6 Directives on Leadership in the Design World


As we enter the month of February, my company, MachinaTek Design, enters our 3rd year in business. The last 24 months have been quite an emotional roller coaster (to say the least) and we’ve entered a vast growth phase where our numbers are growing every single quarter in every metric. To give you some background on me, I come from a Military background, and in the last year I learned quite a bit about leadership from some really amazing and inspirational people, which was significantly different than what I experienced in the military. With that said, I am not saying I am perfect by any means, quite the contrary actually. Stepping into the design world as a civilian was a huge transition from my 10 years in the military, and with it came new challenges in dealing with situations, people, etc.

When it comes to dealing with people, I’ve come to realize that you can’t just yell at people to get them to do what you want, or make them do push-ups, etc., and/or all of the other stigmata people attach to the “military life.” It’s not that the design world is softer in relation to the military – I can remember one of my most valued mentors telling me when we were deployed that a good leader doesn’t have to yell – but this lesson really did not kick in until this past year, where I found myself in a new world as a civilian leading a company, and in desperate need of new communication skills that were completely different than what I had learned in the military.

After taking a very deep journey of personal growth and discovery, I was able to merge all of the strengths that people had tried to ingrain into me over all those years, and combine those in a relevant and design specific direction. Here are my 6 leadership directives to help entrepreneurs, art directors, team leaders, and more.

1 //   Be Transparent To Your Team

One of the most unanimous issues I’ve noticed that a lot of people/employees have, no matter what field they are in, is the feeling of not being included in the systems and processes that leadership either put in place, or have developed. The moment you create this disconnection between your team and yourself, you create a sense of inferiority in your team’s own personal value.

Your job shouldn’t be to find ways to devalue your designers, but rather, build them up and create a culture of honesty. Get away from playing telephone. You don’t have to be the only information gatherer just because you’re the account manager or director. Having the real “worker-bee” included in direct communication not only creates a more authentic product, but also begins to build a positive and creative environment.

2 //   Believe in your Talent

In the design world there is obviously a high level of technical aptitude in what we do, but that’s not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about is much deeper – the inert ability/power we have as humans to topple governments, or group together in global movements, but on a much smaller and more defined scale.

Show your team that their skills and talent are incredibly valuable to the company, and that you trust in their ability to get the job done without having to micromanage them. However, don’t give that trust away easily – they still need to earn it. But when you can look an individual in the eye and let them know you have faith in their abilities, inspiration is born. Inspiration breeds confidence. Now it is up to you to guide that confidence in a positive manner.

3 //  Find the Right Balance

Don’t be your employee’s best friend, but don’t be the boss from the movie “Office Space” either. This is probably the hardest skill to master. and in my opinion, the one where 90% of all issues stem from. A man once told me, “Propinquity breeds contempt.” At first, I had no idea what this really meant. Then, he told me to look up the meaning behind this quote, and promised that I would never forget it once I did. I told him I would probably end up forgetting it, but as you can see, he was right (and this is coming from someone who really hates being wrong.)

If you can master walking that fine line, then you should be able to inspire those who are around you, and constructively improve their deficiencies without tarnishing your personal relationship with them. Unfortunately, this is not one of those skills you can just write out and hope that people immediately implement. This will take some time and experience to master but implementing this sort of balance will put you one step ahead of the game.

4 //  Squash Rumors Early and Often

Rumors are as damning to a company, team, or institution, as cancer is to the human body. If a rumor isn’t caught early, then it has the ability to grow and spiral out of control, and start shutting down pieces of an established relationship with devastating consequences. From my experience the spreading of rumors are also an inevitable event in any business, so you should instantly be mindful of the possibilities for rumors to start often within your company.

This directive also walks hand in hand with Directive 1. By being 100% transparent with your team early on, it can be a powerful way to eliminate the negative repercussions of potential rumors. If you hear about a rumor through the grapevine, the best way to squashing it immediately is by being honest with your team members. By being honest 100% of the time, you will also promote consistent communication within your company as well.

5 //  Show Appreciation

Another thing I notice that gets overlooked often, is a massive lack in publicly praising and showing appreciation to those who show true passion in their work, values, or cultural expression of the company. I don’t believe this is done on purpose, but instead, we oftentimes pay more attention to when someone makes a mistake.

If you’re sitting there wondering if your bosses or clients are appreciating the work that you do, then imagine how your subordinates must feel in relation. Showing appreciation goes a long way, and could be something small like a “shout out” on Facebook, a present, a gift certificate, or just sincerely telling them that you are thankful for their hard work. This works in tandem with the other directives to build a sense of self-worth in your team, and value in your employees.

6 //  Have Fun

The last and most important directive, is simply have fun. If you’re having fun, and doing what you love to do, then others will see that and motivation will spread like wildfire. I’ll use a recent example of where I realized how important it is to have fun: Every morning we have about a 15-minute meeting to discuss work, life, or interests. Since I’m a fan of football, I thought it would be awesome to put all our hands in a huddle at the end of the meeting, and shout our slogan. Super corny, right? Trust me, I know it is, but I saw the energy of everyone rise dramatically after leaving that meeting.

I hope you found value in these 6 directives, and want to implement some of these within your own organization. Have fun building relationships, keep hustling, and be the type of leader that you would want to follow.

Posted on January 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

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About the Author

Chris Baldwin is a serial entrepreneur, designer, and creator. Currently running a business design firm, he continues to help grow fledgling ideas into functional companies. He is an Afghanistan War veteran and father. He brings the creative drive and vision between projects to stay on top of competition and forecast direction.

Response (1)

  1. Williamkes
    May 26, 2016 at 11:57 am · Reply

    This is one awesome post.Thanks Again. Leistner

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