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The Hardest Transition of Our Careers

I was sitting at my desk with my head in my hands. “My goodness,” I thought, “my job is a lot of politics and almost no designing. What have I done?” Moving from individual contributor to manager was a hard transition.

It’s hard to go from doing the work to guiding the work. We move from 100% right-brain thinking to 50% right and 50% left. For many creatives, the thought of having to use our left brain can be terrifying. Few of us have ever thought about creating a spreadsheet, writing a performance review, or being responsible for a department’s success. Yet here we are. Responsible.

“Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”
– Peter Drucker


A manager has a responsibility to lead direct reports to deliver the work that most benefits the department and the company. There are so many ways to do this, just like when we propose a creative solution on a project. Yet how do we choose our management style when we’ve never even thought about a management style? Do we yell commands at our direct reports like we’ve seen other managers do? Do we whisper a meek request instead? Or can we find a middle ground of kindness and still have the authority required to get the job done?

The move from individual contributor to manager is easily the hardest transition of our careers.

This is a bold and, I believe, accurate statement. The painful shift from peer to responsible leader manifests in different ways:

  • We move from hanging with our peers after work to staying late making a spreadsheet to forecast when freelance help will be needed and then looking at budgets to see if we can afford the necessary freelancers.
  • We stop gossiping about the other managers and wonder what’s being said about us.
  • We begin to understand how hard it is to balance the many agendas and personalities at the top.
  • We learn to view challenges from the clients’ perspective, as well as our own team’s
  • We fall on our face as we try out different management styles and keep getting up until we find our own innate style.
  • And the hardest of them all: We learn that having a team respect us is far more valuable, effective and professional than having them like us.


It can be scary to fall on our face repeatedly, but that’s also the fun of it! The juicy, exciting phase you’re now in (or maybe that your direct reports are in) is called personal evolution. You’re learning, growing, and trying new things with the consistent focus of helping people however possible. Help them deliver their best creative by guiding them. Help them get the content they need faster by streamlining processes. Help them feel proud of their work by submitting for awards.

Management means helping people, and that can be incredibly satisfying.

Suddenly your whole day is filled with thinking of ways to help your team look and do good (which nicely ends up making you look good!). Yes, you may miss designing (editing, writing or project managing) all of the time, but wait! That’s up to you now. How much do you want to design/edit/write/project manage? OK, make it happen. You don't love doing spreadsheets? Who on your team does like that? Delegate! Woo hoo!

Management roles include a new type of fun and challenges. It takes a mindset shift and the courage to make mistakes and keep going. Just like we do with creative solutions to ads, brochures or signage, we need to base our decisions on form following function. What’s the end goal for the poster: to get as many people as possible to come to the event. What’s the end goal of management: to help as many people as possible deliver their greatest work by positioning them for success. If we hold onto this goal as our function, then our form will follow appropriately and we’ll design a great management style. We already have the tools to do this, we just hadn’t thought of management as a design challenge before.

I lifted my head from my hands and saw order where there had been chaos, happy designers where there had been grumpy creatives, and strong personalities respecting my ideas, and I smiled. 

***If you or another member of your team is a new manager or would simply like additional support in becoming a stronger manager, consider joining us for Creative Manager Boot Camp on September 29–30 in Philadelphia.***


Rena DeLevie

A people-oriented transformational leader, Cella Consultant Rena DeLevie has spent almost 30 years in the creative industry, including significant retail experience (Talbots, J. Crew, Kenneth Cole, dressbarn), first as an art director, then in creative operations/management. Rena has extensive experience in corporate management trainings, workshops, one-on-one coaching and presentations. She writes on the subject of leadership and management and has been interviewed on HuffPost LIVE, among other media, about Compassionate Management, a subject on which Rena is passionate. In addition Rena is a core member of Cella’s professional development team featured at Beyond the Creative and Creative Manager Boot Camp training seminars.  

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