I had the privilege of working with Caitlin Ryan, the ECD at Proximity, when I first moved to London. She has a great sense of humour, listens well and set me at ease immediately
In advertising, you quickly get the measure of a Creative Director by how they cope with client comments. She was incredibly resilient and approached the challenges as an opportunity to stretch her creative muscles.
I caught up with her recently and here is a short excerpt from that interview.
K: The move from being a Creative to the Creative Director’s role is a big one. How did you straddle that divide and begin to manage people?
C: When you start a career you look to see what successful people, and their “personal brands,” look like.
As a woman in the Creative Department, there weren’t many that I related to.
I looked around and saw famous creative directors that were good at their craft, but tough, tough, tough. If they didn’t like what they saw – everyone in the department knew about it.
That was pretty common in Creative Departments – male, alpha, high on control and quite dramatic. There were many stories about things being thrown, ‘don’t come back until you’ve sold it’, king of the jungle behaviour.
In my heart of hearts – I knew that wasn’t me, but I loved my job and I was good at it.
When I got promoted to a Creative Director’s role I needed to do it my own way.
I decided good work could come out of collaboration; it didn’t have to be driven by conflict.
Use your strengths
Every style has strengths and weaknesses – my advice is to be aware of your weaknesses but play your strong hand – you will attract and keep people that flourish under your style of management.
I manage with support and encouragement, and I’m low on control. That doesn’t mean I’m not involved.
I have a lot of trust in my team. They come to me when things are going badly and they need help and they do the same when things are going well and they want praise. In HR terms I am called a facilitator and that’s how I get the best work for our clients.
Of course sometimes you need to be able to change your management style, especially if the chips are down and the team are teetering on a crisis.
Then you drop your poms poms, get right out there and lead the way through.
Be true to yourself
I learned another lesson when I had my first baby. Gina Ford had a book out called ‘The contented baby’ and it was all the rage.
It was about setting strong routines. You needed to stick to this routine, Gina claimed, or the price you would pay was a crying baby that would grow up to be a discontented adult.
It seemed to work for a lot of women. Their babies slept, they seemed content and they managed to get their lipstick on, so I thought I’d give it my best shot – though I don’t even wear a watch.
I was making it work but it wasn’t natural and that meant it was never easy. I changed directions when I talked to a midwife who said “Whatever kind of mother you are, that’s the kind of mother your baby needs.”
She was right, once I changed my approach to be not so regimented, we were all a lot happier.
This is just as true of the management style you bring to work. You are the best fit for your position, and if you’re not – you need to find a place where your style does work. It’s the best assurance that you and your staff will be happy.
If you aren’t true to yourself in a management role – you may get away with it for a while, but a career is a very long time to fake it.