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Sylvia Gilltner

Head of HR

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Why Leadership Is Learned From Experience & Fails


Here’s the thing about leadership. You probably didn’t study it in college or design school. And yet here you are, an entrepreneur with a growing business, adding staff, and wondering how you are supposed to “manage” these employees.

This is your first mistake. You will need to drop the term “manage” and adopt instead the term “lead.” How will you lead them? There is a big difference, because “manage” means that you are doing something to them; “lead” means that you are inspiring and motivating them – you are doing something with them as active participants.

You Can’t Learn Leadership from a Textbook or a Course

Here is what a text or a course will do: It will give you theories of leadership and some examples of each style. It is then up to you to decide which type suits you and your business. The next step is to implement that leadership style and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s kind of what is called “guess and test.” Every business is unique and every business owner wants to establish a specific climate or environment for those who are employed, so leadership styles will vary.

Here are a few things to remember as you develop your leadership style.

You are a Creative Hiring Other Creatives

Creative people often demand a great deal of freedom and independence.[1] They don’t want to be stifled by autocratic bosses and micro-managers. At the same time, there are deadlines to meet and clients to please. You have to find the right balance. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make sure that everyone on your team is aware of the vision for the company. This must come from you.
  • Within that vision are goals. Here is where you can involve your team in some collaboration. Everyone should participate in the goal-setting process. If they do, they will take “ownership,” and that is always a good thing.
  • Keep communication open – everyone needs to feel a comfort level with being totally honest, especially with you.

Maturity Levels Will Differ

You will employ individuals who take initiative with little coaching or monitoring. At the same time, you will employ individuals who need more direction. With experience, you will learn how much to monitor and when to let go. Being able to identify the needs of each staff member and lead them in diverse ways is called situational leadership.[2]

Foster Collaboration and Cooperation

This is a climate thing. When you inspire cooperation, you take the competition out of the mix. This allows team members to help one another rather than “one-up” each other. If you create a climate that fosters competition, you will not have transparency and communication.

Find a Mentor

Becoming a leader for the first time can be scary, along with all of the other fears you have as a business owner. The best solution is to find a mentor – someone who owns and operates a successful niche-related business. Shadow that individual; bounce your ideas off of that individual; seek that person’s advice as issues arise. Learning from someone who is actually “doing” the leadership thing successfully is a huge help.

Be Okay with Mistakes and Failures

No one develops skills of leadership without making some pretty big mistakes. Be humble about this. Admit to your team that your idea or practice was wrong, and ask for their input on fixing it. When you model the correct procedure for mistake-fixing, your staff will feel comfortable admitting their mistakes and seeking your guidance in fixing them.

Praise and Reward

Everyone likes to be recognized for their accomplishments. When a designer comes through for a client, it is not enough that the client is happy. You must be happy too and show that happiness with praise and rewards. When employees feel they are valued, they are more productive and more loyal.

Take Time to Play

You want your team members to know one another personally and to trust each other. One of the ways to do this is to schedule “play” either during the workday or outside of work.[3] It’s hard for co-workers to have issues with one another when they engage socially.

The Role of Servant Leadership

Servant leadership theory stems from the idea that the leader is a facilitator, not a dictator. With this in mind, it is your role to ensure that your team members have all of the resources they need to complete their task responsibilities. This simple fact is known by every army officer. All the militaries always have to face the situations where personal leadership skills appear to be useless when subordinates feel the lack of resources. That’s why army officers that decided to work at civilian companies usually become good managers. So if you see a resume of such a person, don’t dismiss it without a peep.[4] Of course, this is only put to work after you have delegated tasks.

Delegation – It’s Hard

You don’t want to let your “baby” go. If you don’t, however, you will not grow successfully. You hired individuals for their specific strengths and talents, and now you get your money’s worth by delegating. With experience, it becomes easier and, sometimes, more collaborative. Allowing team members to participate in the delegation process tells them you value their opinions.[5]

Learning to lead is an evolving process. Your company will continue to change, as will your staff, as you grow. Be patient with yourself, get some good help, and keep those lines of communication open.


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Author Profile Picture
Sylvia Gilltner

Head of HR

Read more from Sylvia Gilltner

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