Fast Company

We're All Brand Managers Now

I had an interesting conversation today about the nature of jobs today. The debate centered around the notion of what it means to be the boss, particularly in a creative field. When you're not the boss, the top spot gets idealized and romanticized as the ultimate perch to do what you love. But when you see close up what the boss really does all day, you realize that he or she is almost never doing what got them into the business. They're transformed into brand managers and evangelists, rather than being the creative directors or chefs or whatever that they appear to be. Their work looks more like what the "suits" do than what they used to do, what got them where they are. Maybe, if they're lucky, they can squeeze in some of their work early in the morning or late at night.

So that raises the question: Is this a good thing?

Should the boss be the person in the trenches with the team doing the same work or should the boss be out interacting with the outside world in a way that he or she brings back treasure in the form of tidbits and sources and inspirations that turn into the work their team performs? My friend was clearly in the latter camp. I believe the way he described the creative boss' role was, "Get out of your office and go have a drink with someone! That's your job."

Me? I'm not so sure. It's hard to imagine that you work so hard to get to the top, only to find out that you're apparently now on a different mountain. Perhaps there's a balance that lets these leaders do both without being turned to dust by the grind.

What do you think?

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4 Comments

  • Eric Sohn

    David -

    Of course, you had to post an easy problem! :`)

    There are a couple of issues here. First, there is succession planning. If the boss has externally-focused duties, the staff need to spend some time doing it, too - so they can become the boss one day (or fill in when need be). External focus is very important in combating groupthink and insularity, so it will improve the quality of group work to broaden members' perspectives in that way.

    The second issue is that of the manager's role on an ongoing basis. Clearly, management does change things; there are different needs at his or her level. Getting external perspective clearly becomes paramount at some level, at some point. On the other hand, management needs to be involved in the group, not separate. At least at a black-box level, managers should be part of the group, not above and beyond it. However, managers lose some of their effectiveness if they're just one of the gang - but in a suit.

    Call it not exactly separate and not exactly equal - but not different enough or detached enough that the quality of communication up and down the chain, nor the quality of results suffers.

    How 'bout that for a long-winded answer?

    Eric

  • kidmercury

    both styles are valid; i think it's a matter of personal preference. ultimately, though, i think the best leaders will do both: they'll be playing the evangelist part AND being the creative director. because that is so challenging, i think it could be a good idea for many bosses to find a "co-boss" so that the roles can be divided. ultimately, both aspects are equally important and indispensable.

  • Tobin Truog

    David -

    If you have not read "The E-Myth Revisited" - then you should.

    It redefines what it means to be an "entrepeneur"

    Then there is one of those short little books I re-read every year:

    Leadership is an Art.

    One of DuPree's ideas that I find myself repeating over and over to people is that it is a leader's job to clear away the impediments for the people aroun them to do their jobs.

    also - everyone who works for you is a volunteer and should be treated that way.

    Good thoughts!

    toby

  • Florence Haridan

    As a Branding/Creative leader, for me it is my job to keep people remembering why we do the work we do. Be it from the customere viewpoint or from the shareholder view, each action we take or decision we make ahould be steeped in our branding philosophy. Reminding my team and colleagues that if you are not building our brand you are breaking it down. That is my job...

    Being creative at this stage of the game for me also includes reminding my team how to be creative. Reminding them to have fun, think like a child, think like a customer, think like an artist. Helping my team discover new philosphies, be them design, life management, spiritual, and bring them to life that supports our brand. Each of these kinds of thinking brings us closer to being a customer first, and creative person second. Thinking like a customer, and remembering that each and every interaction we have with them matters is critical to my teams and ultimately the businesses success.
    We hear over and over the value of creativity, for me the value of putting myself in the customers shoes is a greater conversation to have. Being able to experience the brand in the same way the customer does is vastly more productive than any other work you do. Being able to see from their point of view allows you to evolve and refine their perception of your brand.

    Go out and act dumb!! make like you have never bought a pair of shoes before. Make like you can only buy one pair? how do these factors change your view?? All kinds of fun to be had, by stepping into the customeers shoes!! have fun! Act like a customer and creativity will flow!!