can cause your staff to waste time wondering what you want and for you to end up frustrated when the output isn’t what you expected.
2. Acknowledge Management Time
Given that you’re taking on responsibility for others, some percentage of your time each week will involve management. If you have just one to two people under you, that may be as small as 10 percent of your time. As your team grows that will increase. With a team of around 10, you’re looking at about 50 percent of your time spent on management. And at the higher levels of large organizations, almost all of your time involves directing the work of others instead of producing creative work yourself.
Managing others well is not a waste of time—it’s a huge force multiplier for your organization. When you acknowledge this truth and manage intentionally, you’ll experience much better results and much lower frustration. Managing intentionally means making it a priority to meet with your staff and to provide the direction and feedback they need to move forward instead of seeing your staff members’ needs as getting in the way of “real work” and avoiding spending time on them until an emergency erupts.
3. Re-evaluate Your Project Load
If you hire individuals who can take non-creative work off of your agenda, like an assistant, then you may have the capacity to do as much, or potentially even more, creative project work. This occurs because they directly take work off of your to-do list that you would have done before so the time they give you back for creative projects exceeds the management time they require.
But if you manage people who do the same work as you do, your management time for them typically means less creative project time for you. This results because you still have the same level of administrative work and now you’ve added management of the creative work you’ve delegated to the mix. Your department can achieve more overall output but you should lower the number of projects you expect to accomplish personally.
4. Protect Project Space
Once you have management responsibilities, it’s rare for uninterrupted time to just happen. You need to have a lot more intention about when you will do your own work and set those boundaries. This could mean closing your door during certain times of the day, choosing to shut down e-mail for a few hours, or marking your calendar as busy. The method you use is not as important as the mindset that each week you need to have some intentional focused time to move forward your own projects instead of only supporting people on their activities.
5. Discuss Communication Channels
As the manager, you need to set expectations about what does or doesn’t work for you in terms of communication. I find both in my own experience and in coaching clients who are managers that using scheduled meetings and e-mail with no message notification alerts as the primary communication channels allows you to better pace the flow of information and your management time. Text or chat can be helpful if items are truly an emergency but can lead to distraction from your top priorities if they’re not.
6. Be Supportive, But Set Expectations
Ask your staff what sort of support they need from you to feel like they can move forward effectively and then try to provide what you can within the context of your overall priorities. If they need daily check in meetings, consider having them but keep them to a time limit. If they need certain feedback on e-mails, make it a priority to answer them within an agreed upon timeframe. When you give your staff what they need, they have a better capacity to give you what you need.
7. Be Supported
On the most successful teams, there’s a give and take and you should not only give support but also be supported. That means that where you can, delegate. If someone else can do it, let someone else do it. That could include passing off these sorts of activities:
- Scheduling meetings
- Attending meetings
- Taking minutes
- Doing work
- Following up on work
- Doing research
- Contacting clients to get questions answered
- Drafting up ideas
- Scheduling travel
- Training other staff members
- Delegating any part of a project that doesn’t absolutely need your involvement
With the right strategies, you can thrive in your role as a creative manager and build success for yourself and your team.
Over to You…
What’s your best tip on managing well?