Those you help become successful, take you along for the ride.

When I was Nike, working on the Nike+Fuelband design team, I deemed a friend in an adjacent org in management my proclaimed business mentor.

We had a couple lunch meet-ups on campus, where he poured insight and knowledge into my malleable young designer mind. The best advice he ever gave me, was something so simple, yet profound, that if you’re not careful, you’ll easily skip over it…

“The sole purpose of your job is to make your boss’ problems go away.” — Jason McCracken

Easy right? Maybe not so much in the design/tech world, where creativity collides with business metrics and technological dependencies daily.

Let’s dive into a few solid ways I’ve learned to best make good report with your creative lead, director, boss, or whomever else. These can be easy to miss (myself included), but these basic principles will take you far, and can be applied to most any career.

 


01 –Design with the business objective in mind

For us designers, it’s sometimes easy to get distracted by the idea of making everything we touch beautiful, usable, or new. While a major part of our job, our biggest focus should be on the business objective at hand.

How is the feature we’re designing taking the business closer to a strategy that works for the end user; how do we make money.

Your creative lead / design director’s biggest goal is to foster a team who can grow the business with best in class design chops. Beat this into your brain, and you’re already half-way to getting a promotion.

 

02 — Be a leader on your team

Those who oversee teams, are looking for employees who aren’t afraid to lead. They understand how to hire various personalities that will mesh well with one another, but understanding who the leader(s) are on a team is a discovery process. Opportunities won’t come knocking by themselves.

Think leadership is whoever is the most alpha? Think again. Leadership is about taking a posture of servanthood to the team…the one or two individuals who are willing to inconvenience themselves to lead others, putting their necks on the line, AND focus on their own work too.

 

03 — Collaboration is everything

No boss likes someone who works in a silo, or doesn’t play well with others. Taking a collaborative approach to everything (or a lot of things you do) is only going to make you better as a designer, and effective team member.

Your boss will definitely notice this quality, as most don’t understand or care to take this approach to crafting solutions. Collaborate across team, domain, lateral outside teams, and whoever else you can network with.

 

04 — Communicate your goals

A major part of a design director’s job is to grow their people’s careers. Some are really good at this, while many are bad. Why leave it up to their personality when you can craft your own, communicate, and collaborate with your boss on how to best achieve those goals? Prove yourself as an employee who takes initiative!

Your boss will love you forever if you’re someone who can strategize your aspirations, giving more headspace and time back to your boss. Your goals might change as you talk with your boss, and that’s great! You’re simply showing you know how to take steps towards short and long term growth.

 

05 — Hit your deadlines

This is a pretty easy one, but don’t slack on deadlines. Work your ass off to show you know how to finish a task on time. Don’t make excuses. Don’t work harder…work smarter. Know when to delegate, or ask for help, because ultimately most don’t care how you get there, just that you do.

 

06 — Be a friend

Believe it or not, you’re boss didn’t simply hire you because you’re the best at what you do. They’re crafting a well-oiled machine of personalities and skillsets.

I don’t care if you’re the freaking Jack Bauer of product design. If you don’t treat people with respect, be friendly, or even go the extra mile to get to know team members as a friend, you’re probably the only one missing out.

A manager wants people they can approach, help mold and shape, and ultimately depend on to get the job done. Most people enjoy working with their friends. Don’t you?

 

07 — Learn to take feedback well

There will be times when you need to course-correct with your boss, even if you work your butt off and have the best of intentions with how you’re going about your job. That’s their job. To help “direct” you in your work.

It’s not a slap on the wrist, it’s a gentle push to the right or left…and we’re fools if we think we don’t some nudging from time to time. When this happens, take feedback gracefully. Understand how to go about next-steps, understand the goal of what your manager is asking for, and push towards something that ultimately exceeds expectation.

 

08 — Exude humble confidence

Nobody trusts in someone who doesn’t trust in themself. At the same time, nobody likes a braggart, and secretly (since we’re being honest), hopes to see that person fall on their cocky little ass. However, if you show your team that you have humble confidence in yourself and a willingness to try anything, you’ll go far. Opportunities will present themselves.

 

09 — Expect more from yourself than your boss does

Your boss has a list of what they want to see from you as an employee. Whether in their head, or communicated through corporate KPI’s for the year, you are being graded.

Understand that list (ask for it if you don’t know it), and then crank it up 500%. Go the extra mile! Do the extra task. Care just a bit more than everyone else. Suddenly, your boss might care to help you go further than the other people slacking off, barely meeting the criteria of their job description. Set your bar high, and jump!

 

10 — Be on time to everything

An obvious point, yet seemingly so hard for so many. Apply the 5–15 minutes early rule to every appointment. It will show everyone that you care about what you’re doing, or what someone else is presenting. Side rant — get off your damn phone when someone is giving an important presentation (VP’s and “busy” people are terrible at this).

 

 

11— Be willing to get uncomfortable

Things are going to come up that everyone is a bit nervous about. However, if you position yourself as someone willing to try, even at the sake of your comfort, people will naturally look to you as a leader. Be willing to get uncomfortable and you’ll probably be met with more discomfort; which ultimately becomes pretty comfortable and paints you in a really rare light.

 

12 — Pretend like you own the place

A lot of times it’s easy to do the minimum work that we’re asked to do for someone else. But what if you pretended that you were the CEO, or Product Owner? Make it your baby. Your success depends on how far you push yourself, and if you’re thinking about your tasks as something you own, you’ll craft better work, and a better outcome for the project, as well as yourself.

 

13 — Do amazing work

We can’t forget about good old fashioned premium level work. Push yourself to grow, elevate, and never get comfortable. Keep pushing, as it will push others too.

 

14 — Focus on your role

I’ve made the mistake of focusing on too much at once, and forgetting to really master my current role. By starting with what you’re currently responsible for and moving towards more, your director might look to you to take on more responsibility (this is good btw). Forget this, and you’ll just look sloppy, distracted, and checked out. If this is true, ask yourself if you should be in your current role all-together.

 

15 — Learn to put yourself in your boss’ shoes

At the end of the day, your boss has a much harder job than you probably realize. However, by taking on the perceived mindset of what they might go through to create success, you come much closer than if only thinking from your perspective.

 


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