Leadership Lessons: 5 Teachings in Creative Leadership From Obi-Wan Kenobi
Imagine the senior leadership team invites you to strategy sessions because they value your input. You are keen to contribute to the sessions as much as you are excited to take notes. It is not every day that you are part of a process that can equip you with such valuable leadership lessons. In preparation for the session, you have figured out a way to balance quality and speed. You have also leveraged that process in a way that proves your team’s worth. Before long, your internal clients will be using creative briefs more often than ever before.
You may feel like you have arrived. However, like Obi-Wan said to Luke Skywalker: “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.”
Wait, what does your hard-earned seat at the table have to do with Star Wars, exactly?
Luke’s romanticized dreams included escaping Tatooine to fight the good fight. Unlike him, you have a unique opportunity to add value at a higher level. However, you may find that navigating this new universe is a lot more complicated than you first thought. You now have more priorities to balance than ever before. You are in the thankless position of aligning what your team has to do with company objectives. The following leadership lessons will hopefully be of some help:
Leadership Lesson #1
“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck”
You may get lucky every now and again by providing design-relevant insights that also align with company goals, but you cannot be a true partner until you really know your business, your customers, and your business’ goals.
If your corporate mission is too lofty to understand how you fit in just yet, start with the goals of your department or even just your manager. If you have access to the board of directors or shareholder reports, read them. It is important to know how to give your boss the information that supports their goals. Do your homework by learning the vocabulary and the trade. And make sure what your team does is aligned to specific business goals to create lasting value.
Leadership Lesson #2
“The truths we cling to depend on our own point of view.”
Learn different perspectives by sitting down one-on-one with other team leaders. Find out how they look at things, and you will naturally find new ways to insert value. Do this once a quarter or at least twice a year, and treat it like a user interview. What are their pain points? Where are processes causing friction for them? How can your team help them achieve their business goals?
You will find out more about what is coming down the pipe from these meetings than any group planning session, and it is a fantastic way to get someone from your team invited to brainstorming sessions before the project work gets started. Learn other teams’ processes, so you can figure out when to interject and how best to communicate with them. If you work with your Sales team often, find out how their incentive system is set up and what they are measured on. If you understand where they are coming from, suddenly those weird last-minute requests do not seem quite so bizarre, and even start to become – dare I say it – predictable.
Leadership Lesson #3
“Who is more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?”
So, you have gotten company leaders to recognize the value and importance of design. Keep doing that, but now that you have access, bring back what you have learned at the management table and have brainstorming sessions with your team about how you can add value to upcoming projects. Do not get stuck doing the same projects repeatedly – figure out what you can turn into a template. Odds are you have been able to do some of this just by observing what sorts of repeat requests your team gets. But now that you have the long view, you can see where you can interject templates and design systems where nobody had ever really thought to use before.
Leadership Lesson #4
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Protect your people, but make sure you are allowing them space to grow. Help your team learn the language and jargon that others are using and use it themselves. Do not just be a translator or interpreter – they need to be able to stand on their own when they start being invited to the brainstorming meetings you have helped get them into. You can provide context now that you are in all the meetings, but do not fall into the trap of letting that mean you have to do all the thinking for your team too.
One of the biggest mistakes I have made as a creative manager was feeling like I needed to keep my team in a protective bubble. They appreciated it at first, but over time since everything had to go through a gatekeeper, it really stifled the team’s capacity for the creativity that comes out of collaboration. If you feel like you just cannot go on vacation because of what might “get through” while you are away, look hard at what you are doing to cause that. Once you train your team as apprentices, there is nothing like sitting back and watching your Padawan deftly take down the objections of higher-ups by arguing their business case.
Leadership Lesson #5
“You must do what you feel is right, of course.”
Yes, your team should have numerical goals, which, if possible, should relate to the business goals you now know inside and out. If not, see #1. But at times you will find that having a philosophical guidance system can also help to prioritize decisions. Your decisions now go beyond resources and time management. It is paramount that you remain flexible and aware of context.
Some projects you can tailor to the participants’ liking. Other projects need to be carried out in a specific way that caters to specific business aims. And at times, you must put your team above all else. Especially if members are showing systems of burnout onset. The same applies for when you cannot stretch your team thinner. And finally, do not forget to put yourself on the list somewhere. You may be last, but you are still on the list. This was another hard lesson – take the time to make sure you hone your skills and expertise.
So yes, celebrate that you finally have a seat at the table. But recognize that what got you there may not necessarily keep you there. When you realize that your team now includes the entire organization, brilliant opportunities await. Do not be afraid to take the leap. The force will be with you, always.
Lytho helps you streamline workflows and harmonize all brand collateral under a single, uniform platform. Feel free to reach out to us by scheduling a demo and learning how our creative solutions can boost the effectiveness of your creative projects. We look forward to speaking with you!