Being An Effective Creative Manager, Boss, Leader


With graphic designers, photographers and other creative professionals facing layoffs and cuts in today’s job market, one has to ask or wonder – what gives? Some will say that technology and the digital age is rendering certain workers extinct. Then there is the usual spill: creative professionals aren’t … ready for it … creative enough; they aren’t skilled enough; they aren’t working hard enough; they aren’t bringing in enough business or revenue like the sales people. This got me thinking – why is it in today’s job market we automatically assume the employee or creative team member is at fault? Why aren’t we looking at the managers, bosses, leaders and evaluating them on a higher standard and level?

I think television tends to be a decent enough reflection of how society views certain groups of people. Think about leaders or boss-type figures. In the old days, the boss in a show or sitcom was hands on. He or she was a part of the regular cast; they contributed to the team; they were always present, always adding something to the pot. They were intrusive, nosy, and their interest in their employee at times went beyond the confines of the office. I think about Darren on Bewitched who worked in a creative ad agency. Remember his boss Larry Tate? Larry was forever present, hands on, always in Darren and Samantha’s business. Though this presented many stressful occasions for Darren Stevens, he never really seemed to mind. Larry was a good boss, one that was demanding yet friendly. Consider other television bosses of the past: Lou Grant of Mary Tyler Moore; Colonel Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie; Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women; Leon on Roseanne. These were bosses that yes, at times were nosy, demanding, over-the-top but in the end, they weren’t bad guys. They were pretty good and likable.

Now, consider the role of bosses in today’s television. They’re usually aloof, bad, imposing, demanding, hated figures. What happened? I believe to a great extent it’s because unlike in the past where the workplace was all about team building, we’ve come to expect a lot less from the office. Especially in terms of creative teams, we’ve gone from the collaborative environment where everyone contributes to the overall product to an environment where everyone works in isolation, in his or her own office, in his or her own space. The boss figures aren’t really a part of the team experience since the team itself is a bit ambiguous and loose. Now the boss is more of an overseer and often times the point person who communicates with clients or another boss figure. Kinda sad isn’t it? Perhaps the creative workplace is in distress because bosses, managers and leaders are choosing to keep their distance from employees. Before we shift blame to employees and wag a disapproving finger at them as not pulling their weight, let’s take a look at the bosses, leaders. Here are some of the boss types I’ve seen in the workplace:

1. “Charlie” – Like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, this type of boss is hardly seen but can be heard dishing out orders and making requests of their employees only in times of need or distress. This presents a problem of course because this type of boss has no real connection with his or her employees. They can come off as imposing, daunting, uncaring and disconnected. In a creative environment, the “Charlie” is a creativity killer. They are known as handing out orders and making demands, not for collaborating or taking part in the design or creative process.

2. “The Swiss” – This boss, like Switzerland, chooses to stay neutral. They want to be liked, they fear and run from conflict. This boss is usually well received but can come off as indifferent, too nice or indecisive in their attempt to please all parties. You don’t want a “Swiss” as a boss if you need to be creative – the Swiss may have a hard time giving you feedback and criticism that will push you to be a better designer, photographer, writer or whatever your creative field is. Sure, they may agree with you in an argument or question imposed on them but are they really on your side or are they attempting to keep the peace by making you and everyone else happy?

3. “The Susan Lucci” – This person has been around forever. They’re viewed as a company staple, an integral part of the business but not so much for their contributions or measurable success but the fact that they’ve stuck around through thick and thin. This boss can be many unpleasant things and described with many colorful adjectives that can’t be listed on this blog. What drives a Lucci? His or her quest for recognition that they feel they’ve earned and have not been rightly given, mostly. In their quest to prove themselves to the company and perhaps their superiors, they are the types to make your worklife nearly unbearable. Your contributions will suddenly become his/her ideas and you’ll be left to fend for yourself.

4. “The Ewing” – Money is everything to this type of boss. Your life, happiness, issues matter little to a Ewing because his/her eyes are always on the bottom line. You have his or her ear when you’re talking money or a way to make them look good. Try as you might, you’ll never feel like an equal in the eyes of an Ewing. Similar to a Charlie, you’ll hear from this boss when something is going wrong or when they have a job for you. Unlike Charlie, an Ewing loves to be seen and will make him or herself very present and visible if only to remind you who’s the boss. Don’t be surprised when you get the boot or tons of work dumped on you and impossible expectations imposed on you by an Ewing – he or she will sit back and spend money lavishly at the expense of your time, effort and stress.

These four boss types are humorous but unfortunately very real in today’s workplace. We need to return to the days where we worked as an ensemble or team. Sure, an effective creative manager, boss, team leader or supervisor can’t ever be a real equal but the level of how far removed he or she is from the team is really up to the individual. Want to be a good leader or boss? Lead, mentor, foster trust amongst your team and not only will you be viewed as an authority figure but as a good leader, boss and dare I say it – friend to your employees.

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