Resilience for Design Leaders
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken professional comfort in video calls with fellow design leaders at agencies and firms across South East and East Asia, Europe and North America. They too are mostly hanging in there. Some are even busier than usual. Others busy, yet in ways, they may not have chosen.
Slowly, it seems, more and more designers and their businesses are beginning to emerge from national lockdowns and restrictions. And these firms have some important things in common: They focus on skills, empathy, curiosity and people.
- They have leaders who trust the core of what it means to be a designer and to lead a design business.
- They gather their teams on a regular basis (the world can wait!).
- The language they use is about the group, values, about resilience. It is human, empathic.
- They make sure to set aside time for everything that supports people, anything to make sure their team members are encouraged and supported.
- They correctly view a design team’s ability to listen, learn and adapt, to identify opportunity and uncover solutions, as the most reliable way to keep the wheels of innovation and revenue turning.
- There is a lack of knee-jerk reactions and panicky group think. Instead, they exhibit steady belief in the power of design. The very thing that made their studios great in the first place!
A few weeks back KPMG released the report ‘Leading for High Performance in Disruption — A toolkit for leaders in the context of COVID-19’. Two of the things listed at the top: Wellbeing, and a leader’s ability to be grounded and make decisions for the good of the company as well as their team.
The design leaders mentioned above fulfill this need fabulously. Anyone can choose the approach they opted for if they haven’t already done so. And frankly, what’s the alternative? To change your agency’s approach entirely? To decide that your core strengths are no longer valuable?
There is a natural tendency to lean toward “batten down the hatches”, “tighten things up”, and “getting serious”. These are all reactions to uncertainty. And it’s perfectly ok to feel that way.
It is however not ok to use those reactions, unfiltered, as guides for one's work as a design leader, or any type of leader.
Each of those reactions run the risk of leading to a loss of trust among team members and clients alike, it’ll weaken your brand. And it undermines your ability to build on what you know, what you are good at — Building and leading an amazing design studio. Use the urgency, build on it. Without losing sight of what you stand for.
If at first one has made the wrong choice, there is always the option to rethink and improve. As designers, we’re good at iterating, adapting, learning. At seeing opportunity. We should continue doing that for our clients and our teams. And ourselves too.
Jaan Orvet is a Design Strategist and Partner at Manyone Asia. He is co-author of State of Mind at Work, a book and workshop series that empowers professionals around the world to take charge of their own way of working.