Here's a question for you: How should a design leader behave?
My hypothesis is that any effective design leader must know how to coax, push, cajole, and conjure awesome work out of their team (and themselves).
Leaders coax stellar work out of their teams by creating space for creativity to flourish. This space is protected from harm, so incursions such as rogue client feedback or organizational politics will not derail ongoing effort.
Leaders push their teams towards a vision, no matter who suggested or informed that vision. It can come from anyone on the team, then be harnessed collectively. However, the leader must motivate the team to realize that vision. The best leaders know how suss out internal motivations and encourage them, rather than enforce a motivation from an external pressure, such as deadline, quality bar, fear of failure, and so forth. The leader can also choose to allow others to lead, trusting their direction and encouraging ownership in the process.
Leaders cajole through critique, by asking the right open-ended questions—at the correct time—to encourage the flourishing of great ideas. To quote Pelle Sjonell, Executive Creative Director of BBH LA: "If creative direction is done right, you should never have to select. You never need to resort to the role of a bouncer. Or simply giving things thumbs up or thumbs down."
Leaders must also conjure compelling design work in their own right, when pressed into service. Otherwise, they may just be serving in a managerial capacity.
Design leaders that employ these modes effectively, in concert with design teams jamming on well-considered design work for engaged clients, is what can make working at a design business transcend being mere work and become delightful.
What do you think? What would you add, remove, or change? I'd love to share your perspectives at next week's Design Business for Breakfast on Design Leadership.