In our work with leaders across a range of industries, we are often struck by how often people are propelled up the corporate ladder due largely to their technical ability in their field. Think in particular of those in ‘creative’ sectors, like design, publishing, advertising, architecture, marketing and so on. Most often, talented people in these industries gain their first career successes by producing noteworthy work and this continues for a number of years, until they are picked for an upwards move as a result of being amongst the ‘best in class’ technically.
And, in most cases, these upwards moves bring line management responsibility. For some, this works out well – they feel positive about the opportunity to manage others and the new role requirements (coaching, motivating, reviewing, giving feedback, structuring work) come fairly easily. But for most, particularly those without support or training (which, let’s be honest, is the majority), this can be a confusing, frustrating and demotivating time. Not provided with a route map for success, pulled away from what they love (their technical work), and where they get their sense of self-worth and work identity, many of these new leaders falter.
Some will take control by requesting training, gaining new knowledge, getting support from colleagues. Others will resist the shift and keep reverting to the technical, seeing the new line management responsibilities as a distraction that they’d rather ignore. The consequences of this for the new manager, their team and the organisation are significant: a lower sense of connection and engagement with work for the manager and their team can hit productivity, morale and pretty quickly, performance.
But this situation can be avoided. Here’s how:
Get clear on your career – first of all, management and leadership isn’t for everyone. And in many organisations, you can make a choice as to whether you want to follow a managerial route, or remain an ‘individual contributor’. There are many resources that can help you in making a decision about your career, in addition to gaining hands-on experience for yourself. One of the most useful frameworks we have found is Edgar Schein’s career anchors model which helps you identify which single career ‘anchor’ best describes your ideal career direction. Check out the basic model here. And get clear whether you want to take on the responsibilities of management and leadership.
Get real – these responsibilities are significant. As a manager, you have a ‘duty of care’ to your direct reports. Amongst other things, duty of care involves ensuring that, as far as you can, you are taking steps to ensure your team’s well-being at work. So whatever you do, make sure that you take your managerial responsibilities seriously, it’s the only way you can ensure you have a thriving, high performing team.
Get knowledge – if you do decide that the line management pathway is the one for you, or even worth exploring, you’re going to need some basic knowledge of what line management involves. There are a wide range of resources available, but we would advise against leaving it to your organisation to offer you training. It is essential that you understand how to make a success of these new role responsibilities and your organisation may or may not provide the support that you need. So don’t leave it to chance. Do the research and get some knowledge.
Get support – it’s definitely worth getting a good support network around you and learning from others’ experiences of management. Most managers have ‘war stories’ and learnings from their own careers which are worth hearing. So find peers, senior managers, ask your own line manager and get talking. There’s no need to feel like you’re going it alone, there are many many people who are in the same position and who would love to share.
Make it ‘you’ shaped – managers and leaders do have similar responsibilities wherever they are. And there are certain things that all of them need to do. But the way that you manage and lead is going to be in most part based on your personality, style and values. So make your career and your management role ‘you’ shaped…built around your own skills and strengths, rather than just playing the role of the manager. Our research has shown that it is far more important for leaders to know and use the unique strengths they have to be seen as effective leaders rather than to have specific strengths. For more information, see here.
So can you be a ‘creative’ leader – someone who combines a passion for creative technical work with the leadership of others who share the same vision? Absolutely. But it’s not for everybody. In following the 5-point plan above, any leader (in the creative industries or elsewhere) can figure out if this is the way they want to go in their careers and if so, how to get the most from their choice. The most important thing here is to take control of your career and make conscious decisions about where you want to take it. So make your career ‘you’ shaped – it’s your career after all.
For find your own leadership strengths, click here for more on profiler, StrengthscopeLeader™.
To read more about leadership and how to become an energising leader, check out our latest guide here.